Living in the Cloud

Ever since Tommy Vallier’s “Living in the Cloud” talk at Podcamp Toronto this year, I’ve been pondering the idea of truly living in the cloud. In many ways, it is the ideal solution – being able to walk up to any computer in the world with an Internet connection, and access all of your data.

Of course, at this point in time, it is next to impossible to store 500GB+ of your data on a server in the cloud, and have sufficient download/upload speeds to be able to interact with your data at an acceptable rate.

But when I began to think about it, the majority of my most important data doesn’t take up much space at all. Almost all of the stuff I’m interacting with on a day-to-day basis can be done in the cloud. Email, RSS, contact information, calendars, web history, chats, login information, and documents all come to just under 5GBs, which can easily be stored online.

This isn’t new. Most of this stuff can be done online right now through services like Netvibes, or Google Apps. With online apps like Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Meebo, you can access and use your data online. Unfortunately, with all the Web 2.0 services out there, no one has got it right. Sure there are a ton of webapps out there, but they are never as good as the desktop alternative.

My Mac has a consistent user experience. I’m able to navigate via keyboard shortcuts that are standard across multiple applications, and I’m able to use the full power of my computer to create a beautiful user interface. Working in the cloud just doesn’t have the Great Moments by Design that are found in so many desktop applications.

Why in Google Docs does it replace my context menu, and force me to click a button at the bottom of the screen to preform spell check. Why do I have to think about how to create a new group in Google Reader? In many ways, going from a desktop user interface to a web app is on par to going back to a Windows 98 style interface. Sure there are the exceptions to the rules, but generally, web apps are a downgrade from the desktop experience (the very reason I’m writing this post in MarsEdit as opposed to the WordPress admin panel).

A step back

We’re living in a time where computers are powerful enough to create beautiful user interfaces that enrich the experience of interacting with an app. But instead, it seems that we have taken a step back. The Internet has wooed us to a place where we will put up with slow, laggy, and weak applications just for the sake of “living in the cloud”.

Whenever I use webapps, I feel like I am just getting by. There are no “ah ha” moments of greatness where you know in your heart-of-hearts that the developer spend hours working on a seemingly insignificant feature in order to enrich your experience.

Am I willing to give my seamless desktop experience just so I can live in the cloud?

No.

Everyone has tried to create a beautiful, “web 2.0″ app that stores all my valuable data on the cloud. Google, Netvibes, Meebo, Facebook, Del.icio.us, Flickr, Apple, Youtube. But no one has got it. No one understands what living in the cloud is truly about. It is not web apps vs. desktop apps. It’s the convergence of the desktop and the Internet to create a rich application that interacts with the Internet through a fluid, intuitive, desktop UI.

Desktop apps + the Internet

Now, if only someone would take all the valuable hours they spend coding for the web, and create a native application that automatically interacts with the Internet in the background in order to send and retrieve data for you. It makes perfect sense. Why download a slow and laggy UI from the Internet when there is limited bandwidth? Simply use a desktop app for the UI, and only use the Internet as a backend to upload and download pure data.

There are already very functional apps that do this. MarsEdit is a perfect example. It integrates seamlessly with WordPress, Blogger, and most other blogging platforms to create a one-stop location for all your blogs. You can write posts and save drafts offline while you are on a plane or in a car (obviously not when driving). The same concept is used with desktop IM and Mail clients. Having email that I can drag and drop into folders, and that is indexed with Spotlight provides me with a lot more flexibility than using the web.

A perfect application is not one that solely lives on the Internet or the desktop, but uses the interaction of both to create the best experience for the user.