Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why the Cloud isn't the Internet

I think people are just starting to realize what some of the cloud vendors are providing and their drawbacks.  Steve Jobs is quoted in his biography describing the intent behind iCloud:
We need to be the company that manages your relationship with the cloud - streams your videos and music from the cloud, stores your pictures and information, and maybe even your medical data...over the next few years, the hub is going to move from the computer into the cloud...So we wrote all these apps - iPhoto, iMove, iTunes - and tied in our devices, like the iPod and iPhone and iPad...We can provide all the syncing you need, and that way we can lock in the customer.
The Mac has always been different to Windows.  One of those differences Windows users' notice is that you switch between applications in OS X compared to documents (or windows) in Windows. The Apple cloud maintains that pattern by syncing between applications rather than documents (or individual files).  This approach confuses a lot of people.

This is different to how most Mac users currently sync their files with Dropbox.  iCloud has ended up following its Mac heritage whereas Dropbox sticks to file syncing.  Matthew writes:
The difference between Dropbox and iCloud synchronization is that Dropbox is theoretically just a file system...If you have a document that you edit on your iPad and sync with Dropbox you can edit that same file, using a different application, on your PC...The iCloud experience is completely different. The only way to edit a document across platforms or devices is to use a version of the application for each device. Not a compatible may actually make me change the desktop application that I use purely based on iCloud support.
If you want to read more about Dropbox and Apple there's a really good article in Forbes which details how Steve Jobs personally made an offer to buy Dropbox.

The edges of iCloud - the integration points to applications and the operating system - it's incomplete even if you buy into the idea of applications over documents.

For example, on iOS devices there is a Notes application but on OS X these notes are in a tab in the Mail application.  This seems like a weird and non-standard place to put it - if you are going to sync by application you'd think it should be the same application across platforms.

In iCloud for Windows, Windows users get more choice than OS X users.  Mail, Contacts and Calendar integrate with Outlook but you can choose your application for Bookmarks (IE or Safari) and Photo Stream.

Even within applications Apple haven't quite gotten syncing right with iCloud yet either including the new rules around where files are stored and what is automatically removed or backed up.

The cloud is about vendor lock as much as any other platform, like application servers or databases, but with the extra problem that your data is tied to the vendor's application, cloud and user base.  A stickier solution.

Some, like Google and Facebook, offer export services, but these almost don't matter, because you get an almost useless hunk of data, lose the ability to run the applications and you can't access users on their network (who may well have been collaborators).

With the Internet, the Web and open source you still have the possibility to use your data with applications shared by many people across different networks.

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