It took 30 years for the computer to get from the size of an apartment block, to the size of a room and finally small enough for people to have in their homes. Battles have been fought between competing operating systems, web browsers and 3D graphics cards which have made computing cheaper and more accessible for the buying public, but was it all in vain? Microsoft has just about come good on its early promise of putting a computer in every home, but with the rise of the digital Cloud, we may soon start seeing computing power moving away from the home, back to the corporations. The Cloud is coming, are you ready?
So what is the Cloud? If you are a gadget/tech fiend or just a complete computer novice you more than likely already use it. Basically, the Cloud is a place where all the data processing and computer-thinking stuff gets done, and is where we can safely and securely store files online. Until quite recently, all of this was done locally, by your processor and hard drive, in your PC. But things are going to change. Google have announced they will be releasing Google OS, which will be a web-based operating system. So, instead of everything being installed on your PC and your computer doing all the thinking, it will be installed on a data server someone on the planet and your mouse-clicks will be set online where the processing will be done and the results sent back to your PC instantly. What this means is that the most basic, slowest PC will (assuming it has a fast enough internet connection) perform just as well as the latest and greatest PC's. Great news for us of course, but bad news for hardware and software manufacturers like Intel. With the Cloud doing all our thinking for us, there'll be no need to upgrade to the latest quad-core CPU's. Not only that, but if we do choose to store our documents, photos, videos and music in the Cloud, there's no need in purchasing that brand new 1TB hard drive is there?
Cloud-based services are already springing up. Many people now rent out online storage space with companies such as Drop Box or Live Drive. You simply upload your files to their servers online where you can access them from any PC anywhere in the world. Beats carrying a pen drive around with you.
Gaming will soon change because of the Cloud. One company, called On Live, allows you to play the latest game releases streaming over the internet. How it works is instead of having your PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 taking your controller inputs then translating them on the fly into on-screen graphics, your controller inputs are sent over the web to massively powerful servers which does all the processing and then sends the graphics data to your PC or TV. It works even on low-end PC's because all your PC will be doing is receiving and displaying already-rendered images. It will be interesting to see how Sony and Microsoft react to this attempted coup.
The Cloud has had its greatest influence so far with media. Once upon a time if you wanted to watch the latest Schwarzenegger release you'd have to pop down to your local video store and rent it on DVD. Not anymore. At the click of a button you can watch movies or TV shows streaming over the internet. Apples iTunes store allows you to download TV shows and rent/buy movies, and the newest generation of games consoles, with the exception of the Wii, allows the streaming of movies directly to your TV.
In the future, PC's will just be terminal computers with internet connections, with very little memory or processing power connecting to huge data/processing servers on the other side of the world. It's funny how we're coming back to where we started.