Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Does the desktop matter any more?

[This is a popular post from one of my blogs that I am discontinuing, it was made on 5/12/2012.]

Recently I experimentally moved my business and personal computing to Windows 7. I had been using MacOS since 2005, but recent moves by Apple made me question continuing to be there. I used the opportunity to sort though a tremendous number of files that had collected during the decade and half my business has existed.  I moved as much as possible to the cloud, translating to Google Docs all current files and using the newly released Google Drive to archive those things not thrown out.  A number of interesting things came out of the exercise.

First of all I found I had far more interspersed Personal and Business computing than I had intended.  This is easy to have happen in a micro-business like mine.  Having started using digital music before iPods existed, I of course had my Music on my business system.  Again, having started using digital cameras before things like iPhoto existed, I used iPhoto to see what it was like [a legitimate exercise for a software developer], but the next thing you know most of my photos [and videos] were on my business system.  My wife and I have a Mac owned by us personally where I could have done this, but it was just more convenient to do it in my office.  None of this really mattered as there were tons of disk still free on my system, though it did encourage me to buy a personal laptop so that would stop.  But the really interesting thing was the relative size of things.  My company has been around 15 years. There are contracts, source code, personnel records, account records, etc.  But my business usage really is small compared to what I was using personally.  My entire business usage is less than 10 gigabytes [that is total for all the business, not just what I generate].  My personal documents, music, photos and videos take over 40 gigs.

The next surprise is how few Applications are being used.

In the business:
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Drive, DropBox, and SkyDrive
  • LibreOffice [We dumped Microsoft Office long ago, they have outrageous pricing for micro-businesses.]
  • We need Unix-like tools so we added Cygwin under Windows.
  • Our in-house programs are in Python + wxPython + Mongo.
  • Under Windows we needed a PDF viewer, so we added SumatraPDF
  • Because we handle credit cards, and some confidential documents, we needed a secure erase facility, so under Windows we added Eraser.
  • For the same reasons, we added TrueCrypt to have encrypted data vaults.
  • We obviously needed some developer tools, but these are usually used in Virtual Machines and our platform specific.
  • Audacity to do sound editing.
  • A program that acts as a vault for passwords.
  • VMWare Workstation [used VMWare Fusion on the Mac].
  • We occasionally used SeaHorse to create images, we still haven't settled on a Windows replacement for this.
  • We needed to add RealVNC under Windows in order to be able to talk to a couple of Mac-minis that act as server and development machines.
  • There are some backup related programs I will talk about in a separate post as they are server related.
  • We were looking to use RapidWeaver [a Mac-based web site designer program] to edit our web site, but may just end up using Google Sites.

On the personal side:
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Drive, DropBox, and SkyDrive
  • LibreOffice
  • MovieMaker [a free app from Microsoft on that is like iMovie]
  • DVD Maker [alas, Apple has dropped iDvd (physical media no longer cool apparently).]
  • Picassa [our pictures are moving to the cloud].
  • iTunes [we subscribe to a few TV shows this way, plus a fair number of Podcasts].
  • A program to support reporting our weather station to Weather Underground and CWOP.
  • Pandora
  • Google Music
  • A program to act as a vault for passwords.
The point here is the number is small.  Almost all of them are either cross-platform, or were add-ons to Windows to replace MacOS functionality.  Almost everything is available under Linux as well. You might have noticed I do not include utilities like a calculator or dictionary. Such usage has largely moved to phone apps or the web.

It became clear to us that it really does not matter what Desktop OS we are running.
Again... it doesn't matter what Desktop OS we are running!
It took a while for me to fully get that.  This XKCD cartoon nails it:

So can we go entirely cloud-based?  Definitely not.
  • Development is still only possible on Desktop OSs, though these can be Virtual Machines or remotely accessed.  VMWare for development is most easily handled on the developer's computer.
  • Our internal apps could be rewritten in Google Apps Script, but the time it would take is hard to justify.
  • LibreOffice is still necessary for large files. On rare occasion, a document might require more visual finesse than that available in Google Apps.
  • Editing and Organizing Audio, Video and Photos is still not practical in the cloud, though there are awkward options available for Audio and Photos.
  • All cloud-based image editors we've seen are rather primitive.
  • Cloud-based password managers are unwise. Encryption needs to occur on the client side as this is still not an easy thing to accomplish.
  • The problem of encrypted storage and backups will be dealt with in a different post.
  • None of this covers our local server needs, again it will be covered in a different post. Note that I have personal needs here too, as the movement of locally collected weather data to move to the cloud cannot originate in the cloud.
  • Credit card rules won't let you take faxes via the web.
  • You cannot use your keyboards special keys to control Goggle's Music player.
How far along are you in moving to the cloud?  What works or doesn't work in the Cloud for you?

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