How Cloud Drives Software Evolution

Cloud computing isn’t just about datacenters. It’s affecting what’s viable in the mobile, tablet, and PC markets in a radical way.

Back when Apple introduced the Newton, users wanted all of the processing power, app hosting, and storage at their fingertips. All of that needed to be inside the device. At the time, the gap between what users wanted and what they could have was just too wide. Newton failed to gain traction and was officially shelved in 1997.

Apple Newton and iPhone. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Fast forward a decade or so. You might be tempted to think that the enabler that made the iPhone take off is a smaller form factor, or its gestures, or maybe other UI goodies. I’m sure all those things helped. But the real catalyst is the modern concept of the app—a parasitic piece of software that depends on cloud-hosted infrastructure for its data, pretty pictures, deploy/update mechanism, sales model, authentication, gamification, and just about everything else.

The mindset of the public is getting more and more dependent on cloud computing—even if they don’t think of it that way. Case in point, two recent articles from ZDNet. In one, Jason Perlow laments the abysmal performance of the PC market, and points out that good enough horsepower on the desktop is now cheap due to easy cloud access. In the other, Simon Bisson describes how his perspective on personal files and data has changed as he’s become comfortable with primary storage in the cloud, and local devices simply functioning as cache.

I see connections between this ongoing sea change and the BYOD phenomenon. People are becoming possessive about their own private corners of the cloud, and expecting to be able to carry those cloudlets with them wherever they go.

There’s also an interesting connection to software evolution in general. Just as a complex ecosystem enables apex predators in biology, the ubiquity of cheap cloud is allowing highly specialized pieces of software that depend on a rich infrastructure to provide life-supporting inputs.

Kind of makes you wonder whether intelligent cyberlife will crawl out of the cloudy ooze one of these days…

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