Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
Apple’s iCloud service has given a jolt to the relatively old idea of “cloud computing.” In the cloud, users store their documents, photos, apps and other content online, rather than on their PCs. Apple’s service promises to “synch” users’ content with their devices, but questions remain about how it will work and how secure it will be. We look at how far cloud computing has come, and what it means for consumers.
- Ben Bederson Professor of Computer Science, University of Maryland-College Park; and Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, Zumobi
- Ryan Faas Freelance technology journalist and contributor to Computerworld magazine; author of "iPhone for Work"
Please note: Poll results are not scientific. The results below are for informational purposes only.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Apple's debut last week of its iCloud service was one of the biggest tech announcements in recent memory. But Steve Jobs' preview of the iCloud only whetted our techno appetites. Now, that the hype has died down, it's time to determine what iCloud and services like it means for average computer users.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMost of us work in a cloud already. If you use Gmail, Google Docs, iTunes or sites like Dropbox, you store data about yourself and your work on someone else's computer server. That server is a cloud. What makes Apple's new servers different is that Mac's cloud servers will automatically sync the information on one Apple device with another. Take a picture with your iPhone, and it will automatically appear on your iPad and MacBook.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut what about those of us who are not Mac people? What will computing in the cloud look like from a BlackBerry, a Kindle or a PlayBook? Joining us in studio to talk about this is Ben Bederson. He's a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland-College Park and co-founder and chief scientist of Zumobi. Ben Bederson, good to see you again.
PROF. BEN BEDERSONThanks, Kojo. Nice to be here.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios of WGY in Albany, N.Y., is Ryan Faas. He's a freelance technology journalist and contributor to Computerworld magazine and author of "iPhone for Work." Ryan, thank you for joining us.
MR. RYAN FAASThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, you should know by now that you can join these Tech Tuesday conversations at 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, where we have some questions for you to answer today. How do you use the cloud? You can find that at kojoshow.org. Do you use it to upload or share videos? Do you use it to store or share your music? Go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join our poll there.
NNAMDIOr send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ben, Apple's big reveal of its iCloud service makes cloud computing seem like a revolutionary concept, but we've been using this technology for years. Can you give us some perspective on Apple's announcement, and how it fits into the evolution of cloud computing?
BEDERSONYou know, it is pretty amazing. Apple and Steve Jobs are masters of, right, the show. It is brilliant and amazing, and it's something we all want. And it's completely new, except it's not. There is -- of course, there are newer elements. We'll get to those. But, as you've hinted, the concept of the cloud, and even this concept of syncing, which we'll talk about in some detail, is absolutely not new.
BEDERSONYou know, UNIX, you know, an operating system has had the concept of syncing files across devices for 20 years. Microsoft Exchange Server is nearly 15 years old, which is a cloud-based email service. Anybody that uses BlackBerry, cloud. Anybody that uses (word?) to take their pictures off of their camera, cloud.
NNAMDIWell, here's the question then. If it's not necessarily revolutionary, is Apple's announcement last week really a game changer?
BEDERSONIt is some ways because what Apple does is they take existing technologies. They polish them. They fine-tune them. They finesse them, and they make them accessible to the masses. So a lot of these concepts and tools, while they've been around for a long time -- and to be honest, I've been living with the cloud and file syncing across devices for a long time. But I have to explain to people how it works.
BEDERSONAnd the Apple magic is that if you live entirely in the Apple universe, then you won't really have to understand it. If it works as advertised -- and there's a decent chance it will -- then it will just work for a lot of people.
NNAMDIWell, I guess Apple did change the game with iPad. They made audio portable and accessible. We had MP3s long before we had the iPod, did we not?
BEDERSONYou know, one of my favorite simple quotes is that sometimes a quantitative change results in a qualitative difference.
NNAMDIRyan, can you explain the big differences between Apple's iCloud and Google and Amazon's clouds?
FAASI think there are a couple of big differences. One is if you look at all of Google's services, and to a certain extent Amazon's services, they are predominantly web-based, where, you know, if you want to edit Google Docs, you go to Google -- the Google Documents website. You edit in a web browser. For most of us, we may use Gmail with an email program, but it's really designed to be accessed through a browser.
FAASAnd Apple is taking a very different approach here because they're offering any access through a web browser. Everything is going to be through a native app that's running on your iPhone or your iPad or your Mac or, to a limited extent, on your Windows PC.
BEDERSONYou know, actually, if I can chime in...
BEDERSONYou know, I agree with you, Ryan, partly, in that it's totally true, of course, that Google initially designed for living in the cloud for actually using the web browser to do everything. But they really do have explicit support for syncing to your devices. And so...
BEDERSON...while, well, Apple is, of course, right, really focusing on their devices, the Google, you know, lovers and -- which I'm actually a Google and an Apple lover. But the Google lovers would say that Google is more powerful because it let's you access either way. You can either work in the cloud, or you can sync. And Google does, in fact, have software to sync to various kinds of devices for some things.
