Cloud computing is a term that’s been thrown around corporate offices for ages now. Even as the average consumer struggles to define the cloud, businesses have been slowly migrating to it. Consumers have been using the cloud too, of course. Saving files on a remote server, using a service like SkyDrive, amounts to using the cloud. That’s how simple it is. Nokia allows its users to back-up all their mobile data on the Ovi server. This, too, amounts to using the cloud.
But these are the most basic use cases. And these are not exciting. The lack of exciting applications is what makes consumers scratch their heads and wonder why there is such hullabaloo over the cloud. Why is remote file storage the future, when storage media are getting so cheap? And why would anyone want to surrender their treasured holiday pictures to a server that might disappear at any time?
Arguably the first exciting application of cloud computing, Onlive shows people exactly why cloud computing is so big.
For the uninitiated, Onlive allows anyone to play any game, regardless of their hardware configuration and, theoretically, their operating system. All they need is a quick internet connection. All games are stored on and processed by the Onlive servers. What the end user gets is more or less a stream of video, rendered graphics from the Onlive servers. This is not too different from Opera Mini’s concept, which lets it servers handle all the processing work and sends on rendered pages to the end mobile device.
What this means is that, theoretically, you could start a game of Crysis in the morning on your desktop, and then continue from where you left off on the way to office, on your mobile device.
Crysis on a mobile device? Surely that’s a ridiculous dream! Surprisingly, though, it’s not. If your mobile device can handle 1080p video, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to handle Crysis through Onlive. The problem earlier was the lack of processing power in mobile devices. With cloud computing, you don’t need all the processing power in your hand.
Google eBooks, anyone?
The beauty of cloud computing doesn’t lie in just the remote processing. A part of it also lies in being able to pick up on things from where you left off on another device. Imagine you start listening to your favourite playlist in the car. Wouldn’t it be great if your MP3 player at home could simply continue playing that list when you reach home?
Or that you start reading a book on your laptop. Then as you open the same book on your smartphone, it knows exactly which page you were on. You could continue reading across different devices, without ever having to tell the device which page you were on. This is exactly the feature of Google eBooks that Google advertises.
Chrome OS – redefining everything
The advantages of the cloud are clear. Imagine if you could live your entire digital life on the cloud.
Imagine if you could make a presentation on your desktop at home. And then open it on your friend’s smartphone for a quick revision.
Imagine if you could create a music track, then play it for everyone at your friend’s party using his laptop.
Imagine you have your laptop and your smartphone stolen, and yet you don’t lose a single byte of data, for they stored none.
Imagine a world where the device and the data were separated. A device is simply a means to access your data. It doesn’t store the data by itself, so you don’t have to worry about which device you are using. No more syncing, no more humongous file transfers between your old and new machines, no more worrying about device theft.
Imagine a world where you didn’t have to worry about minute hardware details of your device. “Can it run Crysis?”, “Can I use this or that software?”, “Will the processor be able to handle this software?”. You no longer have to worry about processing power, for the cloud will provide enough of it for you.
All future devices will ever need is some basic hardware, a web browser and an internet connection.
Chrome OS has taken the first step towards such a world. It still does not provide remote processing. But remote storage is a huge step in the right direction.
For now, many have been laughing in Google’s face. Chrome OS has been branded Google’s biggest failure even before it has been launched (look here, here and here). But the undeniable fact is that cloud computing is the future. And Chrome OS is the first “Cloud OS”. Chrome might or might not be a failure, but it definitely the first step towards a world where everything is on the cloud. Google might just have the last laugh on this one.