Here’s an article that might describe the future of computing. Or not, but that’s the fun of trying to guess what lies ahead.

The article imagines a rich suite of programs that can run in a browser and access files stored on a central server, regardless of what operating system is running on the underlying computer. You’d access your programs and your files from anywhere, whether you’re at your office Windows computer, your home Mac, or an Internet cafe. There’s a very small-scale startup by the name of YouOS to give you an idea of what that might look like – click on “Try A Demo.” (The demo was running very slowly today – your imagination has to supply the speed from a billion dollar investment by a big company.)

The psychological barrier will be storing files on a server that’s not onsite and not under your direct control, but the allure of a single desktop accessible from multiple locations will be compelling – and we’re already moving in that direction. The variety of remote access options today is eroding our feeling of being tied to a single PC. I see clients moving in an office from one workstation to another, expecting their e-mail and files to appear at each one; using the wonderful remote access tools in Microsoft Small Business Server to connect to their Outlook folders online or on their handheld devices; connecting to their office desktop computers with Remote Desktop or one of the online services like GoToMyPC.

Microsoft is working on services under the umbrella name of Office Live that include online collaborative tools based on Sharepoint services. Right now people keep multiple copies of their photos – the originals on their hard drives with copies on services like Yahoo Photos or Flickr. How big a step is it to trust the online service to store the photos and bypass the local copy?

The article discusses speculation that Google would market a “Google PC” but suggests that it makes more sense to provide services that would run on the computers we already own:

“Instead of trying to convince every consumer on the planet to buy a new machine, it makes a lot more sense for Google to build a super-service that you could log into from any computer, phone, or television, or car and airplane seatback. You would be able to access your files anywhere by logging in, calling up your desktop, and popping into Google’s array of Gmail-like applications for word processing, photo editing, and anything else you can think of.

” . . . A network-based PC could offer more file space, faster searches, guaranteed backups, cheaper software costs, login-from-anywhere portability, and far less home maintenance. Let’s skip ahead, though, to the most counterintuitive advantage: Dollar for dollar, network-based computers are faster.”

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