FAASAnd that's a good point because if you look at some of, like, the - Office-style apps for the iPad, for an Android device, they actually can access various services, including Google Docs without going through a website. A great example of that is Quickoffice, which is actually my personal favorite as far as, you know, an office suite for any mobile device. And it's available for the iPhone, for Android, for webOS.
FAASAnd it's actually been built into the Nook Color. And I think that's a great example, is that you can actually take and go through the website. But Google does support you going through apps as well.
NNAMDIWe're talking Tech Tuesday cloud computing and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How much of your computing is done at cloud sites, like Dropbox, iTunes, Gmail and others? Will you use Apple's new iCloud service? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Apple had a previous so-called cloud storage service, MobileMe, which shared many of the iCloud's capabilities, but never really caught on. Will MobileMe be phased out along with its iWeb site building software?
FAASIt will be phased out to some extent. Apple has actually said that, as of July of next year, MobileMe and its current form will cease to exist and will be replaced by iCloud. Whether or not iWeb is discontinued or it's just turned into a standalone web design software is sort of matter of debate at this point. Apple hasn't mentioned it the last two times that they updated their iLife apps, which includes iMovie and iPhoto, as well as iWeb.
FAASAnd earlier this week, there was an email that was allegedly sent by Steve Jobs -- I haven't seen it if it's been confirmed yet or not -- that said that iWeb's ability to publish to MobileMe will be going away. And it sort implied that iWeb itself will be going away.
BEDERSONDo you know that the MobileMe call experience, or catastrophe as someone would describe it, is interesting for a couple of reasons.
BEDERSONAt least, the first is that, of course, Apple didn't implement it very well. You know, this cloud computing, even though it's a longstanding concept, to actually execute well is really, really difficult. You know, and in the Apple keynote, they, you know, made a point of showing this massive, massive datacenter. It is a huge, huge, huge financial and time investment. And Apple was not up to it when they launched MobileMe before.
BEDERSONAnd then they claim that they are now up to it, and, you know, time will tell. But there's a decent chance they've learned from it.
NNAMDIApart from that claim, we got an email from Claudine who wants to know what is the difference between iCloud and MobileMe. She says she regularly backs up her info to iDisk.
FAASMobileMe is actually the third generation of Apple's sort of online tools. And iCloud will be the fourth generation. It originally started back in 2001 as a service called iTools, which was basically a photo-sharing site and an email account and web hosting, and it was free. And then a couple of years later, Apple rebranded it as dotMac, which basically offered core set of services, and then they began charging for it.
FAASWhen they introduced MobileMe three years ago, along with the iPhone 3G, they really sort of -- they kept the ability to have an iDisk, which is essentially just a hard drive that you can access -- a virtual hard drive that you can access. But they added, really, a lot of sync capabilities, or at least they tried to. You know, as we -- as both of you have said, it didn't exactly go well when Apple launched that.
FAASAnd there were a lot of problems also with the iPhone 3G launch at that time that they were unprepared for the volume worldwide that they've got.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
FAASI think that Apple has learned from the MobileMe experience and sort of -- if you are a MobileMe subscriber today, the experience is vastly improved over what it was three years ago when the service launched. And it's actually become a fairly usable service, and the web interface to it is actually incredible.
BEDERSONYou know, maybe this is a good time to step back just a little bit and talk about, in more detail, about the difference between syncing and this, really, functioning on the web 'cause that it is also one of the differences.
NNAMDIThank you. Help me.
BEDERSONSo, you know, the traditional Google model, as we've talked about, is you really live on the web. Your files and your email and your pictures and, now, your music actually sit on Google servers in some gigantic datacenter. You have no idea what state they're in. You don't even really know what country they're in. In fact, they're probably in multiple states and perhaps multiple countries. And there are copies of them everywhere. But the way you access it is through the browser.
BEDERSONYour browser is like a terminal. You can almost think of it as old-style mainframe computing. There's a big computer elsewhere. You don't know anything about it, and you access it through your browser.
FAASThat has all kinds of benefits, right? It means you don't have to manage your software, your computer. You just go and log in, and everything just really works, right? There's nothing to do. There's nothing you can do with your computer. You access your email there. You can look -- you can use Picasso web to access your pictures and so on. Of course, you need an Internet connection.
BEDERSONAnd it's the nature of web access, while modern web computing has gotten really good, it still is not as lush. It's not as fast as -- and beautiful as it can be locally if it's running natively on your computer. It's doing a lot better, but if you are, say, a videographer or you are -- have thousands of multi-megabyte pictures and you want to quickly scroll through hundreds of them, you know, that's just not going to happen really fast on the web.
BEDERSONSo the alternative in Apple's model is -- current model is, let's take advantage of this incredible hardware you have, you know, in your hand, whether it's in, you know, a laptop or a desktop or a mobile device. If you can get your data on that device, you're going to -- we're going to be able offer you better interaction, a better user experience. But -- and the advantage -- another advantage is you can do it offline.
