Cloud Computing, drifting back to the future

Cloud Computing is a buzz word at the moment. It's a method of the future, and the past. What a lot of big trendy "tech" news sites and even more mainstream news media don't realise is that Cloud Computing is Mainframe computing on a larger scale. And the only reason they're making a big deal out of it now is because Microsoft, Apple and Google are making a big deal out of it.

Online services have been around for a long time, but the main stream of internet users haven't paid any attention to the inevitable wave of modern centralised computing. I could list a large group of people that i have worked with directly in the programming industry who don't use RSS Feeds, have never synchronized browser bookmarks or never use online apps such as Google Docs. And those are tech savvy people, who have just chosen to ignore web services. But what is new about the concept of online services? Surely it's similar to the old concepts of a mainframe, but on a larger scale? All "Cloud Computing" does is shift our applications from our computers to the web, when back in the 70/80's the applications were on an application server.

It's an old concept, yet now it's becoming a buzz word ( i hate buzz words ). The cause of this? Mostly due to Microsoft making a Windows Azure announcement, and the continued hype of MS Live services. Of course Google and Apple have a play in this too, Google's App suite has been around for a while, and due to Microsofts pricing structures, it hasn't been doing to badly. Apple have been launching more online services, iTunes is heavily web integrated and they also have an iDisk in OSX 10.5. So what's the big deal? Why can't people just start using RSS feeds, Web Widgets and online services? Why does it have to be formalized with closed platforms that are not that exciting. 

Of course maybe they just don't excite me. Maybe its because services like eyeos have been around for a few years now and you can even try out their online trial here. This interests me. It's a full operating system platform where you have access to an entire application suite from your web browser. You can use it online, or download it and deploy it to your local webserver. Imagine a company run where the pc's booted only into a web browser ( from bios, splashtop style ),  and offered you a login within 2 seconds to your OS. An OS that remembers your settings, saves your files and even allows you to play a game or two if the system admin allows. This is what excites me about Cloud computing. It's the freedom to do stuff like this, not to have locked down commercial platforms. The move to online services is about consumer freedom. It's because we don't like paying for MS Word, and Google  docs allows me to continue writing my document on my netbook from a Cafe in town. It's because i might want to know what my friends back in South Africa are doing ( especially the <insert slander here> that never email me ) and Twitter is great for that.

So what are my "Cloud" picks? Well this is what i use and why:

  1.  Google Reader: RSS is amazing. i no longer waste time browsing sites for stuff i want to see, i can now just get info from where i want it. it's also brings you new stuff so you don't have to check for new stuff. Comics like XKCD appeal to me, so instead of remembering to look at it every other day, i just get a feed. Why Google reader then? Because its a social app. I share feeds with friends, and they share with me. It means that i get new info from my friends and its always good to see what they read. I also follow feeds from my wife's blogs, and if any of my friends had, i'd do that too. The fact that its online means, i can get it everywhere, instead of having to have new app installs on every device. If Opera added a sync feature to it's RSS reader, i might just use it, although the lack of "share" support might be a deal breaker.
  2.  Twitter: although i stated above that i might use it so i can see what those "we don't keep in touch" friends are doing back in SA, thats not why i use it. None of them use Twitter. But, i do use it to keep up with the Opera community, KDE community, follow one or two interesting people, and my wife and some of her friends. It also introduces me to new concepts ( something i love ) and i find out so much from Twitter.
  3.  Google Sites: it's not a really well known one, but with your Google account you can create a wiki style web page. I use this mostly for sharing files and info and if i have something to upload, i'll put it here so that i can download it in a different location. It's easier that mailing it to myself.
  4.  GMail: i almost sound like an add for Google, but i only use their stuff because its good. When the first android phone becomes available here in the Netherlands, i'll definitely be inline to get it! GMail is, in my opinion, better than most other web based mail services. Yahoo! and Hotmail are atrociously interfaced with adds everywhere. Fastmail was great in South Africa because of the useless internet speeds, but no longer appeals to me, due to the lack of online space. I don't have my own server so there is no option for local mail, and i like to have access to the same mailbox everywhere, so when Opera's mail client offers account sync under Opera Link, i might just consider it.
  5.  Opera: why specify a browser? The browser is the portal into which you have access to all the online services, so why not! Opera is my personal preference as a browser because it's quick, and has the most up to date features. On install i have mouse gestures, trash can, history indexing and speed dial. I never need to search for plugins to do what my browser should. Furthermore, it offers some services. The Opera Link allows my bookmarks, speed dial, typed history and notes to be sync'd wherever i use Opera ( mobiles included ). I use this on a daily basis, moving from home laptops ( 2 running openSUSE ) to work ( Mac and Windows computers ). Imagine having to manage bookmarks, notes, speeddials all manually?

If there are any more online services that any of the readers use, please let me know, because i'm always interested to find more information. I'm especially interested in finding more open online services that might be competition to the big friendly search giant.

Note that i didn't mention Google docs on purpose. Don't get me wrong, its great, in fact the entire Google app suite rocks, but the only reason i ever would use Google Docs is where it sucks the most. Posting to this blog. The formatting is killed instantly, and i blame it on Blogger, but i'm disgusted that Google can't integrate 2 of their own services properly. So instead i installed AbiWord on my Asus EEE, and am going to start saving it in HTML format and pasting that into my Blogger HTML editor and hope like hell i don't have to work for an hour fixing it.


  1. Cloud computing is more than just software. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are only focused on the software, but that is only part of the picture. The other piece of the puzzle is the infrastructure. Cloud Computing literally frees companies from capacity constraints, lowering the barriers to entry for new innovative software companies which no longer need to invest large amounts of capital to make their products available to the marketplace.

    Who knows, someday a program like “right on interactive” may make your list.

  2. Agreed. However, I would always keep soft copies of my work (dvd-r, flash disk, whatever). But that's just me. On the other hand, the concept of using work apps through the browser does cut down on the hassle of moving btw computers.

    I actually wanted to add to the list:

    The graphic design apps that was introduced via Worth1000 folk? You have to pay for it and hence I have not got around to it. But I like the idea of accessing design apps thru the browser.

    Mister-wong - there are many bookmarking sites, but I use this one cos there are more users from other countries here and hence you find a greater variety.