Embracing the Cloud

As Andy mentioned, our office (in fact, our entire building) was broken into on Monday night. The burglars were laptop specialists, leaving behind all but one desktop (a brand new Mac tower) and more than a dozen flat-panel displays. My laptop was among those stolen, giving me an opportunity to reflect on my personal computing habits.

The stolen machine was a plain-vanilla Dell I’d been using as my primary work PC for the past few years. I had never bothered to upgrade to Vista, and beyond MS Office the only “off-deck” apps I used with any freqency were Firefox 3 (my default browser) and MS Visio (for my hacky wireframe efforts). All my personal media (music, photos, etc.) are stored on a home machine, so the only local files I lost in the theft were some recent Office and Visio docs that I hadn’t yet shared by email.

Despite some low-grade anxiety about identity theft and annoyance at the violation of our workspace, I’ve had a hard time getting very worked up over the loss. Here’s why:

  • Because I rely heavily on Gmail for both personal and business communications, I have a near-perfect cloud-based backup for every file (e.g., documents, presentations, images, etc.) I’ve ever taken the trouble to share by email.
  • My most current contact list is in Gmail as well (although I’m still frustrated that they haven’t released contact sync for BlackBerry), and I keep my calendar in GCal, so there’s no data or security exposure on those fronts.
  • I haven’t switched over completely, but I do a good amount of sharing and collaboration via Google Docs, so many of my most important working files also live in the cloud.

Long story short, whether I’m communicating, researching or creating content, nearly all my time is spent in the browser. And in those relatively rare cases where I author on the desktop, my sharing habits virtually guarantee a cloud-based backup.

Because I needed a new machine, I’ve decided to put this conclusion to the test by abandoning the dominant paradigm and switching to a cloud-centric approach to personal computing. My new machine is the Asus Eee PC 901, a notebook-sized machine running Linux and OpenOffice instead of the usual MS Windows / Office combination. The 20G solid-state hard drive is too small for heavy media use, but I don’t expect to use this machine for that so space shouldn’t be an issue. And the 9-inch screen is on the small side, but most of the time I’m plugged in to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse, with the PC functioning mostly as a processor and thin-client host.

I love the idea of living 100% cloud-based and open-source, but I’m sure the reality will come with some interesting bumps along the way. Once I get the new machine up and running I’ll post again to let you all know how it’s coming.