BEDERSONYou don't have to be on the network. But then this brings up this fundamental challenge that many of us have, which is we have multiple devices.
BEDERSONAnd Steve Jobs really focused on this in his keynote at this conference announcement last week. And the problem is, once you have a laptop -- or say you're part of a family and you have a few laptops and a few desktops at work and a few iPads, perhaps an iPod Touch and, you know, and iPhones, how are you going to deal with the fact that if you want to have this lush, local interaction, you've got files -- you need to have copies of your files across all of your devices?
BEDERSONAnd this is where syncing comes in. The idea of sync or to synchronize, just short for synchronize, means to invisibly make copies of all the relevant files on every relevant device and to do it completely invisibly. So if you delete a file from one, the system...
NNAMDIIt's gone from all.
BEDERSON...sends a message, and it deletes from the others. If you make a modification to one, it makes a modification to the others. And the magic is networking is so fast now that if you have two devices that are properly synced and you look at them, you know, next to each other and you touch a file in one, usually, within a second, the modification shows up on the other. In fact, we all do this with our email, right?
BEDERSONIf you have your phone and your mail client, whether it's Outlook or Apple Mail or a Thunderbird or whatever it is, you delete a message from an inbox on one, and a second later, it gets deleted the other -- from the other. That is syncing.
FAASAnd you're seeing a lot of people do that also with calendars and with events. And that's actually one of the areas, personally, I find it the most useful is, you know, if I go to the dentist for a tooth cleaning and I find out I have a cavity, you know, I look at my phone. I make the appointment. I enter it on my phone by -- you know, a couple of minutes later, it's on my computer. It's on my iPad. It's everywhere that I need to access it.
BEDERSONRight. The other part about syncing versus working on the web that is fundamental is how well they support collaboration. When you have syncing, you're really dealing with these separate files. And so you can collaborate in that I can edit a file and then a second later, you can edit it. But if we want to edit it together at the same time, the syncing model doesn't work as well as -- for that.
BEDERSONSo the Google model, where you are visiting the file, using, for example, the Word, the documents editor, and you can edit it at the same time and you can see the other person's cursor, that's something that, today, can really only be done with web apps.
NNAMDIIf you're just joining us, you're listening to a conversation between Ben Bederson and Ryan Faas about cloud computing. I come in every now and then, but you won't be hearing me that much in this conversation. We'd like to hear from you. Call us at 800-433-8850. Do you worry about putting documents online, at sites like Google Docs? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIJoin the conversation there and tell us how you use the cloud. There's a link at our website in which we are conducting a poll. Send us an email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation about cloud computing with Ben Bederson. He's a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland-College Park and co-founder and chief scientist at Zumobi. Joining us from studios of WGY in Albany, N.Y., is Ryan Faas. He is a freelance technology journalist and contributor to Computer World magazine, author of "iPhone for Work."
NNAMDIDirectly to the telephones, these calls, we were, in a way, kind of expecting. Let's start with Jay in Northern Virginia. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYYeah, I just wanted to have the panel address the distinction between personal use and business use as far as the cloud is concerned. Two issues from a business perspective that I'd like to hear their opinion on is -- one is security and protection of proprietary information of public files, and also the inevitable Murphy's Law that, in the business world, when you need a document, you won't be able to get access to the internet to get a hold of it.
JAYSo I'm wondering what they see is a solution from that inevitable situation on the cloud.
NNAMDIBen, will you address the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the room?
BEDERSONYeah, risks. You know, you bring it up as far as the business issues, and I agree. But to be honest, these are also issues for personal. So let me summarize, like -- 'cause I think there are several categories of risk. And I think of them in the following four ways. The provider can give away your information. They can use your information against they will. They can lose your information, or others can take it from you.
BEDERSONSo there's at least four big categories. I think we should talk about each of those a little bit. And you brought up two of them. So the first is, they give it. Suppose Google has -- or Apple has your documents and they get subpoenaed, right? Suppose -- and it doesn't have to be a business. You know, you could be, you know, a private individual and for whatever reason, you know -- and I hope it's not a personal tragedy...
BEDERSONYeah, I don't even like to think about it. But you -- this third party can get subpoenaed. And they are, in most cases, legally obligated to just give it. They can, in fact, have a kind of subpoena where they're legally obligated to give it without telling you. And that is a real...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Ryan.
FAASThere is actually -- recently, a lawsuit was launched against American Express for the fact that their calls get routed to other countries. And as you mentioned earlier, Ben, you don't know what country your data may be in when it's on a cloud server. And one of the risks, both if you're in the U.S. and your data is stored elsewhere or if you're elsewhere in the world, is that you don't have the same Fourth Amendment protection rights because your data is not stored in the U.S. So that's a concern even without a subpoena.
