Apple finally announced iCloud, reinforcing that the Cloud is ready for consumers. It validates some of the things we’ve been doing in Ubuntu and encourages us to think about how the trend will impact free software in the future.Cringley focuses on Apple targeting Microsoft by making the desktop category just like a device and moving everyone onto the Internet. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying:
“We’re going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device – just like an iPad, an iPhone or an iPod Touch. We’re going to move the hub of your digital life to the cloud.”
I don’t know if this targets Microsoft, I do know that Apple has done as much as anyone to make the network a central part of our digital life.
It’s clear that we all spend more time online – if you stand-back you can see see our increased dependence on the Web (we spend more time on-line than watching TV), along with how central some web apps are becoming to our lives (from Facebook to Google calendar). You might question how quickly this is happening or how widely spread: there’s not much bandwidth in Africa, and I often find it surprising how poor connectivity is in rural areas. But, that’s just a question of timing – large numbers of users already think of their computers and the Web as being synonymous.
The Web itself is rapidly becoming the standard development platform and storage medium for applications. With HTML5 and its’ extended technologies we will see increasingly complex and capable web apps: this Financial Times HTML5 app is a nice example and tweaks Apple’s tail! Even if the interface of everything can’t be a Web front-end, then data storage is also moving in that direction: increasingly users think of their content as being ‘available’ everywhere – meaning online.
From a user perspective this means we all expect to access our favourite applications and our personal data at any point from a myriad of devices. The impact on Windows is that the field is being reset, both at a software and a hardware level. Microsoft is not a cherished consumer brand that everyone loves so they will have to start over. But, it equally impacts anyone that wants to create a general operating system – Ubuntu being my concern.
If everything is on the network, and the network provides many of the applications then there’s going to be a fundamental set of shifts in how the system stack supports the user. Among the many areas, two things stand out for me.
The first theme is that we need to provide ways for users to store and access their content online. We’ve seen Apple’s system, we’re bound to see systems from all the titans of the industry as well at a lot of start-ups. This could be fantastic for users, but there’s also potential for drawbacks if there’s no standardisation – we don’t want to go back to a world of locked in data.
But it’s deeper than data, users don’t think “I need my data” they think “I want my photos of Nancy the dog” which means we need to attach storage and applications together. That’s why in Ubuntu One we talk about the personal cloud and we’re providing both applications and API’s to build on top of basic data storage and sync. Any data storage (including Ubuntu One) also needs to be available across multiple platforms so that our users can access their content whenever they want or need it. Importantly, to make the Cloud the central storage location it needs to be fully integrated and seamlessly part of the users experience – going to the ‘Web folder’ is a fail!
The second theme is that the operating system will be a window onto the Web, and this changes what it needs to present to the user and the services it provides to applications. From a user perspective we need to integrate the Web so that there’s no difference between local and network applications. Moreover, some of the metaphors of the Web are impacting how users think about interacting with their computers, take search as an example.
For applications to be truly integrated it will mean that the system stack will need to provide services that web application developers can use. For example, rather than signing into a myriad of different web applications how can the system stack authenticate me to them seamlessly. Perhaps even the idea of local and web apps will need to disappear, if we can provide technologies that help web application developers create applications that work both locally and through the network.
A final thought, I said at the start that Apple has done as much as anyone to make the vision of a connected world real. But Unix and Linux has done even more – network computing is central to our technology, and distributed community is central to our ethos. For me this means Ubuntu has great strengths it can draw on as we create this future – Ubuntu can be the operating system for the rest of us in a connected world!
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