Moving to the “Cloud”

I recently wrote a post about my favorite programs for the Mac (here).  While writing it, I realized how outdated it sounded.

The reason: a very large percentage of the programs that I now use live in the “Cloud.”  The “Cloud” as described by Walt Mossberg in today’s Wall Street Journal (here), is a combination of nebulous server farms around the world that store your information and run your programs.  The programs that I run which do not live in the cloud, either could or soon will.

When using my personal computer, I spend 95% of my time on the internet and in the “Cloud.”  That means I am running everything via a browser (in my case, I prefer Firefox).  The “programs” I run via the “Cloud” include Gmail, Gtalk/AIM, Google Reader, GoogleMaps, Bing shopping, WordPress, NYTimes, WashingtonPost, Techmeme, and Pandora.  “Programs” is in quotes because these are not really programs as much as they are websites that run programs and provide relevant information.  When I am at work, I may spend ~30% of my time in the “Cloud” because I spending the rest of it using Microsoft Office.  However, my company could easily choose Google Apps and/or Zoho Office to replace Microsoft Office.  Except for Excel, I have found Google Apps to be as good as MS Office.  When it comes to collaboration and email, Google easily beats Microsoft.  For the price (i.e. free for personal use and $50/yr for enterprises), Google Apps is a no-brainer.

Microsoft is slowly and grudgingly moving in this direction.  They are in no rush as this could destroy their business model but competition is forcing their hand.

For a company (and personal use) the metrics/ROI for moving to the “Cloud” are too hard to pass up.  The programs are just as good.  They are more robust (due to automatic updates).  They are available anywhere in the world with an internet connection (and even offline).  They are priced right — 1. cost of use is negligible (i.e. free), 2. computing resources are minimal (i.e. only a computer that can run a browser), which lowers hardware expenditures, and 3. IT costs are minimized.  A personal example of the ease of the “Cloud” is when I coaxed my mother to move to Yahoo Mail (I had my reasons but it was a mistake but that is another story).  She used to have major issues with her email.  Now, no issues and no phone calls to me. The same goes for IT Help Desks in a company. The PC, as a truly personal computer, is slowly withering away (see Forbe article here).

With 2010 only a few hours away, here are a few predictions of what the “Cloud” means for the future of computing: 1. Everything becomes easier but slightly less secure, 2. computer prices will continue to drop because you will not need to buy a powerful new computer.  One of the most power-hungry applications, gaming, is heading to the “Cloud.”  In 12 months, so long as you have a fast broadband connection, you will be able to play even the most hardcore games via the “Cloud.”  3. Content rental/streaming continues its fast growth.  Netflix streaming, movie rental via Amazon and others is quickly becoming a major force.  Its growth will only continue.  Why buy a movie for $15 when you can rent it for $3.  You can watch it again every few months for another $3.  If you watch a DVD fewer than 5 times, then renting is the way to go.  You can also watch it on anything with a screen (who will continue to need a DVD player built into their computer?).  4. Music streaming overtakes music buying.  I have many gigs worth of music in my iTunes folder.  How often do I listen to it?  Maybe once a month.  How often do I listen to Pandora/AOL Music?  Daily.  How much do I pay?  Zero.  Louise Gray had an interesting article on this topic here.  5. Mobile — this is the biggie that stands over all of the other predictions (and is not so much a prediction as a statement of fact). See below…

Mobile is one of the main driving forces / enablers of the “Cloud” (plus, of course, cheap fiber/broadband, massive and low-cost server farms).  Why is mobile a driver?  Your phone is not powerful enough to truly be smart (even if it is a “smartphone”).  However, when plugged into the Internet, a cellphone/smartphone becomes nearly as powerful as my laptop.  On my phone, I can do 99% of the things I can do on my computer such as send, receive, and write emails or documents.  I can view just about any website, read books, and listen to streaming music.  My phone is my GPS device (even though my current, terrible BlackBerry 8800 has its GPS disabled by Verizon but triangulation thanks to Google works well enough).  I can make restaurant reservations via Opentable and so forth.  My next computer purchase may only be for a screen and a keyboard with a USB cable plug for my phone.  With everything in the “Cloud,” the phone becomes just another device to connect.  It enables the “Cloud.”