NNAMDIWhereas on the other hand, if your data is stored on your personal computer, on your hard drive, you can at least get a lawyer.
FAASThat's right. In fact, you can at least be aware that someone has asked for it, and you can fight it. I mean, you may lose, but you have an opportunity to go through a process. So you do really lose some control. And many organizations do, in fact, strongly consider this when they -- especially businesses when they are making that kind of choice.
BEDERSONAnd this isn't really just an issue...
FAASWell, that -- just the issue of not -- there's all kinds of security, but the issue of the person that physically manages control gives it away because of legal requests.
NNAMDIYou're going to say, Ryan?
FAASWell, it's an issue not just with regards to cloud computing. This is a big issue that IT departments are facing with mobile devices. Because as we get to the point where people are using their personal mobile devices more for work and they're using consumer-oriented devices, like Android phones or iPads, your IT department may not have the control or may not even know that you're putting work data on this device and from this device into a cloud service.
FAASSo that's a big challenge that IT departments are grappling with is, how do we address this? Can we even address this?
NNAMDIThe other question that Jay raised has to do with access.
BEDERSONRight. So that's the second of the four. So I can think -- I think of this, really, as both access and reliability. If you're not on the network, of course, you can't get it if it's cloud only. But once you have syncing, right, which is what we're talking about so that a copy of it is -- a current copy is always available on your local device, then the access of a part of when you're offline, that particular problem goes away.
BEDERSONThe related part is reliability, is what happens if Google goes down? I mean, I hate to say this, what if there's a bomb on multiple Google and Apple servers at the same time, right? That would be a pretty terrible situation. So that kind of major catastrophe has never happened. There have been a lot of minor catastrophes, and cloud servers do occasionally lose data.
BEDERSONGoogle had a, perhaps, one of the biggest losses a couple of months ago where, through a software bug, they actually deleted the Gmail of, I believe, hundreds of thousands of users. And it was deleted through all of their redundant copies. But they had tape backup and were able to restore after several days.
FAASWell, there was also the cloud outage that Amazon had this spring that went on for a couple of days. And it really was, you know -- it wasn't every Amazon cloud user, but it was a significant number of them. And the services were just completely unavailable during that period.
BEDERSONSo this is a risk. But at the same time, like all risks, you have to compare it to what your alternatives are. And I would like to hazard a guess that anybody that has had a laptop that they've relied on has probably lost access to that laptop for more than one day a year for some reason -- the hard disk crashes, an update went awry, right? So the reality...
FAASYou forgot to charge it.
BEDERSONThat you forgot the charger in the hotel room. Right. There's lots and lots of reasons. And I think most people would say that the redundant storage that cloud services provide typically make it, in fact, more reliable than a personal device, even though it's not risk-free.
NNAMDIJay, thank you...
FAASThank you also...
NNAMDIJay, thank you for your call.
NNAMDIYou were about to say, Ryan?
FAASAnother point is that if you look at services like Dropbox, not necessarily with their free service but some of their upgrades, you can actually have version histories of your documents stored. So you can actually go -- and Google Docs is very good at this, too. You can actually go back to a previous version of a document, you know, if somebody else has made a change or you've deleted something and you want to get back to, you know, the version that you had yesterday, which is a really nice feature.
NNAMDIWe got an email from P.J. in College Park. "I'm surprised at how little discussion of Dropbox there has been so far..." -- that was before Ryan just spoke -- "...both on this show and among regular computer users. I found Dropbox already offers effectively file syncing. And unlike Apple's new product, it works well across platforms, even with Linux."
BEDERSONAbsolutely. And, in fact, Dropbox, as I mentioned, is not new. People in UNIX have been using rsync for 20 years. Before Dropbox, I was using FolderShare, which was sold by a company called Byte Taxi in 2005, until it was acquired by Microsoft. And Microsoft offered a product called Live Sync, and it's now Live Mesh. So there are, in fact, a number of multi-platform free services that let you sync your files across computers.
NNAMDIHere is Joe in Mount Rainier, Md. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEYes. Thank you for taking my call. I work in the audio recording industry, and cloud computing has really helped our work flow. A lot of times, clients, you know, will have attended sessions where they authorize changes to different mixes or video and things like that and -- I'm actually a Dropbox user, and it has actually completely -- there was a paid service by the company for the products we used made by Avid and -- called DigiTranslator.
JOEAnd it's pretty much obsolete at this point. And, also, DigiDelivery, where they were key services from proprietary service. And now Dropbox can do it faster and at a fraction of the cost, so...
BEDERSONDo you know -- I want to respond to that. I mean, I agree, but I also want to point out one caveat with Dropbox. Just as with Apple's and Google's services, you are giving them all of your data. And there is one good syncing provider that let's you take advantage of multi-device syncing without putting your data on the servers of the provider, and that is Microsoft Live Mesh.
