Our heads in the clouds: a new web future, again?

John
John Gushue
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I've been reading a lot lately about the future of the cloud - and it doesn't have anything to do with the weather.

"The cloud" has become a leading way of describing what the Internet is becoming, or to some minds, what it's always had the potential to be. If you're scratching your head, wondering what it's all about - and don't worry, I'm still kind of curious, even after asking many of the tech-minded folks I know - here's a 10-cent explanation.

Surf's up - I've been reading a lot lately about the future of the cloud - and it doesn't have anything to do with the weather.

"The cloud" has become a leading way of describing what the Internet is becoming, or to some minds, what it's always had the potential to be. If you're scratching your head, wondering what it's all about - and don't worry, I'm still kind of curious, even after asking many of the tech-minded folks I know - here's a 10-cent explanation.

With the cloud, you can do all of your computer functions pretty much anywhere. Instead of storing files and data to a hard drive on your PC, you keep all that stuff on a networked system, so that you can access what you need, no matter where you are or what you're using.

It's a big leap from how computers traditionally work, although we've been moving to a cloud-based environment for a while. If you use g-mail and other Google applications, you're more or less already hooked into the major web trend of the day.

A lot of people are advocating for the cloud. Linux users and open-source developers, naturally, see it as the obvious result of their free-minded work.

But some major corporations are all over the cloud, too. Dell, for instance, tried in vain to trademark the phrase last year. More importantly, Microsoft is so keen on the concept that staff of the tech giant have been told to consider the cloud as fundamental a shift in their day-to-day business as the web was in the mid-1990s.

Microsoft is currently previewing Azure, an operating system that will take advantage of what everyone anticipates to be a more networked world. (I wonder if this will rinse out the awful aftertaste Vista has left.) Meanwhile, its Live Mesh system is already picking up subscribers - not to mention some industry acclaim, which comes as a bit of a surprise, given that bashing Microsoft is a default position for many tech types.

But Microsoft is no Johnny-come-lately here. Consider this bit from a New York Times article published all the way back in April 2001. The piece noted how Microsoft wanted to issue "software programs that do not reside on any one computer, but instead exist in the 'cloud' of computers that make up the Internet. The move from the desktop-based computing paradigm that Microsoft has controlled to an open-network approach would be a crucial one for all computer users and software programmers."

A lot has changed in eight years. Those open-source programmers, for instance, have seriously weakened Microsoft's grip on software. Wireless has become not just common, but a fundamental part of life for millions of users. Laptops now outsell desktop computers, taking advantage of the wireless universe.

So, portability, ease of access, affordable and more flexible tools - it all adds up.

To get a sense of my cloud-readiness, I did an inventory of my own computer use, which I'll admit is probably more than average. In my day job, I write and edit stories for CBC. In my home life, I publish a blog and use my computers (yep, more than one) for a variety of pursuits.

At work, almost everything I do is stored on a network. Stories are filed to one system; video and images are also filed on a shared system. All of these elements can be accessed by other users. All of my e-mail is network-based. Surprisingly little, in fact, is saved to my desktop.

At home, I do keep some things on my home computer. (This column, for instance, is stored with other things I've written with that dinosaur app, word-processing software.) My pictures and many, many songs take up a fair bit of space on my computer.

But they need not necessarily reside there. I could definitely adapt easily to putting them somewhere else, if I could get at them when I'm on the move. I'm not sure, though, about paying someone else for the access-it-from-anywhere convenience. I'm also a little uneasy about what the security implications will be, as we move more toward putting quite a lot of trust in other people's hands.

But I've looked at clouds from both sides now (sorry - can't resist a Joni Mitchell pun), and I'm more than comfortable with where things are going. Let's hope that cloud doesn't have a hidden storm tucked inside.

John Gushue is a news writer for CBCNews.ca in St. John's. E-mail surf@thetelegram.com. Read past Surf's Up columns and daily updates at his blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Microsoft, Google, New York Times CBC

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • peter
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Ten cent explanation or not the new network concepts may have a silver lining.



