For a long time industry was based around mainframes and dumb terminals. Then when the PC hit, the market shifted towards distributed computing. For a while some people were talking about a return to centralized computing based on thin clients. That one hasn’t come to pass, and I think it’s window of opportunity is closing rapidly, if not already closed.
At the heart of having/needing/using a computer is the necessity to run applications. Word processing, spreadsheet wrangling, presentation making, photo editing, code programming; for all of these you have needed a computer to do, but not so much anymore. Centralized computing is back, and I think the “cloud” is where we are going to see a lot of technological growth in the coming months/years.
Google Docs, Zoho Office, and others allow you to store and edit your documents, spreadsheets, presentations (read: MS Office stuff) online. FotoFlexer and Picnik allow you to edit your photos. With Bespin you can edit HTML in the cloud. Moving beyond your PC, Google Docs now supports editing from your iPhone. Heck, you can even do your taxes completely online.
When you have the City of San Jose talking about taking their $3 Million annual licensing away from Microsoft, and paying a very small fraction of that for Google’s enterprise edition of Google Apps, this isn’t just a fun little play thing anymore. And because it’s web based, maybe they don’t need to upgrade their computer systems as rapidly, further saving them some desperately needed cash.
And maybe the next time they do upgrade their desktops, they purchase some resource light computers, running Ubuntu Linux, because the only application their staff needs is a web browser.
For all of the promise that centralized, cloud-based computing has, however, there are still some major applications that aren’t cloud-ready. Things like multimedia (music and video) library storage, editing said multimedia files, and gaming.
With energy costs rising, the GHz wars between Intel and AMD are turning into GHz + wattage wars. As more applications, and users, move into the cloud, the higher the value is placed on the wattage component.
Of course, I’m probably talking to a bunch of geeks like me, so this isn’t really going to be news to any of you.