After recent announcements at Google I/0, with Google pushing their Chromebook, which runs chrome OS, which is essentially nothing more than a browser. It got me thinking about if it is possible to do everything from the cloud, and if doing everything from the cloud is better or worse that how we currently manage all of our data. Google seems to think so since they are planning on offering Chromebooks for businesses at $28 a month and $20 a month for schools.
As a web developer I am on my computer a minimum of 8 hours a day, and I demand a lot from it, so can I work from the cloud? To see If I can I will run through what it is that I do on the computer and see if the cloud has an answer, and if it is better or worse than its traditional counter part.
Web mail services have been around for years and have done nothing but improve. Having your email in the cloud allows you to access it anywhere anytime, as long as you have an active internet connection, (although services like mail allows offline email storage in the browser) and the email is in the same state no mater where you check it. Exchange and IMAP protocols allows syncing of mail but older pop accounts don't. Setup of web based email is simple and can be centrally managed easily, by IT departments. As for cloud based calendars the ability to easily share schedules on the web, with co workers or with friends gives them an advantage over traditionally calendars. For Email I give cloud based services the edge over their counterparts.
The cloud offers suites of office productivity applications, Google offers Google Apps, and Microsoft has Office 365. Both suites duplicate most of the functionality that we get out of the desktop counterparts, but with added features for document sharing and collaboration. The collaboration features are a huge benefit to sending documents back and forth over email and having to merge documents, but they lack some features and the polish of their desktop counterparts. Spreadsheets for example still don't have all the functionality of desktop applications, and if you need specific formatting for printing document the desktop applications still has a strong edge. Office productivity is a draw for me and I still rely on the advantages of both.
This is one where I think the cloud has already won, rarely do I see desktop front ends to CRM databases, or project management being handled by sending project planing documents between staff. There are so many cloud solutions out for managing businesses customer relations, project management, finances and more, that are available as products or software as a service, it would be hard not to find something for your needs. Putting services like this in the cloud makes IT management even easier as there are no desktop applications to set up. For business management I would go to the cloud and never look back
So what about storage, if we are not storing documents and company resources on hard drives or file servers what are we doing. Wiki's have turned out to be a terrific solution to storing information that needs to be accessible to employees and updated regularly. For pure file storage there are solutions like Amazon's Cloud Drive, I recently started using amazon cloud drive and it has replaced my USB drive for how I carry my files. No more worrying about losing my thumb drive. Storing files in the cloud also means no more realizing that files are only on you work PC while trying to work from home. Advantage to the cloud on this one.
While writing this I didn't think there would be anything that came close to Photoshop but I found something that got much closer that I imagined, an application called Pixlr http://pixlr.com. I found it to have a vast number of features for doing image manipulation, but its still far behind on the advanced features of Photoshop so I don't think any of the graphic designers I work with will be giving up Photoshop anytime soon. I think until adobe makes a full web based version of Photoshop the advantage goes to the desktop.
Moving away from business applications what about the personal stuff we do like store photos of our friends, families, and vacations. There are numerous services left and right for storing our photos on the web, and sharing those albums. My favorite part about using the cloud to hold photos is rather than having to sit down with person after person to go through photos you can now just send them a link. Advantage cloud.
What about all that music you have stored on your computer, now you can upload it to services like amazon's cloud player and play it anywhere, no more filling up your iPod or transferring file between your home and work computers now you can access it anywhere you have the internet. Not to mention the plethora of subscription based music services available. Moving music to the could seem like a good idea to me.
Casual gamers best options have been simple and addicting web based games. For hardcore gamers our there you might not want to switch to a cloud book just yet, but there are some cloud based gaming services that make it so you don't have to buy download or install any games. OnLive is a video game streaming service that you can use on a Mac, PC, or using their own hardware that connects to a TV. With OnLive's service you get to play games hosted on their servers and have the display streamed directly to you. Providing you with the ability to play graphic intensive games on low powered hardware.
While I don't think I am quite ready to jump fully to the cloud yet, someone that is willing to make a few small sacrifices probably can. It looks like the cloud is at the point where it can support most of our users without them having to give up much. And if you are still using desktop software and it is driving you nuts look for a cloud alternative or think about having one developed to fit your needs, freeing you from your desktop bonds.