Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's A Cloud, Cloud, Cloud World

I had my iPhone cranked up listening to my "favorites" channel and just let my mind wonder.... and in one of my rare moments of clarity - I was thinking about the future of computing. I come to the decision that the future of computing will not be about hardware, or operating systems, or which applications are "better" than others - it will all come down to a single thing: the screen.

Yep, that's it. The screen.

I think that the computing experience for most people (within the next 10 years) will be based around cloud services that are delivered to whatever device you happen to be using. Those devices could be fixed - like your TV, or to a thin PC, or a laptop-like device (nettop, netbook, laptop), or even your mobile phone.

The days of installing patches and fixes and hot fixes will be a thing of the past - since your operating system will be running in the cloud - there will be some poor IT schmoe someplace that has to deal with all the hassles and compatibility problems - and your system will just always be "up to date."

You'll always have the latest versions of all the software you use - or "subscribe" to - and you'll pay for computing services much the way you do for electricity or phone service. Companies will vie for your business by providing content "channels" that you can subscribe to.

If you like the Apple OS - then subscribe to the Apple Channel. Prefer Vista? Too bad, Microsoft won't have a channel until they see that Apple has dominated the space and then will try to build their entirely own complete service rather than just have a channel that people can subscribe to... but I digress.

These software (and services) "channels" would all co-exist in your main "session" - and would be available (and configurable) as either icons or as services that are already running. You could just switch between channels the way you do now - with Alt+Tab or by clicking an icon.

There would be free channels (like basic cable) - and then premium content (I predict that porn folks will be an early adopter) would be available. Whether you're interested in sports and want to see live video, or have an instance of a browser loaded with links to all your favorite teams - it's all pre-configured in the "ESPN Sports Channel."

Likewise, if you're a news junkie, love cooking, or can't get enough celebrity gossip - the content will be available in a unified manner. Video, websites, applications, premium content - ready to go and able to be delivered on whatever device you're watching where ever you are.

The issue of whether to buy a new Xbox or Playstation will be a thing of the past. You can have both - just subscribe to the channel(s). It will come with some basic games, and you can add others on a rental basis - or as a flat fee (like today). Rather than having 200 game jewel cases lying around - the game provider would collect payment and install the instance of the game on in your session. It would be ready nearly instantly.

What about the more "mundane" tasks of email, presentations, collaboration, word processing and (the dreaded) spreadsheet? Those would all be handled at an "at work" channel. It could be branded by your company - and you can have a "home office" channel as well as a "London office" channel. All your data will be stored just as you left it - files in folders like you have today.

There would be some limited local storage for the rare occasion you're not connected to the network - documents will be stored and forwarded when you connect again. Each channel would make certain applications available offline (although not all apps) - but it really won't be an issue. We'll look at good, reliable access to the Internet like we do electricity and sewer services. It will be everywhere - mostly all the time.

You'll be able to easily move data between channels and have all your documents accessible from all the other channels as well. You can seamlessly share and collaborate with others - with text or video like you can today with instant messaging and video chat.

In other words - your computing experience will be amazingly similar to what it is today, and all you have to buy is a HDTV, mobile phone or other device of your choice - and chances are you already have all the hardware you'll need.

Rather than tossing (or donating) that "old" cell phone or laptop or desktop - you can just pick up a new one at any store, kiosk or outlet - log into your provider and whammo - all your stuff is there. No more local backups (but you can if you want to), no more downloading and installing programs over on the new computer, the hours of setup, the restoration of all your preferences - it will all "just work."

Yes, I think the pendulum is swinging back to the "centralized" computer model. That's why mainframes haven't gone away - they've just been waiting for this next round of "what's old is new." Well, the time is coming.

The virtualization software is getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper. The delivery mechanisms for delivering the specific user sessions and price of mass online storage are nearing the zero mark. There are some technical and infrastructure hurdles, to be sure - but it's all within the realm of what's happening in terms of growing consumer (and business) acceptance of SaaS applications and cheap, commodity hosted virtual systems.

And now - with the Obama White House printing money like it's going out of style for infrastructure upgrades - I'm hopeful that within 5 years I will be able to actually have ONE cell conversation without having one side or the other drop.... but that's another story.

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