There’s a big fuss all over the Geekosphere today about a “mistake” Google made. Apparently they posted a .ppt file (that later mysteriously disappeared) describing some plans for expanded services. The bloggers are all excited at what they perceive as proof that Google intends eventually to provide unlimited online storage for data that’s now housed on individual computers.
Well, d’oh! It should be clear to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last couple of years that the Big G intends to do precisely that.
First we had Google. Just plain Google. It did search better, and made the name of its company a verb. We got used to the idea that the people there were the go-to folks for information on the Web.
Then we had Gmail, which got us accustomed to Google’s system of tags and archiving, connected by powerful search functions. This is obviously a move to supplant (and darned well time) the existing hierarchical system of files and folders, an idea that was great back in the days of floppies and miniscule (or non-existent) internal storage, but that translates poorly to half-terabyte hard drives. Gmail also got us used to the idea of trusting an online service with some of our goodies. I know that makes a lot of folks nervous, but as I’ve said many times here and elsewhere, if you think you have privacy now, then I have some waterfront property in Louisiana I’d like to sell…
Next came Picasa and Google Desktop. To begin with, all they did was index the stuff on your hard drive – the stuff you said was OK to look at – and allow you to search it from a browser window. Now the two of them combined will organize, search, and (in the case of images) allow you to modify your data within the Google interface and publish it to the Web in various locations, or upload it to Google’s servers where it can be accessed from other machines running Google desktop. Are you beginning to sense a trend here?
Now here’s the deal: all of these services except Picasa are still in beta, which means we haven’t seen the end product yet. We know, however, that Google is already using Ajax (a system that allows desktop-type applications to run in a Web browser instead of requiring the software to be installed) for Gmail. We also know that there are several applications out there on the Web that allow you to do word processing in an Ajax-based browser app, storing and publishing it on the Web without ever having it on your machine (except in RAM). Google won’t admit to having one, but you can bet it does – or that it has its eye on acquiring one from outside, they way it did with Picasa. Finally, we know that Microsoft is going to debut a Web-based office suite soon.
So what would be surprising about a Web-based desktop? Let’s prognosticate a little. Looking into the smoky quartz ball, we can imagine:
- An online office suite that allows you to work from any machine, regardless of operating system
- Two to five gigs of free storage, with more available at a reasonable price (no ads)
- Ability to store, access, search, modify and (in the case of documents) create files online
- A small, fast interface like Gmail’s, to facilitate access from slower connections
- Direct connectivity for cameras and other accessories
- Direct printing from online files, including photos
- Encrypted uploads and storage for privacy
…and, once these things are established and running, a new generation of small computers that interface with the online content and (perhaps) don’t even include permanent storage. (Oh, heck, who’d want one of those? Can you say, “BlackBerry?”)