BEDERSONThey have an option where you can let your files go on their servers or only have what's called peer-to-peer syncing. Your files go between your laptop and your desktop and your wife's laptop or whatever without ever going on Microsoft's server. So not only do you avoid this subpoena legal issue, but you also don't have to pay for their disk space.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation...
FAASIt's also interesting that...
FAAS...the Microsoft products are actually probably the ones that people know the least about when it comes to talking about cloud services.
NNAMDIJoe, you were saying?
JOEYeah, I was just saying that I had no idea that -- wow. I learn something every day, right?
JOEWell, that's it.
NNAMDIOkay, Joe. Thank you very much for your call. Ryan, you care to...
JOE(unintelligible) thank you for your time.
NNAMDIRyan, you or Ben care to tell us more about Microsoft's services that others may not know about?
FAASLive Mesh, which Ben was talking about, is probably the more robust one. There's also Microsoft SkyDrive, which is essentially more Dropbox-like, and it's just, you know, essentially, a virtual hard drive in the sky that you can access from multiple PCs.
NNAMDIWhat does this mean for the future of my PC? Will we all eventually be walking around with the equivalent of a Google Chromebook, which is basically a computer that's really nothing but a web browser?
BEDERSONWell, this is the case where you really have to look at the competition between Google's vision of the future and Apple's vision of the future. Google's vision of the future is very much this live-in-the-web version. They do have a...
NNAMDIGoogle Chromebook comes out June 15.
BEDERSONThat's right. And you can, of course -- and it's really just saying, suppose you had your PC with your browser and you just didn't bother to run any apps. That's essentially the Google Chromebook experience. They do have some invisible syncing to a solid-state hard drive on the device so that you can, in fact, access some files offline. But it is -- the experience is really the web experience.
BEDERSONSo if you want them -- the lusher experience that Apple is offering, then that is going to be, you know, the different view. And I must say my personal perspective is that there is -- the world is a big place. There's room for both. There will be some people that really like the web-only version because it's totally transparent.
BEDERSONYou have no maintenance of your computer. I personally like to have the best user experience that I can possibly have, which means when I have a synced local app, I generally choose that over a web app.
NNAMDIWe hear about that...
FAASI would agree. It's also interesting to see, when you look at the Chromebooks, Google is really selling them as a problem-free solution to business and to education, which, I think, is going to be interesting to see how that plays out because, of course, it is a -- you know, a very simple problem-free thing. You don't have to worry about viruses and massive configuration of a lot of machines.
FAASBut, on the flip side, you know, you have to really work through, if not Google Docs and Google apps, you have to work through, you know, the web apps that are available in Google's web app store.
NNAMDIBen, Apple's new iCloud service has been built as being free. But is it? Where will Apple make up the cost for it?
BEDERSONRight. There's no money. There's no ads. It's just a gift from heaven, right? It's Steve Jobs just giving you, Kojo, a personal gift.
NNAMDIThat's how I interpreted it, yes.
BEDERSONAnd, of course, he would love it if you continued to interpret it that, but let me -- let's talk about the truth. Apple is a for-profit company, making money hand over fist.
BEDERSONAnd they are going to continue to do so. So where is that money coming from? Number one, they sell an ecosystem, right? They sell a whole environment, a whole set of services and activities. And the more of their general, including free ones you use, the more Apple hardware you buy, and they make a lot of money from your hardware. So that's number one. Number two is some of those services are free, but not all.
BEDERSONNotably, their music match service, which we probably may get to, is $25 a year, and they offer five gigabytes of free storage in the cloud. And they haven't announced how much they are going to charge for when it's more than five gigabytes. Finally, they make tons of money selling online services or online content, for example, music and videos, not to mention apps.
NNAMDIWell, now you've led me back to reality. Ryan, iCloud's debut seems particularly important for music lovers since iTunes has locked in deals with major music publishers to license their recordings. Amazon and Google have not. How do you see these services shaking out with iTunes seemingly holding so much power?
FAASI think it's going to be very interesting on two fronts. One, it may actually force Amazon and Google to actually negotiate with the labels or the RIAA, and the labels may actually simply sue Amazon and Google over the terms of how they're saying they don't need license agreements.
NNAMDII'm betting on the latter, but go ahead.
FAASI am, too, actually. But what's interesting is they're actually streaming your music to you via the Internet, whether it's a Wi-Fi, a 3G or possibly a 4G connection. They're not actually storing that music on your device. Whereas Apple's approach is, okay, you've already purchased this music, and we have a record of it. Or in the case of iTunes Match, you know, we can see that you have this song, so we're going to let you have access to our digital copy of it.
FAASAnd that's great. And it means that, you know, from your iPhone or your iPod Touch or whatever, you can go, you know, and add music to it wherever you are, be it something that you've already purchased or be it something that you already own from whatever source it may be. But it's not the same thing as streaming it. You are actually downloading that content onto the device and playing it from the device.
