Saturday, October 02, 2010

Cloudy weather

Computer cloud applications are definetly in fashion, however many people opposed that web applications should take over client side application. I think that there is a reason for that that many people are not even aware.

First of all, many people invest in applications while using it. The most obvious investment is if they create something while using it. And in general, data structures are not fully standardized. Sometimes they are (like email or images or video) and those are actually most widespread cloud applications, as you can see. Then there are mostly standardized formats, like office documents. Though it is likely that you can open such documents in another application, it is also likely that now and then some details might be not the same as in original. Finally, there are data that are not fully standardized. Like Facebook data. Actually there is no way to export such data.

Other than that, even if application becomes some sort of part of your life, your habit is a little investment. If you cannot use it anymore, you will feel a bit of deprived.

So, there comes cloud as a problem (and generally software as a service). If you own application, you can open your data. And probably you can install it even on another computer under certain condtions, so it can last forever. However, you cannot do the same if your application is in cloud. You depend on continuity of cloud application.

And there, problems turn from theory to reality. I had one such (data) loss. There was a site called Furl. It was the only bookmarking site that did full text saving of web page. The advantage was obvious. If you bookmarked something, you could access it forever. And you could search for the actual page content, not just tags or titles. Yes, it was all nice until... Looksmart management decided to sell the service to another similar service which did not support full page indexing and so everything you believed you had was lost. I would did much better if I stored my data in some Firefox addons (like Scrapbok), I wouldn't be able to access everything from every computer, but I would at least not lose some data. And now I see that another bookmarking service, Xmarks is about to be shut down. It is a good thing that you will have all your data also stored locally, so there won't be any data loss, but you will lose some functionality you got used to.

And you can say, so what, I will keep with big guys (companies), and they won't shut down. Well there are two problems with that. First of all, most of innovation comes from small companies, so if this prevails you can expect innovation to decline. And it is not good. But other than that, you're not really safe with big companies either. Wasn't there web app called Google Lively? Or will there be an end to Google Wave? Yes, they were in beta, but most people that used them invested something in them, and they will lose it. List goes on with Microsoft's Live blogging platform, though it seems that users will be able to export their data to Wordpress, will there be some problems with that we shall see. And even Furl I used wasn't really from small guys.

And problems don't end there. There was a promise of cloud computing that you will have just cheap and energy efficient machines as operations would move to the server. But web apps can't do that. You will have to have at least one good old fat client to backup things locally. Just in case, you need at least one full computer that has ability to do that, but probably you will do the trade off just in case if something is mobile.

So to put things simple, cloud is expanding, but mostly in areas where it offers some sort of new functionality to users - like backup where you are now able to backup to another geographically distant area and increase safety, and also in cases where it is economically viable and you can extract data whenever you want, or you can store it to local disk. Other than that, people are still buying applications, and probably will do that for a long time.

Possibly, you will really have a thin clients and lease some virtual machine, but that virtual machine just needs to be transfarable. It might add up things to the cloud. But then it will change mostly your hardware, not the way you use your computer.