litl’s value proposition: cloud computing

Aside

We use computers to communicate, get news, find/research/buy things, watch/read/listen to stuff, create or edit things, and play games.  To do so, we install user programs such as web browsers, mail programs, productivity suites (such as Microsoft Office for spreadsheets, writing, and presentations) and so on.  Installing, storing, running, updating, and eventually removing every program we users might want complicates a computer.  Each program uses files, all of which the computer has to manage.  And programs tend to create more files (like a letter we type in a word processor), which we then expect to be able to find, store, organize, and sometimes (hopefully only when we’re done) delete.  Some programs, like viruses, exploit this complexity to harm computers, so we complicate computers even further to secure them.

At my work (and the work of lots of others) a computer expert is just a call away if there’s a problem, so this complexity isn’t usually so bad.  Alone at home, though, problems can grind us to a halt; it’s beond frustrating.

Consider that a computer can enable our activities in two ways:  using programs on our local computers or available to us via the web.  Gmail and Yahoo mail aren’t installed on our machines, but services we get to by browsing the web.  Netflix can stream a movie and Pandora a song about as easily as a program installed on a computer can play a movie or song.  Games can be played online or installed on a computer; the same applies to writing, managing numbers, and developing presentations.

Now for the leap.

If a web browser can access web programs and services that do the things we want, we could simplify a computer by getting rid of all user programs but the web browser.  Such a computer wouldn’t need a desktop to start programs from; it would be ready to browse when started.  Relying on internet services rather than local programs, a computer could still serve us so much more simply…and with vastly fewer things to go wrong, arguably it could serve us better.  I see this as the litl value proposition.

Some object to relying on a nebulous “set of providers out there somewhere” (“the cloud”) to store things of importance.  The best analogy I know is that we put our money in “the cloud” so we can go to any bank, any ATM, any gas station pump and access our money instantly.  Yes, there’s some risk involved, but rejecting cloud computing is akin to saying we want to keep it locked in a box in our home…

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(re) introducing the litl webbook

Most computers are made to be powerful. In general the demands on a computer rise with time; yesterday’s top performer is today’s middle of the road and tomorrow’s trailing edge.  In such an environment, shooting for leading edge computing is routine.

But is another approach–simple, agile, uncomplex–a viable alternative?

It’s a question that doesn’t come up very often as I follow the computing world (I can think of few examples; more on a second in later posts), but it intrigues me.  This alternative device would broaden the appeal of computing by avoiding the usual overcomplexity.  Yes, Microsoft Word provides two hundred fonts, seventy five templates, multi-column layouts, and mail-merge.  Isn’t it a bit over the top for what most people use if for most of the time?

Assuming good connectivity, cloud computing–a device serving as a window to the data and software held in distant servers–has been around in one form or another since at least the days of timeshare computing in the 1970’s.  Before Google released its Chromebook (the cloud poster child of late), the web-browser-become-OS notion, others appreciated the idea:  no software to install or update, no viruses to download, no disks–not even much need for the usual measures of capability, processor speed and memory capacity.

The litl webbook (courtesy of litl.com)

By 2009 a small startup called litl brought a cloud device to the commercial market.  Keyboard and screen meeting in a hinge–seems like a laptop, or perhaps a netbook, right?  Some industry reviewers didn’t see much of a difference, and though perhaps a bit more stylish than some, this device doesn’t suggest something that’s different in kind from a PC or Mac.

A premise

Here’s an opening post for a blog I’ll call trailing edge computing.  I might have called it sustainable computing, but it isn’t sustainable in any grand sense, and sustainable has too many meanings already.
Leading (even bleeding) edge computing are always in the news.  So what happens to these devices at the other end of the product cycle, when the bloom, as it were, is off the rose?  Individual devices inevitably fail, and sometimes the internet standards upon which they rely are left in the dust.  Still, many devices continue to operate even as time and taste overtakes them; what is their fate?Image
I think an old but interesting device might still yield something of value, generally at a modest cost, even if involving some struggle or limitation.  In selecting  particular examples from my personal experience, I reserve the right to be arbitrary and capricious.  For instance, few will recognize the device above, an oddity I’m exploring at present.

Can you name it?  The answer is handy…