Are we really headed back to the future? With all of the talk of computing in the cloud — including an expectation of a major announcement this week — are we truly destined to go back to the days when there was little horsepower on the desktop and all the computing was done at a central location?
Sure, it’s different today because you’re not wed to one box and one vendor. The entire Internet is your playground. But it was widely viewed as progress to get computing power in the hand of individual users and we now seem poised to reverse that decision.
Personally, I see many advantages to the cloud. I use two laptops, one desktop computer plus an iPhone and it can be somewhat clumsy to work efficiently in those different environments. Some utilities do help quite a bit from the way it used to be (especially the Foxmarks plugin for Firefox that synchronizes bookmarks and the superb Dropbox application that allows me to keep documents fully synced between all of my computers in near real-time).
So I can see real advantages in the cloud from that standpoint. Not to mention all the benefits of SaaS (sure, I’m biased since CustomScoop is a SaaS provider). And the ability to stop worrying about storage space, constant upgrades, etc. Switching to an environment in which netbooks are the center of the universe does have some appeal.
But what about the downside? Sure, Virgin America has in-flight wifi (I’ll be trying it out for myself next week), but what about your ability to work when you have no Internet connection or a pretty weak one (those of us in the more rural parts of the country know the pain of poor cellular broadband but there are plenty of dead spots in urban America, too).
Then of course there are the privacy and security concerns. I don’t get too worked up about the former as I have reached the conclusion that taking advantage of all that modern technology has to offer necessitates a tradeoff in the form of surrendering a not insubstantial amount of personal privacy. But the security one does cause me to twitch just a bit, mostly because I used to be an opposition researcher and government investigator and I know well how valuable internal documents can be — and how easy they can be to misconstrue (intentionally or otherwise).
For now, I’m taking a bit of a wait and see approach. I suspect the outcome will be an ongoing mix of SaaS and desktop software for some time to come, but the pace and nature of that evolution will be interesting to watch.