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When cars fly—

Not all science fiction writers predict the future. Some dwell on alternate pasts; some explore the present in terms of immediate breakthroughs. For one thing, predicting the future is risky, not just because of technology but because of economics. Remember the Pan Am space plane in 2001: A Space Odyssey ? Forget space planes; have you seen any Pan Am planes lately?

But British science fiction writer Charles Stross has gone on record with some actual specific technology predictions in his recent blog post titled The real reason why Steve Jobs hates flash. Stross contends that Steve Jobs is obsessed with controlling the Apple user's environment because he can foresee that in five years the entire computing world will have shifted to cloud computing. Stross thinks Jobs wants to lock Apple users into a beautiful but walled-in ecosystem to keep them away from the likes of Google. Here's a quote from this really intriguing post:

    “Apple is known to be investing heavily in data centres suitable for cloud hosting. There are persistent rumours that "iTunes 10" will be some kind of cloud service, slurping up your music and video library and streaming it out to whatever device you've registered with Apple. There's MobileMe for email, and iWork.com for office documents. There will be more — much more.”

I'm not so sure I believe it. For one thing, I work in IT, and I don't think most IT departments will be so willing to adopt cloud computing solutions for processing critical corporate data, not in only five years. Maybe in fifteen or twenty years when today's Facebook generation will be in charge of networking at good-sized IT departments things will change radically. But in five years, I think the iPad-type entertainment device may well carve out its own niche and widen the gap between personal and corporate “computing.”

Corporate data are backed up, secure, and often have server redundancy to ensure online availability. The average home user, on the other hand, has his movies, music, games, email and word processing files on his hard drive with (possibly) an external hard drive for backup. One good house fire, and he is screwed. To the home user, the cloud will seem more secure, not less. The VP for IT, who has to worry about Sarbanes-Oxley rules and what the board of directors think, may find it a harder sell.

But it's nice to see someone willing to make such a firm prediction. Now if we could just get working on those flying cars. . .

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 1st, 2010 08:31 am (UTC)
I believe him. I already live in the cloud to a large extent -- gmail, dropbox etc. and a lot of the newer companies are doing so too. Recently some large city in California (either SF or LA, can't remember) decided to dump MicroSoft and use Googledocs for their business needs instead.
May. 1st, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
My daughter's school uses Google apps for a lot of student work. And I certainly rely on GMail as my online, available anywhere filing cabinet. But my company is an information company. Our data is our primary asset. I can't see our IT VP agreeing to put all our eggs in a basket not of our own making.
May. 1st, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
No, a data company might not do that for some time yet. Nor a bank, for that matter.

I also feel very hostile towards the walled garden idea, I must say. Like AOL tried to do once upon a time and what FaceBook is beginning to try too. And MicroSoft, of course, has excelled at it.
May. 1st, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
I think the walled concept appeals to all corporations who sell stuff. Just look at razors and razor blades. You can't use one brand of razor and a different brand of blade.

Now that Google plans to sell books instead of just ads, I think we will see a change in their behavior.

I was thinking of something similar when filling in a crossword. the clue was "buffet aid" (in case you don't use the same terminology on your side of the pond, a buffet is a style of restaurant where you serve yourself from a series of tables with food already laid out. Generally, you can go back as many times as you want. The answer was "tray" which is actually bogus because the one thing you almost never get in a real buffet, where you've paid one price, is a tray. You get a plate. If you want more, you get another plate. Now in a cafeteria, where you're paying per item, you always get a tray.

I think expecting corporations to do anything other than maximize revenue is foolish. It's what they do,
May. 1st, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
You're right, that *is* what corporations do. They maximise revenue. For example, they bribe officials to maximise revenue. They lower safety standards to maximise revenue.

However, in recent years, we, as a society, have realised that allowing them to get away with bribery, with dangerous safety standards, is unhealthy for our society and we no longer allow them to maximise revenue in this way. We rein in their natural instincts with legislation that says: "every dollar you save this way, will cost you two dollars in fines, so, you might as well take ethics into account when you sell your product."

There is nothing stopping us legislating away walled gardens, in the same way we legislated away other types of monopolies.

Competition on the basis of innovation and quality and price are good things for society as a whole. A tendency towards monopoly by the back door, IMHO, is harmful.
May. 1st, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
I concur. I also think antitrust and other government regulations are crucial to controlling the natural rapacity of corporations. The whole "deregulate airlines" thing, for example, scared me. One way to save money is to skimp on maintenance and safety inspections. Not a good thingato think about at 40,000 feet.

Amazingly, in the US this makes me a liberal. Sadly, the "free market" types consider that allowing corporations to create walled gardens is a way to increase competition.
May. 1st, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Sadly, the "free market" types consider that allowing corporations to create walled gardens is a way to increase competition.

They have no choice but to think that way! They are pro-competition, but anti-regulation. If these two things contradict each other, where does that leave their ideology?
May. 1st, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)

This IT Security person has grave doubts about the inherent security in cloud computing. To me, it's just a buzzword without any real concept of trying to secure data you don't want others to have.

The key is securing the data. Cloud computing is by nature decentralized and fluid, which means that it is hard to lock down sensitive data. You can bet that you won't find the formula for Coke on a cloud device, for example.

To be honest, cloud computing for the home user only looks secure if you think about the possibility of losing data, not having it pirated or data mined. And believe me, if Apple thinks they can make something secure by walling themselves off, there's a bridge I'd like to sell them. Apple has been living off of their lack of dominance in the PC field for a while now; if the bad guys start to think that the money is in hacking Apple products, they'll descend on Jobs' baby in waves.
May. 1st, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
I think Apple figures the switch to mobile computing is their shot. But the idea that the cloud concept would actually dominate to the extent Stross anticipates is difficult for me to believe. Not in five years, anyway.

A bridge? I didn't know you were into real estate. -)

Edited at 2010-05-01 03:01 pm (UTC)
May. 1st, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
One thing that Apple must be aware of is that Google has already been investing in data centers around the country and around the world for 6+ years now. I can imagine that Google has a head start on any cloud computing model because they intend to make the model work across platforms, something that Apple will never do. Apple likes to sell concrete products too much to deviate from that model.

Apple likes to say their technology is superior, but I'd argue that it by nature must be superior because they control everything about their tech; most other tech companies have to play nice with each other, while Apple creates its own little castle in the sky.

Yeah, I'm into real estate, too. The Brooklyn Bridge is going cheap these days... ;-)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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