The Cloud is my computer!

Why 2010 will be the year of Cloud Computing – for the rest of us. 

It is less than a month since we suggested that 2010, might be the year to ' put your head in a cloud'. ( ).  We had reviewed  a host of online office suites -- mostly free.  But technology is  a shifting goalpost  and three weeks on, we are forced to update our  story to suggest that not just your office tools, your entire  computing resources might well  be cloud-based in coming months -- if you so choose... all you need is a very basic browser.  Here's how and why:

Consider this scenario. You are an average home or small office user of personal computers. You use your machine to surf the Internet, access online banking, make train, bus or airplane bookings or to make small online purchases and pay utility bills, using your credit card or your direct online bank features; to read and reply to email ( and to use the instant chat facility that comes with your email account), to write, edit and print letters and other documents, to maintain your accounts either for home accounting or to run your office, to prepare occasional presentations, create small brochures or leaflets and to either save them for printing elsewhere or to send them as document attachments with your email.

Sounds fairly normal? Agreed; but with what machine? Till today, one would have said, a standard PC with its operating system – probably a flavour of Windows, since not all of us have the guts to live dangerously and trust our computing needs to an open source alternative. We would also be forced to invest in a standard office suite – though here there is an acceptable Open alternative – Open Office –to a priced product like Microsoft Office.

Seeing the range of things we want to do with our PC, chances are we are going to need hard disk storage of at least a couple of hundred gigabytes and memory of a few gigabytes. Right?

Wrong! You can do all this and more with the most basic computing machine and minimal memory and disk storage. In fact chances are, a basic PC – either a desktop or a portable powered by the new generation NetBook processors like Intel’s Atom or NVIDIA’s Tegra would do the job and you can expect to buy such a system for between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,000. The only essential component of such a system would be a connection to the Internet – either a wired or wireless broadband account.

Once you are “connected”, you can access your own private space on the Web – for lay users the basic storage required – some 5- 10 GB – is freely available from sites like Windows Live’s SkyDrive.

You no longer need to install an office suite on your PC – Google now offers Google Docs free on the Web --which allows its registered users, the free use of Web based tools to create, edit and exchange documents in all the most popular formats. ThinkFree (  ) and Zoho (  ),are two other popular free online office suites that allow users to work on word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking and other common tasks. Zoho, a popular and part- free document suite on the web, is based on Chennai-based innovation.

Microsoft, whose Office suite is the target of all these offerings, has decided to answer the challenge: it has announced its own Web based office tool --Microsoft Office Web Apps – for early 2010 launch. This will be an online companion to its flagship products, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. For free or fee? It’s not yet clear at this point, but if Microsoft wants to prevent an exodus from its lucrative Office Suite ( the 2010 version is already in beta), it will probably match the free suites like Google Docs with a comparable free offering and keep the paid online model for more demanding customers. ( Link for free beta download:  )

For those who have been used to doing basic image processing of photos their PCs, even this is being offered for free in online versions like Adobe’s (  ).

The beauty of all these web based office tools is that you can use them to create documents, presentations, accounts – and store them in your own space on the web – just like storing them in a documents folder on your PC’s hard disk.

All of the above scenario was playable even in 2009. But let’s look a little ahead: The online freebies we have discussed are all applications and tools. What about the basic operating system itself? Most currently popular OS options like Windows, even Linux flavours like Ubuntu, include a lot of functionality geared towards PC- centred operations that means they allow you to manage your documents, edit your photos or whatever – all on the PC and all offline ie even while not connected to the Net. That is all set to change – and the trigger is again Google, which has now created a very thin operating system called Chrome ( a name it earlier gave to its browser). This is a total break from OS as we know it in that it assumes that the user is going to do all or most of the computing tasks using Web based tools – and will be storing them on the Web. So Chrome is extremely fast in starting up and opening a browser but is not too well equipped to do traditional PC-centred offline tasks. The idea seems to be: You don’t require to pay for and maintain bulky office suites on your PC; you don’t need to pay for hard disk storage … so why should you pay for an OS? ( The latest Windows 7 costs at least Rs 6000). … we’ll give you that free as well.

This logic if taken to its natural conclusion means, everything can now be on the Web, virtually your entire computer – all you need to access it is a very basic machine capable of browsing, the kind called NetBooks or ultra mobile PCs

In fact,  it would seem in hindsight that AMD had got it just right when it developed the Personal  Internet Communicator (PIC), a very  small device which  was optimised for  browsing. But it was not a great success, because it was an idea ahead of its time.   With broadband penetration, so much better than it was five years ago, now might be a good time for AMD to dust, update and relaunch this product into today's   Net based personal computing environment.

The name for all this is Cloud computing.. a concept of using Web based services on a pay by use mode that corporate have already been using for a year or two. In 2010, I’m willing to bet it will be available to the rest of us, in a manner which will allow us to say "My Computer? It’s all in the cloud!"  - Anand Parthasarathy, Bangalore January 25

(A version of this article appears this week as a featured column at the   site:!.html  )