I think a cloud-based operating system, like Google' Chrome OS, has a bright future. But, when I look at Apple's Lion, which will only be available as an upgrade by a 4GB download, and iCloud plans I begin to wonder just how much any fat-client operating system-Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows-have if Apple and Google have their way.
As Jobs put it, the PC centric data model is broken. And, so the digital hub will move from being the PC to the iCloud and the Mac will be "demoted."
What did he mean by that? My fellow ZDNet writer, Andrew Nusca, put it well, "Mac vs. PC vs. Linux argument from the early days of consumer computing has lost a great deal of its luster in recent years with the development of cloud computing on the open web." The operating system wars are far from over though. Nusca continued, "Concept of platform wars is quickly making up for lost ground with the development of cloud computing in the closed mobile space."
I've always thought that thin-client computing has its place in technology. That's one reason why I think Google's Chrome OS has a real shot in dethroning the Window desktop in the office. By making the iCloud the center of everything, instead of the Mac, Apple is trying to wean consumers away from the fat-client PC model that's served us so well since the day the first IBM PC rolled off the assembly line.
This worries me. If you had fast bandwidth and enough room on your data cap, cloud-based computing is fine. Many of us are already using every day. Oh, you may not think of using Gmail or Google Docs as being on the cloud, but it is and you are.
It's so darn easy when all you really need to get work done from anywhere is an Internet connection and a Web browser. Forget your file at the office? Just grab your copy from Dropbox, and you're good to go. But, Jobs takes it even farther. All your data will be on the iCloud and it's automatically pushed to any of your devices.
It sounds great doesn't it? I think it sound great too, but, and this is a big one, do you really want to trust Apple or Google with all your data? What happens if you don't pay your fee to Apple? What happens if the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) demands a copyright audit of all my music on iTunes Match?
The bitterness in the sweet
You see, I rather like the idea of owning all my media and having it on my servers and PC. This leads me to my other point: I like owning my operating system and applications.
Microsoft will sell me a system, with caveats, but at the end of the day I own it. I have a friend who's still running Windows XP Media Center 2002. It still works for her and she's happy with it. That's great. I'm a big believer in the idea that if something works for you, you should keep using it.
But, as I sit here my with my first generation iPod Touch and Apple TV, neither of them work well with the latest Apple software offerings. Do I want to be forever having to upgrade my Apple hardware to get the most from Apple' newest features?
At least with Google, the plan is to support the lowest common denominator. If you can use the Chrome Web browser or afford an inexpensive Chromebook, you can use the full-range of Google's cloud-based services. My friend, for example, uses Chrome 11 on her almost ten-year old PC without a problem.
The problem extends beyond just "owning" an operating system, your application and your data. With Linux, it's about having control of your operating system.
Richard M. Stallman, creator of the GNU Public License (GPL), developer, and leader of the Free Software Foundation and I disagree on many points. But, when he recently disparaged cloud computing. I had to agree.
Stallman said that in cloud-computing you're letting "any Tom, Dick and Harry hold your data, let any Tom, Dick and Harry do your computing for you (and control it). Perhaps the term 'careless computing' would suit it better." Stallman fears, "many people will continue moving towards careless computing, because there's a sucker born every minute. The US government may try to encourage people to place their data where the US government can seize it without showing them a search warrant, rather than in their own property. However, as long as enough of us continue keeping our data under our own control, we can still do so. And we had better do so, or the option may disappear."
He's right. With a Linux desktop computer, I own my data, I control my processes. While I can see the cloud having its place for some people and in some situations, I hate this trend we're seeing of putting everything into someone else's hands outside of our sight, and all too soon out of mind.
Thin-clients and cloud-computing do have their place, but it's not a place where I want my data, my work, to live under the control of corporate strangers. For all the ease of use of these methods, I'd prefer to see fat-client desktops like Mint 11 Linux, and, yes, even Windows 7, to continue on for so long as we continue to use computers.