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We Will Live and Work in the Cloud by 2020

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Cloud computing has been a major buzz word in the tech industry for quite some time now, but experts agree that this hot topic might actually have some significance behind it. A survey jointly published by Elon University and the Pew Research Center found that the general consensus among tech experts is that by the year 2020, most of our computing will be done in the cloud. Instead of primarily working with software installed on our own desktops, the experts assert that we will increasing our use of web-based and mobile applications, which is a sentiment that I certainly agree with.

The study specifically found that 71% of internet and tech experts agree with the following statement: "By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications such as Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones. Aspiring application developers will develop for smartphone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system.” It's definitely hard to argue with that - from my vantage point the future of software definitely lies predominantly in hosted services.

The transition has already begun. For evidence, look no further than iOS, one of the most successful platforms for cloud-based apps. So far, there are over 225,000 applications available in Apple's App Store, with 5 billion individual downloads and over $1 billion paid to developers. Other platforms such as Android offer similar potential as markets for cloud-based applications that work over the internet. People no longer want their data stored on a single PC - running applications in the cloud allows information to travel nearly anywhere with them.

However, the group surveyed doesn't expect desktop applications to disappear altogether. Rather, they predict that we will continue to use a combination of desktop and cloud-based applications, with the cloud steadily increasing its role and scope as the technology continues to develop. The major advantage of applications based in the cloud is the ability to access them from any location with an internet connection, including our ever-improving mobile devices. As Jolie O'Dell writes, "Who wouldn’t find that kind of postmodern fluidity appealing? We’re no longer tied to offices for work, nor are our social activities locked away at home." A cloud-based future sounds very enticing indeed.

Furthermore, according to Peter Coffee of Salesforce.com, "absolutely nobody" will manage to create the same dominance in the cloud that Microsoft has enjoyed in desktop computing for the last couple decades. Although Google certainly holds an impressive position with regards to cloud-based applications (Gmail, Youtube, Google Docs, etc.) and has massive amounts of resources and intelligence to continue developing such tools, the potential market is so wide and varied that innovation will inevitably come from a multitude of sources from all corners of the web. There are simply too many specific purposes of different types of applications for one firm to dominate all of the rest.

A recent report by Morgan Stanley shows the extent to which major corporations are adopting cloud-based solutions. The CIOs surveyed say they expect email, CRM, and human resources applications to be the first to be moved to cloud-based environments, and express enthusiasm at the potential for reduced computing costs that the cloud offers. The report shows that cloud-computing is definitely moving into the mainstream for enterprises, proving that the technology is here to stay.

The one consideration hindering cloud-based applications is a continuing concern about security. Some maintain that the cloud cannot offer a reliable level of information privacy. “Trust not the cloud for reliability, security, privacy,” says Barry Wellman, a professor of sociology and Netlab director at the University of Toronto. But my view is that these hurdles will be overcome as the creators of cloud-based applications develop better and better security measures. Eventually, the inherent advantages of the cloud will make the technology impossible to pass up.