- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google Inc., wants us all to live in the clouds — the realm of cloud computing where our data (read, our very lives) reside on a server somewhere out there.

In a conversation with reporters and editors at The Washington Times on Dec. 4, Mr. Schmidt, formerly of networking giant Novell and who also was chief technical officer at Sun Microsystems for many years, spoke of the firm’s in-development Chrome operating system as a harbinger of technology’s future.

The Chrome OS, he said, is “a precursor to … what’s called cloud computing. In cloud computing, you put all the information into the servers and you have relatively easy-to-use and quick booting and very, very safe devices, PC-equivalents, mobile devices. You access the information on the data server.”

This, of course, requires a good network connection: You can’t get data from the cloud if you can’t connect to it. But in many locations, including the Washington metropolitan area of which Mr. Schmidt is a native, that’s less of a concern. Cloud computing, he asserted, is something that will make enterprise information technology, or IT, departments rejoice.

“This new architecture is much, much more IT friendly and consumer friendly because it’s so much more flexible,” he said. “The negative is that you need a strong network. In a place like this, [where there is] high connectivity, sophisticated networks, [and] sophisticated people, cloud computing is the right answer.”

That’s all fine and good in theory; indeed, I have a good chunk of my life stored in Google’s Gmail product, which is the cloud version of e-mail. But, with all due respect to Google and Mr. Schmidt, why should users trust the firm with sensitive, even confidential, data? Can’t outages and infiltration happen?

“We are not perfect,” Mr. Schmidt quickly said, adding, “statistically, we believe we are more reliable than the average IT department.” “That’s not a high starting point,” his questioner responded.

Mr. Schmidt replied, “Those are your words, not mine. And any outage is not acceptable. Fundamentally, given the choice, because you have to use computers somewhere, you’re better off using the ones that we manage because if something bad happens, everybody’s paying attention 24 hours a day, and it becomes a big crisis and we fix it as quickly as we can.”

He continued, “Google is a company that’s really changing in a positive way the way IT and computer architectures are done. … You can trust us for a couple of reasons: We’re serious; two, we’re particularly well-suited because of where our technical architecture is; and we’re plowing huge amounts of money into this area. If we continue to execute well, you’ll get improved service and better products and so forth.”

Those huge amounts of money are going into things such as Google Chrome, the operating system, and Google Chrome, the Internet Web browser. I use the latter daily, and it’s outstanding in many ways: fast, sleek and easy to use. Not every site is as compatible with Chrome as I’d like, but the vast majority are. Chrome is good enough, even now, to give Microsoft and Apple fits.

The same goes for Gmail: It’s an excellent system, also fast and responsive. It plays nicely with desktop e-mail “clients” such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird and Apple’s Mail.app, and you can send substantial files as attachments without breaking the system.

What Chrome-the-operating-system will look like is yet to be seen. For it to gain traction, in my opinion, it’ll need much more polish than any Linux version has right now — and offer a bit more feature-wise. We’ll doubtless see more of the Chrome OS in 2010.

Frankly, I would be hard-pressed to bet against Google. No firm is flawless, but these folks have been betting right since their beginnings about a decade ago. If anyone can pull off an audacious technology revolution, Google is as likely a candidate as any.

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