FAASThat has certain advantages as, you know, we've been talking about an online solution versus something that's synced and dedicated on device and that you can listen to the music without an internet connection. On the flip side of it, you know, if you only have an eight gigabyte iPod Touch, you know, you can fill that up pretty quickly. And from -- if you were to use an Amazon solution, you'd be able to stream additional music that you can't fit on that device.
NNAMDIHere now is Christian in Annapolis, Md. Christian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTIANThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. My comment is, one of your guests mentioned earlier that, you know, while web apps are maybe not quite as rich or immediately responsive as locally installed apps, that is changing rapidly with new technologies in web development and coding. And I actually use -- I have one of those test Chromebooks that they sent out last year. I got one of those.
CHRISTIANAnd I've been using it pretty much daily ever since it arrived about six months ago. And I find almost no case where I really am wishing I had a full-blown PC for most of my daily use. And I would consider myself a power user. For the average person that just does some email and some Facebook usage and stuff like that, I don't really see any case where they would be disappointed with a scenario like that.
CHRISTIANAnd for a lot of people who don't have any clue about securing their computer, protecting it against viruses, all this kind of stuff, their computer ends up becoming more frustrating and useless to them with locally installed applications than if they were to just do it online and not have to worry about that. So I think that there is a shift in what's available through the browser and web technology that's going to actually, I think, make it more appealing to a lot of people to just do their stuff on the cloud.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Ryan?
FAASI think there are a couple of interesting points there, and I actually agree with the caller. One of the interesting points, though, is talking about web apps and, really, HTML5, which Apple and Google are both pushing at this point for web content, partly as a replacement for Flash. But HTML5 actually does have a lot of robust capabilities in terms of interface design and processing.
FAASAnd what's interesting is that you're seeing it both for web development, but you're also seeing platforms that are now using HTML5 as the core technology to develop native apps that are installed on a device. You see that, sort of, with webOS that HP has been pushing after they acquired Palm. And they'll be launching their first tablet, the HP TouchPad, next month. And you also see it in what Microsoft has been talking about with Windows 8.
FAASWindows 8 is supposed to have a set of apps that are designed to use its new touch-friendly interface. And they're done with those same core web technologies rather than the more traditional, you know, programming languages, like C++ or Objective-C, that can't run on a web process.
BEDERSONSo -- and I would further it by saying I agree in as much as there are a growing set of people for which this is -- will be an excellent choice. I maintain there is also a growing set of people for which it is not the best choice. There's a lot of people using computing. And there are going to be different needs in different scenarios. Some will want the simpler, more reliable to simple web thing. I can -- you can understand that.
BEDERSONAnd some will want Photoshop and video editing and complete control of offline news when they're on an airplane and the ability to play every single 3D game instead of only the web 3D games and so on.
NNAMDIThank you very much for you call, Christian. We've got to take a short break. We're reminding you to go to our website, kojoshow.org, and vote on our survey there. We're asking you how you use cloud computing. So far, for our listeners, Facebook and Google Calendar and Documents seem to be the two most popular uses of the cloud. But you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIAlso, participate in our poll. You can also call us, 800-433-8850, with your questions or comments. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's Tech Tuesday, cloud computing. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's a Tech Tuesday conversation about cloud computing and storing your documents and your videos and music on the cloud. We're talking with Ryan Faas. He is a freelance technology journalist and contributor to Computerworld magazine and author of "iPhone for Work." He joins us from studios in Albany, N.Y.
NNAMDIJoining us in our Washington studio is Ben Bederson, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland-College Park, co-founder and chief scientist at Zumobi and, most importantly, the husband of computer gal Allison Druin. But that's another story. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation. Which iCloud features work with non-Apple PCs, and which non-Apple applications work with iCloud, Ben?
BEDERSONSo the keyword here is lock-in. You know, Microsoft has had a long history of users hating them, at least historically, for making file formats that can only be used on Microsoft products. And so once you started to use, for example, Excel or Microsoft Word, you pretty much were stuck using that 'cause you'd email that file to your colleagues and they had to use it, right?
BEDERSONAnd that was -- this concept of lock-in in the technology field is the idea that once you start to use a product, you and then your colleagues, almost like a virus, have to continue to use that product because...
NNAMDISo my Microsoft Word, Excel spreadsheets and Adobe Acrobat program will not work on the iCloud?
BEDERSONCorrect. Well -- actually, it's a big maybe. As Apple is shipping...
NNAMDIA big maybe.
BEDERSONAs Apple is shipping it, the answer is, no, it will not. They're shipping Pages support, right, which is Apple's word processor.
NNAMDII have Pages on my iPad.
FAASAnd you can import...
BEDERSONBut if you...
FAASIt can import...
FAAS...a Word doc, but it can save it as a Word doc.
BEDERSONAnd importing and exporting is an -- I think, is a worthless solution. I mean, it's only for an emergency. The reality is then you get rid of this free syncing. Then you have to manually import and convert and manually export and file, and stuff gets lost. What you really need is built-in native support...
