David Berlind nails it in is discussion of the inexorable move to the cloud. Discussing the recent connection between spreadsheet godfather Dan Bricklin's WikiCalc and SocialText, he perfectly describes the "dual modality" many of us are operating in with an increasing number of essential web-based applications slowly but surely encroaching on our use of desktop fat clients.
The bottom line is that even though many of us are in a dual modality, we are relying more and more on Web-based apps every day. With a little more investment into Web-based apps from companies that are clearly prepared to make that investment, their applications will begin to make us ask if we really need that dual modality or is it time to switch to something that doesn't require such girth, expense, and aggravation on the desktop side. Not to mention the security headaches (which, contrary to urban mythology, are not just on Windows anymore).
Like David, I agree that there are fundamental issues of accessibility, confidentiality, and security to be resolved before many folks will be comfortable making their move. Living on the geek edge, it's all to easy to assume that everyone has ubiquitous access to the net when the fact remains that most do not. Many road warriors talk about airplane time as a prime reason they can't or won't adopt a cloud-based work mode. And confidentiality and security should be a concern no matter where you choose to store, access, and work with your data.
But, as David argues, these are problems that can be solved.
I'm heading off for a week on the road. Net access may be a problem in the mountain town of Telluride, Colorado where I'm headed to enjoy the annual Bluegreass Festival. On my way to Boston for the Collaborative Technologies Conference, I'll be doing the airport WiFi hunt. So today, having my writing projects available on my Tablet PC, whether or not I can access the net makes sense. I can't count on being able to access a tool like Writely as the only way to kick out a few more pages of my book or the article I'm writing about time and task management in Outlook 2007.
I've long been of the opinion that an offline/online workstyle will be necessary for the foreseeable future. But I also agree with David that purveyors of online applications who understand these issues and provide a way to work offline are making it increasingly easy to shift the balance in the way we work. ThinkFree Office offers a desktop version of their online productivity suite. Gmail can be accessed via POP3 for desktop access. WikiCalc and Google Spreadsheets use standard file formats so data can be used when the net can not.
David argues that web-based computing is inevitable. Watching how my kids work, I'm in complete agreement. While they still use desktop tools, their preference is always to work online when the right tool is available. In a recent article published at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kate Wittenberg of the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia University wrote the following:
Most students today arrive at college assuming that a Google search is the first choice for doing research, that MySpace is the model for creating online content and building peer communities, and — perhaps most important — that multitasking with various electronic devices, often from remote locations, is the traditional way to do class work. The implications of those changes must transform our publishing strategies.
She builds a substantial argument that, in education, the delivery of content (curriculum) and the way it will be used is changing. Whether or not the institutions who have traditionally acted as the source for the content like it or not. And that in order to address the increasing predilection to access content from a variety of mobile devices from a number of locations, new partnerships and new ways of thinking will be required. WikiCalc and SocialText are a harbinger of things to come. And David is right. Taking the long view - the move to the cloud is inevitable.