Written on the plane, above the clouds…
The other day, I was tempted by a netbooks display at Target. It’s crazy. I have absolutely no need for one. I have an iPhone for mobile use, and I carry my personal laptop nearly everywhere. I also love my laptop, so I can’t imagine actually opening up and using the netbook, because I’d probably be carrying both computers and prefer my “real” one.
My “real” laptop is a Mac. I adore it. I can make it do things quickly and easily on it that take time and hacking around on my PC. I work better and faster on it. I can trust it to open quickly, very rarely crash, and to find anything with a spotlight search. Yet, over time, I do less and less with my Mac software, and more and more online. And as I make this transition, I wonder if it really makes sense to have such a fancy computer. Really, any laptop would do once everything is online (though, I would still want a computer that would be this fast). So, I go through periods of directing my personal email address to Gmail web access, and periods of directing it to mail.app. I use Google Docs, then I only use Word or Pages. I can’t decide what calendaring option makes the most sense. I tried DropBox, but wasn’t really sure what the fuss was about.
But now I do. A few weeks ago I left some grant proposals on my PC at work, without emailing them, putting them on my phone, or adding them to my jump drive. I really needed to finish them over the weekend, so I drove in just to get the files. And while I was there, I decided I would also send them to DropBox to give it a try. And low-and-behold, that worked really, really well. In fact, I’m getting in the habit of putting any file there that doesn’t have data that is confidential (and I have a pretty strict interpretation of what should be confidential). And now, life is beautiful. I have access to most things with either computer, and am spending less time on thinking about files and more time on doing the work. (Which, really, isn’t that the goal?)
So I’m left thinking what’s the point of the fancy computer? Part of it, obviously, is that you need software to open some of those files. And some programs that I absolutely rely on, like Keynote, are Mac-only. But that’s not necessarily the case for email, calendaring, etc. You can just open those up on the cloud. So I’m beginning to think that part of the reason for personal computing is to download the backup and to make it possible to access your information even when you can’t get online. It becomes more about syncing and less about holding the collection of data.
Dropbox works this way. Everything is in the cloud, but it all lives on both my computers, too. Google is making this possible with Google Gears. Evernote does this, with information in the cloud that can be synced and accessed with a number of devices. In fact, I’m much more likely to adopt a cloud service if there is a way I can download the information easily and regularly (without thinking about it). For me, it works especially well when there is an application on my computer designed to interact with the information in a smoother way. Evernote has the desktop clients. Dropbox just acts like regular file system we’re all familiar with on our computers.
At this point, the strength of the cloud-service is that it can be accessed anywhere, on any computer with a browser and web connection, but the heavy lifting can be done on a personal computer with fancier software.
So now I’m thinking that any new webservice we offer probably ought to have a nice way to interact with the information on the computer as well as on the mobile device. Or, maybe, it’s just justification for keeping my Mac.