FAASAnd now the big question...
BEDERSONBut -- I wasn't finished. Apple is offering or promising to developers technical mechanism called API support in their iCloud services so that third parties on Macs and PCs will be allowed to add iCloud support. So if Microsoft wants to add iCloud support for Word and Excel, then they will be able to and they will make it work. They can make it work on desktop between desktop, Office and iOS Office.
BEDERSONBut I do not recall -- and maybe, Ryan, you remember -- if they talked -- if Apple talked about whether they were going to offer these services for Android. I don't recall them saying that.
FAASI don't believe they're going to do it with Android. They are going to offer --
BEDERSONThat's a big limitation.
FAASIt is a big limitation. They are going to offer a number of the services for Windows, which they actually do with MobileMe. You can download -- if you're a MobileMe user, you can download a control panel applet. It'll give you access to most of the syncing features in MobileMe. And Apple has sort of implied that they're going to continue that with iCloud.
FAASSo you'll be able to sync, you know, your photos, your music, your personal data, like your contacts and calendar. But the big question is, you know, the iCloud use for documents. And you also brought up an interesting point, Ben, about the fact that Microsoft Word documents aren't going to be natively supported by iWork. I expect that you'll see, like, sort of the Office suites that are out there, like Quickoffice, Documents To Go, Office Squared.
FAASThey will probably all implement this so can use that at least between iOS devices and Macs as a way of, you know, accessing Microsoft Office documents.
NNAMDIHere is Alvin in Westminster, Md. Alvin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALVINHi. Thank you for taking my call. I'm the secretary for a club. And we're looking for some place to kind of archive our records and some place that has password control so that some documents only the executive board can see. Some documents also read-write control. Our club is 25 years old. And as members come and go, officers come and go, a lot of records kind of disappeared, melt away.
ALVINAnd we're looking for a place to have an archive that members can go to if they want to see minutes from five years ago or the original constitution of the club and things like that. Is there a product like that that does not require a sophisticated IT support to maintain it?
BEDERSONI think the answer today is probably Google Docs. You can get started very easily, completely online. You can import all standard file formats. And it will give you all that kind of sharing control that you ask for. They offer you a moderate amount of storage for free. But for a measly $5 a year, you can get another 20 gigabytes of storage in their cloud services. So I think I would start with Google Docs. Ryan, would you suggest something else?
FAASI would agree with that, and I actually know a number of organizations -- some of them are clubs, some of them are small nonprofits, some of them are religious groups -- that use Google Docs in that exact same way.
NNAMDIAlvin, thank you so much for your call. We got an email from Ivan, who said, "How secure is iCloud? I have sensitive company information that I'd like to sync with all computers, but I'm concerned about hacking at the Apple servers." What are your thoughts?
BEDERSONWell, we've talked about two kinds of security risks so far, right, legal risks and reliabilities. The third one is security. So can other people go in and take your stuff against this provider's will? And the reality is, over the last year and even over the last several months, there have been an outrageously and growing number of significant break-ins. You know, poor Sony Corporation. Actually, I don't actually feel that bad for Sony 'cause I think they had it coming.
BEDERSONBecause once their -- you know, these huge break-ins of lost -- losing, you know, a million -- access to a million, you know, customers' information, it was shown that they stored passwords in plain text. So people did get break in, but they did not follow best practices of security principles. So the good news is the biggest providers of true cloud services, such as Google and Microsoft and Apple, have not had those kinds of massive public break-ins to date.
BEDERSONSo I think they're probably, you know, following best practices, and they are better than the others. Would I promise that they're not going to get broken into? No. On the other hand, if you stored stuff on your desktop in your office, can I promise that that won't get broken into either? The answer is no. So, as always, with risks, it's balancing one risk versus another.
NNAMDIOkay. Here is Perry in Brunswick, Md. Perry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PERRYThanks, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
PERRYMy question -- I heard earlier a reference to -- I'm on a speakerphone. Is that okay with you?
NNAMDIWell, we hear you pretty well now. We'd prefer you to be on -- not on the speakerphone.
PERRYOkay. I'm on regular phone.
NNAMDIThere you go.
PERRYI heard a reference earlier to IT departments having a challenge when employees want to use their personal devices for work. And it's been -- it was my experience when I was with the government that, when that was requested, the device had to be turned over to the IT department to make sure that it was configured for secure access.
PERRYOr in lieu of that, if an employee needed to work at home, they -- we just provided a separate computer or a separate device for them to use, which was not owned by them. It seems mindless to me that an employee would want to use a personal device for work or that an IT department would even consider it. That's it.
NNAMDIBen -- go ahead, Ryan.
FAASI think there are a couple of interesting points. And one of them is that a lot of large companies and a lot of smaller businesses have been implementing what are called BYOD policies, which basically stands for bring your own device. So it's a cost-cutting measure for a lot of companies if an employee wants to use, say, their own smartphone because you don't have to pay for the device.
