Dragons in the Cloud: Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft

Four mighty "Dragons" will claim their territory in the Cloud. Will they interoperate, or will users of these services be imprisoned, and subjected to the terrors of their reign?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Four mighty "Dragons" will claim their territory in the Cloud. Will they interoperate, or will users of these services be imprisoned, and subjected to the terrors of their reign?

Today, at their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) Apple announced the upcoming availability of iCloud, a new free service that allows users to synchronize media content and other forms of personal data across all of their devices, be it their iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, Macs, or even PCs running iTunes.

With iCloud and iOS 5, Apple has now "cut the cord" with its iTunes dependency on Mac and Windows for its various iOS-based consumer devices and will allow users to synchronize their music collection wirelessly with the iTunes Store over the Internet, as well as activate and update their devices without any other wired connection as well.

Similarly, apps, books, pictures and productivity documents created in iWork on the Mac and in iOS will also be synchronized in iCloud, allowing the service to also double as a personal business continuity mechanism for up to 5GB of data (music purchased on iTunes and 30-day caches of personal photo streams are exempted from this limitation).

Apple has not yet disclosed pricing for additional amounts of personal data beyond 5GB stored in iCloud, or if they will offer it at all.

However, it's certainly possible that improvements to their Time Machine software in OS X Lion or an updated Time Capsule appliance may be able to act as a localized datastore which will enable "Private Clouds" with larger storage pools to run in your home but accessible from everywhere, a la PogoPlug.

Apple's foray into the consumer Cloud follows similar efforts by Google with GMailGoogle Docs, Picasa Web AlbumsGoogle Books and Google Music, the last of of which went into private beta only recently.

The pending release of iCloud as part of iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion also follows the recent introduction of Amazon's Cloud Player and Cloud Drive, which supplants their streaming video service, and multi-platform Kindle bookstoreas well as their existing and extremely comprehensive Amazon Web Services(AWS).

Last, and certainly not least, Microsoft has its own Online Services such as Windows Live,Office Web Appsand Zunepass which it will leverage on its existing Windows 7, Windows Phone, XBOX 360 and upcoming Windows 8 desktop, tablet and mobile platforms. Like Amazon with AWS, it also has Windows Azure, its enterprise Cloud service, as well as Office 365(currently in beta) for small and medium-sized businesses.

Also Read: Windows Live, A Guide for the Perplexed

Each of these fearsome giants, or "Cloud Dragons" are in the process of setting up their fiefdoms, and it is us users who are to belong to each of these Cloud fiefdoms will either willingly or unwillingly become their vassals, feeding the Dragons with our cash when new Apps and content fancies us.

The Dragons must be appeased, or we'll be sacrificing our virgins and giving them the right of prima nocta instead. We've all seen HUMANCENTiPAD, only the Gods know what the Dragons are truly capable of.

The Cloud, as it seems, especially as it pertains to mobile or "Post-PC" platforms of the future, is not optional. It will be an integrated part of our future computing experience, whether we like it or not.

While I for one welcome our new Cloud Dragon overlords, there is one particular issue that concerns me, and that's whether or not that if I swear my oath of fealty to a particular fiefdom today, if I can ever actually leave at some unforeseen future date, and bring my cloud data with me to another Cloud fiefdom, ruled by a different Dragon.

Or more realistically, I may decide I want to actually be a Cloud multi-platformist and run say, a Mac OS X Lion desktop, an Amazon Android Tablet and a Windows 8 Phone. Will the Dragons of these Clouds actually allow data to interoperate and pass between them? Will other services exist that allow me to "Federate" my clouds?

I dunno. The politics of the Cloud Dragons could get quite complicated indeed.

Clearly, I do not expect Apple to be particularly flexible as it pertains to "Appifying" cloud services from Amazon, Google and Microsoft on iOS or even the Mac App Store. That much is a given -- and I expect the App Store developer agreement's "no duplication of OS functionality" clauses to extend to iCloud, selectively, as Apple sees fit to fortify its castle walls.

Of all the Dragons, I expect Apple to protect its fiefdom and the denizens (prisoners *cough*) of its walled gardens with exteme prejudice.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft at least appear that they will continue to employ emerging HTML5 Web standards for their Clouds. So in theory, I should still be able to use their Cloud services on Apple devices, even if it's just in the browser.

Of course, that is assuming that each of these entities isn't going to add extensions to existing web standards that might break someone else's Web services.

And we don't really know if Google is going to be nice to users of Amazon Android tablets with optimized Apps to leverage their Cloud, and vice-versa, or if Microsoft is going to allow Amazon and Google fully optimized Windows 8 Cloud apps to run on their platform.

Everyone is going to have some sort of App Store with all sorts of cockamamie rules, in order to protect their interests. I mean, this is capitalism on these Cloud fiefdoms we're talking about, not a hippie commune.

In terms of Dragons, we're talking more on the order of Glaurung, not Puff.

Certainly, one would expect that if you do own some type of "PC", be it a Mac or a Windows, a Linux or Google-something, you should be able to transfer data. This is provided that you subscribe to the idea that something like our Blade Runner is going to exist in the future and that the majority of PCs aren't going to be displaced with smart devices, that is.

But if Steve Jobs has his way, we will be in the "Post-PC" era. And that means virtually all of our personal data is going to reside in the Cloud, and the Dragons will rule us with an iron fist if we try to escape their fiefdom walls.

Data portability could very well end up being a serious problem, if the average Joe and Jane simply own smartphones and tablets in 2019, and PC's go mostly extinct.

If the majority of us really end up living "Post-PC", and you commit to a vendor like Apple, who's to say you'll be able to easily move your data to Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or someone else for that matter?

I'd really like to know the answer to that question, Mister Dragon.

Are you welcoming or fearing our new Cloud Dragon overlords? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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