I am excited for the future…welcome to 2010!

Why I went back to Firefox — Feedly

In my previous post, I spoke about why I left Firefox for Safari.  The basics — Firefox ran too hot for my liking.  Safari is better optimized for my Macbook Pro.

However, a few weeks ago, I read about a program that has “forced” me to go back to Firefox.  It is called Feedly.  It is an add-on for Firefox.  Scoble and Louis Gray have both spoken about it, which piqued my interest.

What does it do?  Generally, it aggregates all of your feeds and creates a magazine like digest of those feeds.  However, it has another function that makes it worth Firefox abusing my computer’s fans.  Feedly Mini sits at the bottom right hand corner of my Firefox screen.  Feedly Mini essentially turns every web page into a Google referenced page.

What do I mean?  I can share any web page or article that I read through my Google Reader shared items feed.  I can email it using Gmail.  Feedly also ties into some other great web 2.0 programs, which I rarely use.

Feedly is great for me because my reading habits are not just confined to my 250 RSS feeds found in Greader.  I read many other websites such as the Nytimes, Cnet, Techmeme, WSJ, WashPost, etc.  I prefer to read over these general sites because they open me up to greater variety of information than I would otherwise gain from my more directed and specific RSS feeds.  Until Feedly, I was never able to share (and, why I really like Greader, it allows me to save these feeds) the articles that I read outside Greader.  I would read many great articles that were quickly forgotten.

With Feedly, these articles no longer go through my head and then a few days later, leave it.  I have a record of my favorite articles that is kept for posterity (or for however long Google is around).

Feedly is not available for Safari so now I am back as a Firefox user.

Why I switched from Blogger to WordPress

I recently started blogging. I started with Blogger because it is one of the main services and is part of Google. While Google scares me at times, its programs tend to be some of the best. Plus, despite the eerie privacy issues, I love having a single log-in name for everything. Basically, I tend to really enjoy Google services and do not want particularly want to leave their bubble.

However, blogger lacks the functionality of WordPress. My customization options are few. Adding widgets beyond the mere basics is difficult. Frankly, it was not up to the level of other Google programs and is easily beaten by WordPress.

I still have some playing around to do with both sites and will reserve final judgement for later. One thing holding WordPress back from winning outright is that adding my Google Reader shared items to my WordPress blog is difficult. I am working on this now. Wish me luck.


Zune’s trippy new website — a harbringer of a new type of website presentation?

Zune has a new website and a video. They are trippy. Thanks Techcrunch for pointing me towards it.

Watch the video and checkout the website (here). The video is neat but I think the website is very cool. It is different. It navigates in semi-3d space and you move from one space to the other simply by pushing your mouse forward or back. There doesnt seem to be any information in that 3d space except for trippy pictures. However, imagine if those pictures held portals to further 3d spaces with more information. One could conceive a whole new way to navigate. The site really made me feel as if I had entered a whole new world rather than just looking at, what is post-zune, boring old webpages. Of course, there may be some navigation limitations involved in creating a realistically useful site.

What this really makes me think is: we are desperately in need of a website revolution. We have Web 2.0. It changes the underlying nature of what we can do with a website. Yet the presentation of Web 2.0 website are still fundamentally Web 1.0. There are still boring and plain except filled with ajax features.

Since no one seems to know for sure what form Web 3.0 is going to take (although an underlying semantic web is a possibility), this could be it [from an interactivity/design standpoint]. Imagine a new way to navigate in a 3D world coupled with Ajax usefullness. Some people might not understand it and they could click a button to switch views. Add in smart searching to find the content you need, smart ads that stylistically couple with the content you want and you are golden.

Here is an example of what I picture: I go to a website like I can fly through their store from one section to the next (from DVDs to computers, to books, and so forth). Each section is stylistically different and the style coincides with the product category. I can either stay in that section and check out the various subsections that float in space with 3D pictures representing their sub-category. If I want to move to the next category, I can “fly” there. If, instead, I want to search for a product, I type in my seach and instead of a normal listing, I receive a floating group of products that meet my search criteria. The most relevant products are closest to the middle of the frame and then move out from there.

I have this dream of a web that sucks me into a whole new world…