In the cloud
The biggest buzz phrase doing the rounds seems to be “cloud computing” – which means different things to different people. But, basically, “life in the cloud” is all about using web applications to do things that you would traditionally have accomplished using a desktop application.
The underlying operating system is – at least according to the theory – going to become less and less important as we do more and more work via web applications. From an end-user’s point of view that’s great: I can borrow someone else’s computer, visit a cybercafé (do they have them any more?), use my work PC or my home Mac and from any of these still access all my documents, my calendar, my email, and so on.
Of course, for this to actually work, all the applications I want to use – calendar, email, word processor – need to be available as usable web applications, and more and more of them now are. Google Apps, for example, provides good word processing and spreadsheet programs, Apple’s MobileMe gives me image viewing and editing and a calendar that syncs with my Mac, plus web-based email and more.
The challenge from a developer’s point of view is to build these web applications in such a way that we can persuade users to actually migrate from their familiar desktop programs to web-based offerings, and that really is a major task: in many ways, we’re trying to ram a square peg into a round hole by using web browsers to do things they weren’t originally designed for. But some recent developments have taken us some way along the road to making life a little easier in that respect. In this month’s column I’ll be taking a look at just some of what’s out there to improve life for web-based software developers.