This week marks my one year anniversary working almost exclusively off the cloud, to which I’m left with the thought that, if not for internet speeds being what they are, the cloud would have been here nearly 20 years ago.
At Adobe in Seattle during the 90s when working on SGI machines, often the servers from which we worked were in San Jose, California. Despite the distance those terminal machines were blazingly fast, much faster than the Macintosh and Windows boxes at the time. In the same period was introduced Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft’s foray into workstations (with very mixed results). Shortly after during a Keynote with the newly invigorated Apple freshly under Steve Jobs’ rehelming, one item he showed off was a sea of the original colored iMac on a tall, wide bunch racks, all aglow, and all running smoothly and quickly off one server. The day of the terminal computers were here… only it never happened. This was about 15 years ago, which in tech terms may as well be a time before the last ice age.
Why didn’t it happen? For one thing, at the time, people wanted control, it’s interesting to look back to articles (in a thing called ‘print’) people were concerned above privacy. What if someone hacks into/accesses the mainframe, the main terminal, they’ll be able to see my files!? A bit laughable considering today people willingly often put their most intimate details on social media, not to mention other information. A truism remains, your information is usually only as safe as the user’s steps to prevent it being stolen combined with the technology of the time, excluding hackers that go after large swatches of data.
One could look at the cloud as terminals 2.0, an idea that, while isn’t new, without the current technology would not be possible. Even with file sizes being so much smaller back in the day, imagine being on a 56k modem, who’s speeds were in reality half that, waiting for a bunch of 150 KB images to upload. Five images up or downstream arguably would take over a minute, any task would be so slow we’d all be able to take up multiple side hobbies as we waited for data.
The cloud as we know it on the web has actually been around the same length of time as the height of potential terminal mania, some 15 years. In 1999 Salesforce.com pioneered the concept of enterprise solutions via the internet. Next, in 2002, Amazon Mechanical Turk and cloud-based server storage solutions hit the scene. In 2004 Gmail, which now has over a billion(!) users, came out, invite only, to a select few (including yours truly), focused on email in the cloud you’d access from a browser, but not stored on your computer, which at the time was a radical concept, and still with doubters. 2009 Google took things to the next level offering the first iteration of Google Docs, including a word Processor, spreadsheet, and (originally very crude) slideshow web-delivered applications plus some storage. While there were other develops in there, including ones by Apple, Google really opened the flood gates to what was possible in the cloud. Looking back, it’ll seem the cloud came out of nowhere, self-evident, in reality it took over a decade in the making.
Today, consumers have all types of cloud options for pay and for free. I’ve over 120 GB of free cloud space. 120 GB hard drive ten years ago would have costed you $100-200 if not more, most computers in 2004 came with less, we’ve come a long way.
People less on the bleeding edge have asked me what I use the cloud for, to which my answer is pretty much everything. From photos, to music, email, to design files, documents, presentations, even several applications. Has my experience always been silky smooth? Not quite, though luckily many cloud services still offer some type of offline use, not all internet connections are considered equal. However, while there’s a very rare here-and-there issue, it’s considerable smoother than what it was like using CPU and hard drive-based computers in the 90s, and more stable and faster than the terminal computers as well.
What’s next most likely is anything more than a tablet computer won’t be necessary, which at one time I’d have been “you’ll not take my Macbook unless it’s off my cold dead body,” now I welcome the change. The cloud in a sense frees us up from some aspects of work that, for many of us, weighed us down, literally, with tech. Until they implant computers into our neurons directly, embrace the cloud, use it, it’s here, now, and great.