There is a slow shift underfoot, more noticeable if your work in a large corporation, to wrench control of the desktop back to from individual users to Internet providers. In many respects it’s a giant step backwards in time.
For those not up on this new technology, cloud computing is where Internet providers offer services online that you’re used to doing alone on your personal computing device. Google Docs is one simple example. We are all used to firing up Word, a software application that resides on our local computer, and running it locally, meaning we can use it even if we are not online. Thus we can do word processing anytime we choose because we’ve purchased the rights to use the program any time we want on our own computer. With Google Docs (and also a version of Word 2010 that can now be run online) you don’t have to install anything on your computer, but you do have to be online to use it. Thus, if you choose to use Google Docs, and stop using Word as an installed application on your computer, you won’t be able to do any word processing unless you are online.
This harkens back to the days of mainframe computers where all the applications users needed were on the mainframe and users used dumb terminals to access those programs. In computer terms it’s called client-server computing because clients (us users) get our applications from online servers.
Those companies such as Google and Microsoft that are pushing cloud computing claim that such a move will bring down the cost of computers because the need for the high amount of computing power of today’s computers will become obsolete because all the computing will be done by powerful back-end servers (owned by the Internet service companies) that do all the processing for us. Our personal computing devices such as desktops, notebooks and even cell phones, won’t need anything more than the ability to run sophisticated web applications which means we won’t need a lot of memory, fast chips or even a hard drive, which would indeed reduce the cost of our computing devices.
The problem with all this comes about though, when you look a little deeper and come to understand that these applications that are now free to use online, will no longer be free once we are weaned off of our current mode of computing, but by then, it will be too late, because there won’t be any alternatives, and so, just as we are now powerless when it comes to the cell phone companies, we will become powerless over the applications we wish to use as the big corporations that serve up the applications that we now take for granted become standard.
The long and short of it is, corporations have learned that they can make more money off of us if they can charge us monthly service fees or time of use rates, just as they do with cell phones and so they want to move us from the how things are now, to cloud computing.
This has all come about because of the advent of widespread adoption of wireless and broadband technologies which was initially meant as a means of allowing users to access high band-width applications such as video. But now because so many people have such high speed computer access, the big Internet companies have seen a way to increase profits by offering applications that can be accessed only online, for free; if only for a while. The hope is that over the long haul, us users will switch to these free applications instead of paying for the ones we are using now, and then when enough of us do that, they’ll stop making personal computer based applications and start charging us for those that used to be free; and then we’ll all yearn for the good old days when we could use our computers whenever and wherever we wished, even if our Internet connection was down, without being charged by the month, or minute for those applications we now use without having to worry about the expense.