- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barring catastrophic events, June 6, 2011, will likely go down as a day on which much of the computing world changed. If all goes according to plan, Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs will give a keynote address to the firm’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco and, joined by other company executives, unveil a bunch of new things.

Specifically, as Apple detailed in a May 31 announcement, Mr. Jobs & Co. are expected to announce and preview “its next generation software — Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch; and iCloud, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.”

Nothing more was said about “iCloud,” but reports in the Wall Street Journal and other media suggest an Internet-based music service that will allow you to hear your music anywhere, on just about any device.

While all this undoubtedly will impress the Apple faithful, there’s more here than first meets the eye.

After all, the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad all connect to PCs running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system. Multiple millions of “iDevices” are synchronized on those machines using Apple’s iTunes, Windows version.

So with so many of us using Apple-created devices, albeit not all of them the standard Apple desktop or notebook computer, what the firm does is important. But there’s more still.

If iCloud merely offers music, that’s nice but not much. If it becomes a kind of cloud-based computing environment, where we could store personal data, photos, work files and what have you, accessing them from mobile phones or tablet computers as well as your nearest Web browser, and do so securely and easily, it gets better still.

If it somehow teams with Apple’s iWork applications for the iPad — for word processing, spreadsheet and presentations — then you’ve got the Davidic smooth stone that could bring down the traditional computing Goliath. Microsoft fans may commence worrying now.

The “cloud” is the future of information technology, or IT, so suggested Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, in a conversation Tuesday with tech mavens Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of AllThingsDigital.com at the D9 Conference. Instead of selling products and services chiefly to enterprises, computer science is working on solving consumer problems: “What you are seeing is the death of IT as we know it,” Mr. Schmidt is quoted as saying.

And, this observer would suggest, what you are seeing is the birth of another kind of computing. Hard on the heels of whatever Apple announces next week, Google and its manufacturing partners will unveil the first “Chromebooks,” netbook-style computers that do everything “in the cloud,” using Google’s Chrome browser/operating system and cloud-based applications. It will be a somewhat different experience, in some ways, than traditional desktop computing, but I expect it will be far better than some earlier attempts.

If the costs of ownership and operation are lower for a “Chromebook” or a supercharged iPad than for a traditional Windows-based computer, don’t be surprised if users migrate toward these platforms. We’ve seen the mad dash toward the iPad, with “millions and millions sold,” to borrow a phrase. That trend could quickly snowball if there are ways to make it work on an enterprise level.

Ironically, some of this isn’t really new: Years ago, Sun Microsystems, of which Mr. Schimdt was once chief technology officer, promoted the idea of a desktop terminal activated by a “smart card.” Plug in the card and “your” computing desktop, complete with applications and data files, would appear. Remove the card, and your workspace vanished back into the depths of the network server.

Now, that idea could easily move to the cloud. If it does, that “cloud” would lead us all to a very new day. Monday’s Apple announcements could truly be the start of something big.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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