Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Living in the Cloud

About a year ago, maybe longer, it became pretty obvious that my desktop PC was not long for this world. I think it was when my hard drive suffered a total failure. For the second time. Or maybe when all the fans in the tower died on me. For the second time. Either way, thank God for backup drives and what little common sense I have.

Last week I decided to bite the bullet and shell out for a shiny new computer, specifically a Dell laptop. I'd been weighing the merits of buying a Mac, but ultimately I couldn't justify spending an extra $400 or more for the privilege of running OS X on overpriced hardware. Sure, a MacBook Pro looks sexy as hell, but I can make do with a Dell and put more money towards a down payment on a house.

Anyway. Today the laptop arrived, and for all the crap I've given Microsoft about Windows Vista, I'm loving Windows 7 right now. My setup experience has been brilliant. I just turned on the computer, typed in my name, told it how to connect to my wireless network, and boom I can log into my desktop and start customizing to my heart's delight.

First customization: Set up a user account for my wife. (Letting her play with the laptop helped me justify carrying a credit card balance again.)

Second customization: Notice that I somehow typed in "Davod" instead of "David" when I was setting up my display name, and end my evil twin's bit-encoded existence.

Third customization: Install free antivirus software and Google Chrome, because I am a big boy and I use a big boy's browser now.

Fourth customization: Delete all the Dell crapware from my system. McAfee trial, already gone. Dell toolbar, gone. eBay application (wut?) gone.

Then I get to some sort of backup software, and I remember Dell telling me I should back up my operating system up right away. Some niggling doubt tells me to look for the Windows 7 reinstall disc.

It's not there. And now I'm scared.

* * *

Cloud computing makes my life easier. That brilliant installation I mentioned earlier? Part of that is thanks to The Cloud. I installed Chrome on my new laptop, and it synced up with my Google account and imported all of my bookmarks and preferences from thin air. I set up Dropbox and downloaded all of my writing, wallpapers, and eBooks in minutes. I installed iTunes and... well, I'm still moving all of my crap over from my new computer. (Apple hasn't quite got The Cloud down yet.)

But there are perils in The Cloud, oh yes there are. What's stopping Chrome from using my bookmarks to launch targeted ad warfare directly at my brain? What keeps Dropbox from stealing all of my shit and running off into the night?

And why should Dell ship me a recovery disc for my operating system when, at this point, most all of my data is living on about twenty computers distributed throughout the country? "Hell," they say, "the bastard geeks just use those discs to get around our advertisers' crapware in the first place. And don't forget about the software pirates! Let them go out and buy their own discs if it's so damn important!"

From a business standpoint this makes sense. I'm betting Microsoft gives Dell a killer discount if they don't ship physical media with their computers. And let's face it, the pirates made a killing trading those Windows recovery discs all over the place.

But damn it, I want to own the operating system I run on my PC

(by which I mean I want to own a physical copy of the software on some form of media, such as a DVD or flash drive, along with a license to install said software on one or more computers which I also own, so long as I do not distribute said software to other persons)

so that if, God forbid, the whole computer dies in a horrible magnet accident or viruses eat my desktop, I can pull something out of a drawer and rebuild the thing from scratch. I do not want to back up and restore Dell's crapware from a thumb drive I don't own.

And things are going to keep moving in this direction. As bandwidth becomes cheaper, we'll start to see entire operating systems that are streamed right off the Internet. Your files won't live on your computer - they'll be off in The Cloud, safely stored and duplicated on a fleet of high-end servers, and triple-encrypted to keep the hackers out. You'll be able to jump onto any old piece of hardware you like, from a friend's computer to a library terminal, and within minutes it'll be like you're in the comfort of your own home.

Until you forget to pay the license subscription, or the Imp of Perversity misplaces your account information, and you're at the mercy of Google or Microsoft or Apple or Comcast or the FCC. And then you'll be begging with the rest of the Unpersons in a big crowd in a cold February day, and every few minutes you'll pull out your iPhone 15 and forlornly look at the screen that says "Operating system not found. Please contact customer support." But you can't get a clear signal because all the VoIP bandwidth is being eaten by people watching Justin Bieber's comeback video on YouTube HD3D Interactive.

And I sense I've gone sideways somewhere, so to sum up: My new laptop is awesome, crapware sucks, and I'd like my damn Windows disc back before it's too late. Now here's a picture of Lina celebrating her 3rd birthday.

Don't look at me like that. I didn't let her drive.