The Cloud refers to the concept of cloud computing, which is achieved by harnessing the collective power of multiple servers to run applications and distribute information to users across the internet, rather than individual users running applications installed on their local systems.
In a way, this concept is already the reality for many people who work in web-related fields- especially those who are self-employed and utilized web-based applications as a cost-saving measure. Given the availability of many web app options to replace just about every kind of productivity software on the market, cloud computing becomes just a matter of assembling and connecting various existing online services. Companies like Google and Microsoft have taken this a step further already by creating many tools that are becoming increasingly more integrated. The next step would be to fully move the operating system online, making our hardware- whether a desktop, laptop, ultraportable, phone, etc.- simply a terminal to access the cloud. Some companies are already experimenting with this (see Craythur, Desktoptwo, EyoOS, Glide, Goowy, Orca , Purefect , SSOE , XinDESK, or YouOS among others).
In a recent interview with Wired, author Nicholas Carr commented on the gathering momentum of the cloud:
"Most people are already there. Young people in particular spend way more time using so-called cloud apps — MySpace, Flickr, Gmail — than running old-fashioned programs on their hard drives. What's amazing is that this shift from private to public software has happened without us even noticing it...Yeah. Welcome to Google Earth. A bunch of bright computer scientists and AI experts in Silicon Valley are not only rewiring our computers — they're dictating the future terms of our culture. It's terrifying...The scariest thing about Stanley Kubrick's vision wasn't that computers started to act like people but that people had started to act like computers. We're beginning to process information as if we're nodes; it's all about the speed of locating and reading data. We're transferring our intelligence into the machine, and the machine is transferring its way of thinking into us. .."
Some people have reacted strongly to Carr's statements, but I think he's basically correct about the two general statements he made: many people are already well immersed in the cloud, and this shift in capability is affecting our thinking and behavior. Whether the effect is positive or negative, though, is certainly open for debate.
|Some other links of interest:|
CNet on Microsoft's stake in the cloud
Google, the cloud, and advertising.
Nicholas Carr's blog
As far as immersion is concerned, I was interested in taking a look at what my cloud profile is after reading what Carr had to say. It turns out that I, too, am almost fully in the cloud- something that has happened through a quick yet subtle transition in the past year or two. I maintain over 25 unique 8-character passwords (that I refresh often- am I too paranoid?) to access a variety of applications, from banking to blogging to buying, all online. I use Google's tools for email, instant messaging, calendar, document creation and storage, RSS, and research, del.icio.us for bookmarking, as well as several online project management tools. In fact, aside from opening the occasional PDF or PSD, there are no day to day tasks left that require software other than a browser installed on my computer! What is your cloud profile?
02/01/2008: Read this article from CNet.com about the future of web-based software for the workplace.
04/04/2008: Paul Boutin feels that Web-based applications are all well and good, but there's still no beating the desktop computer.