    Storing data on distant servers, has been long considered a convenient redundant storage system. Organizing and encrypting the information should give most idle cyber-snoops a run for his/her money. Privacy and security concerns notwithstanding, it is a more reliable mass storage system.



    To this day, magnetic and optical disc storage concepts have their limitations. They are relatively fragile for the real domestic environment. Tossed around desk drawers and cardboard boxes for years and the data might only be recovered with advanced data recovery software. The long term durability of dynamic memory or chip systems remains to be seen. A stack of hard copy files, a photo album or a shelf of good reference books still rivals the technology for long term durability in the home environment.



    As far as being the latest or cutting edge concept...... I don't know. Remember those early Windows 9x start up screens with the wispy cloud elements in the background???


    A cyber-prophet might disagree.....

  • Graham
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Go ahead, trust the people you have given ALL your information, ideas and work to. Do you think they will never have a security breach ? Do you think they will never share or sell your info ? Do you really think it's such a good idea ? If so, go for it. I know if I DO NOT expose myself to these risks, MY info is safer than YOURS. One day, your life won't be your own, it'll be monitored, dictated to, censored and hacked. NOTHING is 100% secure. Why act so foolishly just because there are entities trying to convince you to do just that ? Why are they pushing this, and what's in it for them ? Oh yeah, that's right, they're doing it out of the goodwill of their hearts, and in your best interest. NOT ! In the past 10 years of being online (with 5 PCs, 3 routers, 2 subnets, a web server and a certificate server), I have seen and read about countless security breaches and other criminal activities with the consumer on the receiving end paying for this in inconvenience. So, while a shared net-drive my be a little easier than synchronizing files, is it worth the months of recovering from identity theft or the increase in SPAM from targetting advertising ? Foolish. Next thing you know some guy will invent a way to remove the dollar bills from your wallet to pay for your milk at the corner store and charge you a fee... oh, wait now, we have that already - they're called debit cards.

  • peter
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Ten cent explanation or not the new network concepts may have a silver lining.



    Storing data on distant servers, has been long considered a convenient redundant storage system. Organizing and encrypting the information should give most idle cyber-snoops a run for his/her money. Privacy and security concerns notwithstanding, it is a more reliable mass storage system.



    To this day, magnetic and optical disc storage concepts have their limitations. They are relatively fragile for the real domestic environment. Tossed around desk drawers and cardboard boxes for years and the data might only be recovered with advanced data recovery software. The long term durability of dynamic memory or chip systems remains to be seen. A stack of hard copy files, a photo album or a shelf of good reference books still rivals the technology for long term durability in the home environment.



    As far as being the latest or cutting edge concept...... I don't know. Remember those early Windows 9x start up screens with the wispy cloud elements in the background???


    A cyber-prophet might disagree.....

  • Graham
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Go ahead, trust the people you have given ALL your information, ideas and work to. Do you think they will never have a security breach ? Do you think they will never share or sell your info ? Do you really think it's such a good idea ? If so, go for it. I know if I DO NOT expose myself to these risks, MY info is safer than YOURS. One day, your life won't be your own, it'll be monitored, dictated to, censored and hacked. NOTHING is 100% secure. Why act so foolishly just because there are entities trying to convince you to do just that ? Why are they pushing this, and what's in it for them ? Oh yeah, that's right, they're doing it out of the goodwill of their hearts, and in your best interest. NOT ! In the past 10 years of being online (with 5 PCs, 3 routers, 2 subnets, a web server and a certificate server), I have seen and read about countless security breaches and other criminal activities with the consumer on the receiving end paying for this in inconvenience. So, while a shared net-drive my be a little easier than synchronizing files, is it worth the months of recovering from identity theft or the increase in SPAM from targetting advertising ? Foolish. Next thing you know some guy will invent a way to remove the dollar bills from your wallet to pay for your milk at the corner store and charge you a fee... oh, wait now, we have that already - they're called debit cards.