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Cloud computing in the clouds

I flew out to LA this week with the Crowd Fusion team, and besides having a head-cold the entire time, it was a very productive and fun trip. Both my flights going to LA and leaving LA were more productive than normal for two reasons:

  1. I paid about $13 per flight for GoGo Inflight WiFi access.
  2. Instead of using my rather large MacBook on the flight, I used my Asus Eee PC 701, which fit nicely on the tray table in front of me and made for comfortable typing in the cramped confines of an airplane. The Eee was running Jolicloud, a flavor of Ubuntu that relies heavily on a dashboard connected to a cloud of data (it’s like Google Chromium OS*, except you get to use a hybrid of local and cloud storage, more applications than just those in the cloud, AND it doesn’t suck). I also traveled with a brand new extended life battery that gave my Eee about 6 and a half hours of juice.

I was cloud-computing in the clouds and it was totally doable, useful, fun, and I got a lot done.

Also, it ended up being a great thing that I brought my Eee along on the trip: Craig Wood, Crowd Fusion’s CTO, had his old beat-up last generation MacBook Pro give up the ghost on the trip. It was still functional, actually, but the screen’s backlight would no longer turn on, making it more or less useless.

Since I had the Eee on me and all my data was either backed up at the iMac on my home desk and/or in the cloud (via my various Google-affiliated accounts and my Amazon S3 storage), I was able to copy a few newer files over to a USB flash drive I had on me, wipe my company-purchased MacBook clean of my account, and set up Craig with a fresh new account on the MacBook and hand it over to him.

This was a totally usable solution that wouldn’t have been possible even a year or so ago. Jolicloud has made my first generation Eee PC a functional laptop substitute rather than just a slowish device to tinker with and to only use for web-browsing. And the insanely small size of the device, the longer life battery that my wife bought me, and the availability of WiFi in flight made it perfect for computing while flying in cramped quarters.

That being said, I can still see the need for a fully powerful laptop, so since I’ve been home I’ve been setting up my HP tx2500z tablet computer running Windows Vista that is about a year and a half old as my primary laptop. I’m typing this post on it now in Google Chromium with a set of really useful extensions installed and my bookmarks all synced with my desktop iMac running Snow Leopard and Chromium for Mac and my Eee PC running Jolicloud and Chrome for Linux. All three computers have the same set of extensions installed, the same bookmarks that remain synced to one another, and I find myself, thanks to the power of the cloud, happily balanced between three different operating systems with very little difference between them in terms of my workflow. Back in 2008, I wrote an article on my O’Reilly blog asking Mac vs. PC: Does it matter anymore?. The answer remains “it depends upon what you’re doing,” but for those of us who work with words, code, web pages, spreadsheets, documents, and little else, the answer is really and truly becoming “No. It’s just a matter of preference.”

This is all very cool as far as I’m concerned and I’m glad it’s happening. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

*A note on Google Chrome: After having installed and run Google Chromium OS on my Eee for several days before replacing it with Jolicloud, I think it’s a novel idea that will prove powerful should Google actually give away free or extremely cheap ad-supported devices that are custom built to run the OS, but which ultimately will pale in comparison to any other, more powerful device running an actual operating system and Google Chrome browser. The best cloud approach, I think, is a hybrid approach that will work when there is no internet connection available (which is less and less frequent an occurrence these days, but for that very reason is much more heavily felt when it does occur).

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  • Anne 12/14/2009, 1:48 pm

    Out of interest, exactly what are the extensions you find the most useful which you’ve installed on all your computers? The main reason Chrome isn’t my main browser is that I haven’t found a TabMixPlus style extension for it yet. Not Ctrl Tabbing automatically to my last used tab is the real deal breaker (coupled with the lack of proper cookie control).

  • Anne 12/14/2009, 6:39 pm

    Thank you, that’s interesting to know. And the link is useful, I must have missed that info; Ctrl 9 still doesn’t seem to work like Ctrl Tab in TabMixPlus though!