Windows Out To The Clouds

It was probably at some point between the release of the iPhone and the release of the iPad that the change started happening.  Until that time, we had windows on our computers – be they Windows, Mac or Linux.  Sure, our small digital devices didn’t have windows, but they were small, trivial things… or in the case of Symbian devices, they at least looked like they wanted to have windows.  But on the iPad we have no windows.  And in the next version of windows, the windows have been demoted to sit behind the windowless Metro interface (except of server editions.  On server editions, the recommendation is to drop windows entirely and have command lines)

So where have the windows gone?

it used to be, if we wanted to do many things at once, we did one in each window.  Each web page had its own window.  Each application had its own window.  But gradually we realised that all these windows were becoming hard to manage.  For web browsers, we invented tabs.  While more and more people moved to doing email on their phone.  Gradually we took control back.

What is happening is that we are keeping fewer windows open on each screen.  And effectively the screens are becoming the new windows – we now flick between tasks not by alt-tabbing, but by picking up – or focusing on – the display showing the thing we want to look at.

Its also clear that we are using different types of display for different things.  I have 2 monitors for programming on.  One has a landscape orientation – which is useful for some things, whereas the other has a portrait orientation – which is useful for displaying long documents and web pages – not to mention getting lots of code on the screen when I’m programming.  I also have a phone.  Its smaller, less obtrusive, but it tells me when I have new emails and tweets – and it often acts as a timer and a desk clock.  Also, unlike my monitors – it moves with me wherever I am.  Also on my desk is a Kindle – it has a e-ink screen – which is much more comfortable if I want to read books (unfortunately, it is terrible for reading reference books – but that’s a different story).

Increasingly too, all these devices are connecting to the same data.  My email is on my phone, but I can also get to it by logging into gmail on a web browser – on my monitors at work, and even – if absolutely neccessary – on my Kindle.  The same is true of many documents (whcih I tend to store in google docs).  My phone has Citrix Receiver which lets me get to various parts of my work IT infrastructure.

Less and less does the computer under my desk seem to be a particularly useful thing.  In the old days, I would install software on it.  Now, not so much – more and more of what I use runs on someone else’s cpu somewhere out there in the cloud.  The day can’t be far off when I abandon any idea of installing software on my own PC and, if I need to install software, I install it on a virtual machine hosted somewhere in the cloud.

So our devices are more and more becoming windows on the cloud.  Our apps, and out data live out there, in the nebulous somewhere of data centres and network connected disks.  Ideally, I don’t have to know where my data is at all – I just have to hope it can get to whereever the application which wants to process it is.

Increasingly I doubt the software on the devices we use matters all that much.  The hardware matters – it can change a devices usability.  And maybe the device drivers which expose this hardware to the world matter.  But once the cloud can see the device driver, the cloud can do what it wants, and the software on the device stops mattering.

We’re not at this place yet – but its where we are going.  And as the cost of devices drops, we’ll find ourselves there.

For this to work we’ll need:

  • Ways to access the full capabilities of a device from the clound.  Standardised ways, where possible.
  • Ubiquitous low cost network connectivity
  • Better data sharing between cloud applications
  • Better data movement around the cloud (either through clever caching, or just higher bandwidth)
  • Some way to pay for everything we use – which is to say a way to get a ‘phone bill’ for all of this
  • More and more cheaper, small,er more portable, more capable, devices to act as windows for the cloud.

 

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