Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cloud

Great article in Wired (one of the only magazines I read cover to cover) about the rise of Netbooks, or compact, cheap laptop computers. One of the points the article makes is that virtually anything you want to do using traditional software on a computer is available online (in the "cloud" to use net-speak): Microsoft Office is now Google Docs, photos are on flickr, music at pandora, video at YouTube. Now that everything is in the cloud, why do we need a hard drive (or, for that matter, why do we need to pay a hundred bucks for Office)? Never mind that most people probably use computers for only three or four things: email, facebook, IMing, and twitter. All online. Here is an excerpt:

Netbooks are evidence that we now know what personal computers are for.Which is to say, a pretty small list of things that are conducted almost entirely online. This was Asustek's epiphany. It got laptop prices under $300 by crafting a device that makes absolutely no sense when it's not online. Consider: The Eee's original flash drive was only 4 gigs. That's so small you need to host all your pictures, videos, and files online—and install minimal native software—because there's simply no room inside your machine.

Netbooks prove that the "cloud" is no longer just hype. It is now reasonable to design computers that outsource the difficult work somewhere else. The cloud tail is wagging the hardware dog.


"But what about Photoshop?" It's the standard retort from those who dismiss netbooks as children's toys. Sure, a dinky 1.6-GHz chip and Linux are fine for email and silly things like YouTube. But what about when you need to do some real computing, like sophisticated photo editing? The cloud won't help you there, kid.

In the narrowest sense, this is true: A really powerful application like Adobe Photoshop demands a much faster processor. But consider my experience: This spring, after my regular Windows XP laptop began crashing twice a day, I reformatted the hard drive. As I went about reinstalling my software, I couldn't find my Photoshop disc. I forgot about it—until a week later, when I was blogging and needed to tweak a photo. Frustrated, I went online and discovered FotoFlexer, one of several free Web-based editing tools. I uploaded my picture, and in about one minute I'd cropped it, deepened the color saturation, and sharpened it.

I haven't used Photoshop since.

No comments: