I’m writing this in Microsoft Word on an iPad. I have a Bluetooth keyboard and am using Word 2010. You might be asking how I’m doing that.
Welcome to the Cloud.
Without realizing it I’ve got to a place where much of what I now do is dependent as much on things happening in some virtual space as it is on whatever device I happen to be using. In this case I’m using the rather wonderful OnLive Desktop. A full instance of Windows 7 running as a virtual machine in the cloud with Microsoft Office installed (minus Outlook).
All of my photos and music are in Apple’s iCloud. As my whole family use Apple devices our entire media library (which is bigger than can be stored on any one device) is available instantly to each of us. We share a calendar that exists in the cloud. Share photos instantly from our camera phones.
All my files are stored in Dropbox. And Dropbox itself is linked to CloudOn so that whether a file was created in native Microsoft applications or Apple applications it doesn’t matter. CloudOn allows you to open Microsoft Office files in their native application directly from the attachment in Mail on an iPad. For free!
I have multiple email accounts, along with attendant folders of mail, in cloud accounts available from any device.
I use cloud applications like the rather wonderful Prezi to create presentations. I read magazines like MIT’s Technology Review in the cloud – it’s a complete replica of the print magazine (which I no longer get) available through a browser using technology from onswipe.
Many other applications that I use now have synchronizing capabilities. While not strictly cloud applications they use the cloud. Evernote keeps my notes available for any of my devices. Wunderlist does the same for tasks and reminders. The gorgeous Flipboard aggregates all sorts of content to create a personal magazine and, again, synchronizes what I’ve read, added or deleted across multiple touch screen devices (where’s my Mac version though Flipboard?).
There is one thing that all these cloud applications have in common. They are all either completely or mostly dependent on my device being connected to the Internet. Without that I can do nothing – or in some cases very little. One of my previous blog posts likened broadband Internet access to the power grid. I become more convinced every day that high quality, unrestricted access to the Internet is a necessity for a properly functioning modern society.
But here’s the thing. To some it feels like we’ve gone back in time. When I first started work I entered an office where people had green screen monitors. Everything they accessed was over a network. The terminal was just a cathode ray tube – a completely dumb device. I also remember that being swept away when everyone got PC’s. It was amazing that they were in color but also that you could load applications directly onto the machine.
So it certainly could appear as if we are simply returning to the dumb terminal days. But I don’t think so. I think we are combining the best of both worlds. The new devices certainly aren’t dumb. They are graphically powerful and many have touch interfaces. The ability, and our desire, to run native applications aren’t going away any time soon. But the inherent collaborative and sharing benefits that come from being connected to a network are being added to the intelligent terminal. In a sense we were operating PCs as individuals in glorious isolation. We are now truly becoming part of a connected and collaborative world. I think that’s a good thing.