FAASYou don't have to pay the carrier fees. You don't have to pay any roaming or data charges. So a lot of companies are sort of looking at that as a reason that they will consider this, particularly with the economy. You also have, you know, the situation where people, you know, have an iPhone, and they like an iPhone. I know one person who -- her company gave her a BlackBerry. She bought an iPhone.
FAASShe preferred using the iPhone. So she did most of her work on the road on her iPhone, didn't tell her company that she was doing this and just used her BlackBerry for, you know, texting, email and calls. So, to a certain extent, some IT departments may simply not be aware that this is going on.
NNAMDIOkay. Perry, thank you so much for your call. We got an email from Caroline, who says, "Can your guests talk a little bit more about Apple's Cloud and how it syncs? I'm an avid Apple user, but have found that sometimes Apple's definition of sync doesn't really mean to put all data in two or more places. For example, when I've lost my iTunes library, it's not possible without a third party program to transfer the music on my iPod back to my computer. This is a fear I have about the iCloud." Ben?
BEDERSONFair enough. Apple has not been, I think, great at supporting their users across multiple devices. I mean, Steve Jobs pretty much admitted it in his announcement talk. And one of the big changes that iCloud is promising is wireless -- true wireless syncing. What they call -- when they say, now sync your device, it's manual, right? You have to plug your...
BEDERSON...iPod or your iPhone or your iPad into your computer...
BEDERSON...run iTunes, press sync, wait 10 minutes or an hour, sometimes, right? It's a pretty burdensome problem. And so many people don't. And then they didn't support, always or often, the ability to pull stuff off of your device. So they really didn't -- I mean, whether they'll deliver, we don't know. But they have promised to address those issues. They promised overnight wireless syncing.
BEDERSONSo every single day, your device, if you're on a Wi-Fi network, will wirelessly sync to Apple's Cloud and then back down to your, you know, computer. So it will be in your iTunes library. So they really are aware of this problem, and they've promised that they're going to address it. Whether they do remains to be seen.
NNAMDIHere's Poshawn (sp?) in Columbia, Md. Poshawn, your turn. Go ahead, please. Hi, Poshawn. Are you there? Ooh, there was something that Poshawn apparently wanted to ask that I really wanted us to hear. Okay. Let's go then to Jim in Fredericksburg, Va. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMHi, Kojo. Thank you very much for taking my call. I live in what, I guess, you could call a hauler. I don't have any cable-type or internet access, so I have to use a satellite connection. And since I have a limitation, it's actually very slow, and it's like 200 meg a day. What would these Chrome or these syncing things do for my kind of situation? Or am I better off just sticking with what I've got now, which is, you know, I manually pull down what I want?
FAASI think that's an interesting question. And it is actually something that you're seeing a lot in certain areas -- the large concern -- where you don't have any sort of real broadband access. And the truth is, a lot of these services do require moving a lot of data.
BEDERSONYeah, I think the answer is, for your particular case, if you have 200 megabytes a month, the answer is turn all of these automatic services off or you're going to find yourself with a big bill. And you're going to have to control it manually. You know, on -- Apple has promised that you can turn it all off with one switch on your iOS device. And, no doubt, it's partly for people in situations where, you know, data is not -- data communications is a significant expense.
NNAMDIEither that or move out of the hauler, Jim.
JIMYeah, not likely anytime soon. Thank you.
NNAMDII can hear you. Thank you very much for your call, Jim. We only have time for one more email from Terrence. "How is cloud computing significantly different from simple online email services like Hotmail or Yahoo!? Personally, I've been using cloud computing for more than a decade. I use my free email accounts to serve as my personal data storage and online notepad. I send documents -- I send myself documents to store and can then access data from any computer in the world with an internet connection."
BEDERSONYou're absolutely correct. You are one of an -- you're an early adopter of cloud computing, as I have been. And I think the real point about Apple's announcement is that they are both going to democratize this in the sense that they're going to make it not completely available, but more available. And they're adding more services, so more things will be more easily accessed.
NNAMDIBen Bederson is a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland-College Park and co-founder and chief scientist of Zumobi. Ryan Faas is freelance -- is a freelance technology journalist and contributor to Computerworld magazine. He's the author of "iPhone for Work." Ryan, thank you for joining us.
FAASThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBen, always a pleasure.
BEDERSONMe, too. Thanks, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
For the first time since 2009, more people are leaving the Washington region than arriving ––including millennials. Kojo sits down with researchers to understand why migration to D.C. has slowed, and how millennials factor into the makeup of the city.
Many gardeners think that cooler weather means an end to gardening, but our roundtable of urban farmers offers tips for maintaining your garden throughout the fall months and preparing it for spring.
As D.C. and jurisdictions around the region put in their pitches for Amazon's second headquarters, we explore what winning that bid would mean for the region, and what it might cost taxpayers.