December 13, 2010

849 words 4 mins read

Chrome OS: The cloud laptop is an interesting concept

This past week saw the major announcement of the Cr-48 “Cloudtop” (Well… what the hell else do you call a Laptop/Netbook that is 100% cloud?) by Google. It will be the first pseudo-production device to run the new 100% cloud, Chrome OS. I knew of the Chrome OS, but not much about it, as it wasn’t really worth investigating previously. This weekend I sat down and watched the entire 2 hour “Chrome event” from Tuesday. During and after watching the video, it made me seriously re-evaluate how I use my computer and if a cloud computer could work for me (or maybe others I know).

One of the major points that Google has made with the Chrome OS and Cr-48 announcement is that most people spend a large portion of their time on the web. I’m just as guilty when it comes to that. Generally, when the internet goes down, I’m not a happy camper. I do have

some stuff I can do when offline, but that tends to be media I’ve pre-downloaded for the express purpose of consuming it while offline (read: while I’m on BART). That being what it is, I asked myself one simple question… Could I live on a computer that had nothing but an internet browser?

First thing I took a look at is the active applications on my machine. Since I’ve got the RAM, I tend to open all the applications I use on a day to day basis and leave them open perpetually. My biggest consumer of time/RAM is my browsers (both Chrome and Firefox), which we’re tossing out because that’s the entire point of Chrome OS.

My second most popular application is PuTTY, which I use to access servers via SSH. As of this writing, I couldn’t find any SSH applications in the Chrome Web Store, but I suspect they’ll be coming. I’ve seen and used SSH web applications before, so it’s nothing new. The idea of having a cloud based SSH app is super cool to me. No more missing SSH keys because I’m on a different computer, just launch, connect and BAM — Done! I realize there are security concerns to be thought of here, but lets ignore that for now.

After that are Terminal Service type applications, mostly Remote Desktop. I’ve already seen VNC applications on the Chrome store, so mstsc probably won’t be too far behind.

Next on my list of applications is the communications suite. For me this is Skype and Pidgin (which I use to connect to IRC, AIM, MSN, YIM, Gtalk and ICQ). Skype was the application of choice for my last job, but not my new one — so I could live without it. As for the rest of the chat services, I’m sure there are or will be applications to handle them all. There are already a few websites that offer similar services. Right now I only truly care about IRC and Gtalk and both of those are already covered.

Now the list gets harder. After this I get into applications to handle my media. I download TV and watch it on my computer. I download my music and keep it in iTunes (not by choice, but that’s another story). Both of these are just not “cloud friendly” concepts, at least not yet. If I could get all of my TV I wanted online in a legal fashion, that would be great — but I can’t. The problem comes with the desire to be offline to watch TV. I catch up on my TV shows during my daily BART commutes. If I could some how pull the shows down from the cloud before hand, that would be awesome. Granted the Cr-48 will come with a 3G cell modem… no one (neither the carriers nor myself) wants to try and pull that much data over the air — lest we kill the cell networks (See Also: San Francisco & iPhones).

Of course there are other things I like to do on occasion where there simply isn’t a cloud equivalent for (and probably won’t be), such as playing most video games (Starcraft 2, anyone?) and programming my Arduino. Then there is the question of things like photo storage. I take lots of pictures and I offload them to an external hard drive. Short of uploading hundreds of gigs of photos (yes, hundreds — I shoot in RAW) to the cloud — I’m not exactly sure how a cloud only machine could handle this. If these cloud only machines really take off, I’m sure there will be a shift in how work flows. Plus, one hopes there will be more bandwidth down the line (especially on the upload side).

So to answer the original question: Could I live on a computer that had nothing but an internet browser? Yes, but only as a secondary/portable machine. Actually, I find the entire idea of 100% cloud computers quite exciting and very fascinating. Sure it isn’t ready for prime time but that doesn’t mean it isn’t work giving a shot. I’ll talk about the potential more another day.