By Todd Atkins
This is part three of a three part series focusing on cloud computing. Read part I, “The Long Circular Path” if you want to learn about how we got to the cloud computing era. Read part II, “Taking the Plunge” to learn about getting your files and software off your hard drive and into the cloud.
Ok, I’ll admit the title to this post is a little sensationalist. Computers aren’t going to die and vanish. Far from it. As I predicted in Part I of this series, in the not so distant future, the lines between smart phones, computers, mp3 players, tablets, tv’s, video game consoles, and even household appliaces will be blurred. We’ll no longer think of these gadgets as separate specialty items, but simply tools to access our data and software to manipulate that data. There will just be internet connected devices, or better yet “connected devices”. The term “internet” will probably slowly die out too since it will become redundant. Don’t believe me? The device in your pocket or purse that you use to connect with friends and family, what do you call it? Do you still call it a cell phone? A smart phone? No, it’s just a phone. Even now, you aren’t limited to just phone calls to connect with others. You can call, text, email, Facebook, IM, even video chat. It’s a connected device.
There are two disadvantages to cloud computing. First, accessing your data is no longer free. Second, keeping your data is no longer free. Most of us already pay for a broadband internet connection at home and have it at work. So the first isn’t that big of a deal until you start using your phone’s data plan. Recently the big mobile providers have pulled in the reigns and killed unlimited data plans. This is something to keep in mind. Cloud storage is cheap, really cheap, but it still costs money and it’s usually a monthly or yearly fee. The more capacity you need, the higher the fee. Hard drive upgrades or external hard drives are a 1x cost, but you lose the cloud’s flexibility for access.
Or do you? Meet Pogoplug. Plug the box into your router and plug in an external hard drive. You now have your own personal cloud server with no monthly fees. Need more capacity? Simply plug in another hard drive. There are a few other similar devices on the market, but none that I have come across that are as easy to setup and use. Oh, and you can also plug your printer into the Pogoplug and share your printer with any device in the world. The final nail in the coffin for the fax machine.
Moving your data and software to the cloud reduces the need for high capacity, portable storage. Weight, cost and size all go down. You are then left with a device size limited by screen and input method. Touchscreens have now merged the input and output together. Apple’s Siri is paving the way with audio based input. Device sizes are now really only dependent on screen size. So what’s next? Samsung is paving the way with flexible screens and has promised a phone based on the technology in the next 12 months. Research and development teams are working on using contact lenses to replace the screens we use today. Pretty cool, eh?
We’re not quite there yet, but as I mentioned, you no longer need as much computing power or data storage. When you are ready to get a new computer, focus on portability, screen size and battery life. It’s ok to get the slower processor, use your buying power and get a SSD hard drive instead. Most computers today are way over powered for your needs. It’s not the processor, it’s the hard drive and the software. A solid state drive (SSD) contains no moving parts and is significantly faster than a traditional hard drive and less prone to failure. They also use less battery power and are lighter. Dropping your laptop, even a small drop, will probably damage your hard drive, especially if it’s turned on. That doesn’t happen to your phone because it uses flash RAM which is basically the same thing as an SSD. Why are we still using drives with spinning discs? One reason and one reason only, capacity. Or rather the cost of capacity. You can buy a traditional 500 GB hard drive for about $110. That $110 will only get about 64 GB in a SSD. When your data lives in the cloud, 64 GB is more than sufficient for all of your needs. Skip the dvd drive and opt for a better battery. This will lighten the load and slim the profile as well.
Lightweight, check. Portable, check. Long battery, check. Smaller storage capacity with no moving parts, check. Wait a second; why does this sounds familiar? If this setup sounds like that new iPad or Android tablet you got as a gift last week, you’re right. And now you see why they have been so wildly popular.
Tablets started off as novel toys, but are now quickly becoming the go to device for working with documents and communicating with others. Are they ready to fully replace your home or office computer? No, not for everyone. Not yet at least. Many people will find that tablets are capable of doing everything they ever need to do on a computer. Surfing, videos, email, games, household budgets, social media, chatting, and photos can all be handled by a tablet. This is especially true if you’ve moved everything to the cloud.
Tablets are still limited in a couple other ways that may hold you back from using it as your only computing device. The Android and iOS operating systems are still in their infancies. The latest OSX and Windows systems are more flexible and capable. An ultrabook from Sony or Toshiba or the Macbook Air may be your best bet until tablets mature a little more.
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