Cloud Computing Going Forward
By now, everyone has heard about the cloud. For those who haven’t, the cloud, broadly defined, is the sum of all online real-estate, websites, databases, and applications that inhabit the web. Web 2.0, the current iteration of the World Wide Web, is rich with dynamic websites, tools, and storage spaces for users. The web has matured to the extent that web software is now nearly as powerful as the native software applications that live on the hard drive of your computer. In fact, Google’s Chromebook runs Chrome OS, a lightweight operating system that essentially lives on the web. In fact, most of its software programs run in the Chrome browser, cutting out the desktop entirely.
Where do we go from here?
The web-centric nature of Google’s products, such as Google Drive has spurred other innovations in web apps. Dropbox, Microsoft Web Apps, and Evernote are all online storage and document creation tools that share some similarities with Google Drive. Thera are also online web development environments, photo editing tools, communication tools (video chatting, online phone/text messaging suites), and games that are nearly as powerful as traditional software applications. As web standards continue to extend the capabilities of browsers and web programming languages, we can expect a new crop of web applications that match or surpass those that are downloaded and installed on the hard drive of your computer. So, what does all of this mean for the average user?
First, it means that large hard drives are becoming less relevant as online storage begins to gain popularity. Online “cloud” storage will keep your files safe in the event of a catastrophic hard drive or computer failure, and without the need for backing up files on an external hard drive. It also means that all of your files are available in a device-agnostic way. Next, it means that people can communicate and game within their browser, and with seamless software updates since their applications live on servers and are maintained by the software vendor. FInally, it means that people are increasingly able to do the things that they want to do within their favorite web browser.
A lot of folks are very comfortable with their desktops. I want to make it clear that I am not of the opinion that traditional desktops are going anywhere. Instead, I would argue that people who do a lot of their work and/or play on the web will eventually want a desktop that they can access from any of their devices. There are already solutions in the works.
Here are a few webtop environments that are already available:
Here is my Chrome browser’s apps page, which is almost a webtop:
More about webtops
Hashem Zahran dives in a little deeper into some of the distinctions between web desktops and web operating systems, and lists a few more webtop options on his website. There are only a few scattered resources available about web desktops/webtops, especially considering that it is a concept that is only slowly garnering the awareness of the general computer user. Cnet has a slightly dated article from 2009 that explores the trouble that virtual desktops were having in finding a niche, but this was before the Chromebook and Google’s release of a new breed of enhanced, rich web applications that make working on the web, within a browser increasingly viable.