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Cloud Computing is the latest buzzword, but danger is just around the corner and you had best beware.

Cloud computing is a term you are hearing a lot these days. The way you are hearing it used is no more than a farce, and most possibly one of the most dangerous trends in the tech world today. Cloud computing has been defined many ways, but it is basically providing scalable Internet based software services distributed across disparate datacenters. The common theme is reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the users.

This is by no means a new idea. Way back in the 90's we had thin clients and a network server. The thin clients were no different than today's PC's and the server can be compared to "the cloud" It didn't work then for some very good reasons that still apply today.

ISP’s are not always available. Lightning, fiber cables hit by ditch diggers, or servers go down, etc. With an app on the desktop, you are still productive. If your apps are in the cloud, you are effectively out of business.

It is not just the ISP's, there have been many mass outages of web services lately. Amazon S3 has gone down, Skype had a historic outage for a couple of days, AOL has historically gone down many times, Twitter is getting a reputation as being flaky, MobileMe was a disaster at launch, even Google Docs and Gmail went down this year, and there will be more. If you are dependent on these services to run your computers, especially business computers, you are in trouble.

That doesn't even mention the services that just disappeared completely. I certainly hope your calendar was not being kept on, Nikon is about to close its Fotoshare photo service, and AOL may well close its Xdrive online storage. If you were a paying Streamload or MediaMax then Linkup user, all your data has already been dumped. That's correct, it is gone forever.

Think about the TV: without the signal, you’re the proud owner of an aluminum box. Or you were, until the advent of VCR/DVD/Game consoles. Those devices created independence from a central source. Do you really want to rely on only those services that are given to you from "the cloud". With a PC you are in control and the choice is yours as to where you place your data and how you use it.

Trying to do anything with web-based software is orders of magnitude more clumsy than doing the same tasks on my PC. Just go to any of these services, log in, and do whatever task you like, I can guarantee you that I can do the same task on my desktop with proprietary software in half the time and with usually better results.

In this cloud based computing software world, every job we do gets routed through some huge “secure” (read: hacker target) central authority? No thank you. Privacy becomes completely nonexistent in the cloud. Sure you can be assured of anything you want, but really, do you want everything on your PC placed on the net?

The idea of cloud computing is being taken to the extreme with companies like Sapotek which has actually created one of the best examples of cloud computing we have seen yet. Sapotek's Desktop Two uses a number of open-source applications, including Open Office as its productivity suite. This is all presented within your browser as a familiar format and suddenly cloud computing becomes more accessible to people who aren't comfortable tracking down a series of individual Web applications and combining them. Now lets just pretend that we decide we are going to go with the "net computer" route and use this very nice service.

Our data is only as secure as Sapotek's site is. We are also never sure that it does not later become a paid service with a unreasonable rate, or that Sapotek does not fail as a business. What happens to our data at that point? The problem is no one really knows, any number of things could happen and although I love the way the service works, there are many things that I need access to forever, regardless of what may happen. As long as they are on my hard drive, and my backups, I will always be 100% sure that I have them.

This isn't some paranoia on our end, cloud services have come and gone over the years, DRM in music being one of the best examples. Anyone who bought music from Virgin Digital, Sony Connect, MSN music, and now Yahoo! Music Store in these cases, past customers dependent on their music "phoning home" to get license approval before playing are out of luck. They'll be able to continue playing purchased tracks on a single computer, until they make any changes to their operating system. Remember these are all paid services that are "in the cloud". The problem is the cloud is closing. The customers are left out in the rain.

Imagine this happening with all of your data, your customer contact lists, your family photos. It just doesn't make any sense to trust your life to the cloud. It never will. With prices commonly as low as .75 cents per GB for storage the cloud makes no sense at all.

The internet is a great place for distributing data, not so great for storing data.

To top it all off, Cloud Computing is one of Steve Ballmer's top 5 plans for Microsoft in 2009. In a memo listing the top 5 key areas for Microsoft in 2009 Ballmer listed Embrace "Software plus services" at number four

"Some people think software plus services is all about search. But it's really about changing the way software is written and deployed. The future is about having a platform in the cloud and delivering applications across PCs, phones, TVs, and other devices, at work and in the home."

That sounds a lot like the cloud to us, and we are afraid, very afraid once Microsoft and Apple decide to leave the desktop and everything moves toward the cloud what happens?

Now all that said, we don't exactly hate Cloud Computing. It is just that it should compliment, not replace, local computing on the PC. The winner, whether Google or Microsoft or someone else, will be those who best understands the evolving principles of the relationship among cloud computing and local computing. This will on occasion either be complimentary or competitive substitution of one for the other, and who designs his operating system to best exploit, enable, and enhance both local computing and web services as an additional tool, not a replacement for the personal computer.

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Familiar feel: Sapotek’s Desktop Two, shown below, is built to have the familiar look and feel of popular operating systems such as Microsoft Windows. It includes Sun’s Open Office suite as well as a variety of open-source applications developed by Sapotek and others.


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