I have joined the ranks of those who compute “in the clouds!” Well, not really. But I did recently purchase a "netbook.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “cloud computing” is the moniker given to the concept of using the existence of ubiquitous internet access to shift data and applications which one used to run on a personal computer to the web. By hosting data and applications on the internet, one becomes independent of any particular PC, being able to access their personal information from any internet access point. As a result of this, one’s personal computers tend to shift from larger more powerful processor machines to focus instead on connectivity (LAN, wireless, etc) and portability. Hence the purchase of my MSI Wind netbook.
Cloud computing isn’t really anything new. Most large corporations like the one I work for have had large corporate networks using a similar type of approach for years. Since1995, my company has implemented such a network. Today, all employees have basic laptops, outfitted with standardized software, and wireless capability. Our files are stored collectively on servers rather than on our machines. We can access those files via VPN connections from any internet connection. Most recently we converted to VoIP telephony so that our telephones use internet connections to transfer data rather than regular phone lines. I have a phone emulator on my laptop as well. This means that I can sit down anywhere in the world, plug in my laptop and it is as if I was sitting in my office. I can go anywhere I want, and my “stuff” is “up in the clouds.”
However, until recently that required a lot of back-end infrastructure and support which wasn’t necessarily available to the individual consumer. That is all changing however. I actually noticed the change slowly over the last year or two. My current machine is a 17” Dell Laptop, high res, DVD, large capacity hard drive. It’s portable but not convenient. I certainly wouldn’t take it with me on vacation. Over the last few years; however, I began shifting applications and data storage to the web. First my email went when I started using Google’s Gmail. Then I switched my RSS feed to Google Reader. I recently began creating and hosting some of my documents using Google Documents. I eliminated my home phone by switching to Skype. As this began happening I found that I preferred to grab my work laptop and sit downstairs in an easy chair or by the fireplace rather than up at my desk with my big Dell. It was a more convenient machine because it was smaller, lighter, had great wireless connectivity, rock solid operating system, simply no hassle. I was slowing migrating my home computing environment to a cloud environment without realizing it.
Then earlier this year, Gus bought an ASUS eePC netbook and I was intrigued. I’ve been watching netbook models with interest over the last several months and finally decided to take the plunge. My Wind is a small, ultra-portable, paperback-sized PC, costing approximately $400; wireless card, 160 GB hard drive, 1024x600 high-res 10” screen,1Mpixel webcam, running a stable WinXP OS. All of this comes in a small beautiful white package, weighing 2 lbs and measuring about 9”x7” (about the size of a large format paperback book. It has as much computing power and screen resolution as my Thinkpad T60 I use for work, but in an ultra-light package. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting downstairs in my easy chair, listening to music, and typing comfortably away. Almost everything I can access upstairs on my big Dell machine, I can also access here. I’ve included a picture of my Wind next to my 17” Dell and a large paperback for comparison.
For those of you who know me, I’m a “value” buyer. I don’t need the flashiest. I want dependability and functionality for the price. My experience with Mac’s for instance has always been that they are very pretty, and cutting edge, and overpriced for the functionality provided. (If you want that sort of thing, more power to you.) I thought a long time about the cost vs. the functionality I’d be buying, and in my estimation, what I expect of this thing for the $400 I paid is good value. So these are the functions I expect to utilize for the new Wind, those which are enabled by it’s portability.
- Roaming laptop: Yes, I want to blog from the coffee shop. Yes, I want to have a laptop with me on vacation and not have to remember how heavy it is. I’ve already tied in Google Documents offline functionality so I have document editing capability even offline.
- Stereo component: I love Pandora. For those of you who’ve not used it and love discovering music, you must. Type in any favorite song or artist, and Pandora will pull music that is similar. I don’t mean similar as in genre. I mean similar musical structure. I’ve long wanted to stream it to my stereo, but the dedicated devices that do it, still cost hundreds of dollars.
- DVR: I don’t have cable service, but I do have Netflix subscription, which I love. For those of you who’ve played around with their on-demand streaming video, it’s superb. Yes there are boxes you can get that interface, but again, they’re in the $100’s.
- Phone: like my office phone, I now have my personal phone and voicemail anywhere in the world I choose to be.
- eBook reader: The netbook is about the size of large format paperback, and given it’s size and weight it is suitable to carry as an eBook reader. I can rotate the screen orientation and hold it in my hand as I would an open book. I’ve long carried books on my cell phone for those times when I’m travelling and need some diversion. Mobipocket reader has a PC version as well, and it has nice, basic functionality, along with direct access to their eBook store. In addition I’ve fallen in love with Gutenberg where you can obtain e-versions of open domain literature. The beauty of this setup is that in something the size of a single book, I can carry my entire library, and access to virtual bookstores where I can obtain additional reading instantly. (However, I may opt for one of the new Kindle’s when the come out.)
So that’s the story. I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.