Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Up in the Clouds

How do you like them apples?
Yesterday on the radio I heard that Apple had a bad weekend. They only sold 5 million iPhones instead of the anticipated 6 to 10. Uhm, how many companies would call 500 million dollars in sales a bad weekend? Not including all their other products. Nevertheless, the stock market fell a bit on this tragic event.

I doubt anyone is really that worried about this crisis. The company employs over 60,000 people and continues to grow year after year, leading the way toward the future with its iPods, iPads, iTunes, iPhones and iMacs. Now it's the iCloud....

This morning I was thinking how clever the Mac strategy has been, calling everything "I"... but which really means "My." MyPod, MyPad, MyTunes, MyPhone and MyMac. And we enter the new era of cloud computing, Apple is encouraging everyone to use MyCloud. Which really means TheirCloud.

Back in the 90's leaders like Larry Ellison predicted a future where computers would be a "dumb box" and everything would be run from somewhere else, stored somewhere else. This seemed too far out, but as a close friend of Steve Jobs during his Pixar years, Ellison's ideas no doubt made an impression. When Jobs rode back onto the Ponderosa to regain what he'd built, the cloud was with him.

We often think of clouds as something that obscure the sun. They also bring much needed rain and serve to help the earth's atmosphere retain heat. The hard frost we had this weekend fell through a cloudless sky.

Clouds are nebulous, too. They appear very defined from a distance, especially at sunset, but up close you really can't touch an edge anywhere.

The Internet has a similar configuration. It's "out there" somewhere, but exactly where we're not sure. We sort of know what it is, but we don't have to fully understand it to experience its benefits.

When I took an Internet class at UMD in 1994, Netscape didn't even exist yet. The infant World Wide Web was just emerging from the womb. Up till then, the Internet backbone consisted of email programs like Pine, and Veronica searches using Archie, or something to that effect. The instructor gave a demonstration of Mosaic at the end of the day and he seemed blown away by it. Though visually more interesting than a screen full of text, it took forever to load on his screen, and that was with the university's T-3 line. Hmmm. I didn't seem to think it would fly. But what did I know? I was still too down to earth. More impressive to me was my ability to sit in Duluth, MN and explore libraries in Pisa, Italy and Berlin, Germany in a matter of moments.

One of the first pictograms used to illustrate what the Internet really was a diagram of a cloud. I used a similar image in my Screen Net column the following year.

Evidently the cloud image conveyed something, even if that something is a bit abstract for most folks. Clouds can be associated with dreams and poetry and intangibles. And that's what Apple's all about, isn't it? Aesthetics and possibilities, not just technology.

You can be sure we'll be hearing more about clouds in our future. Spread your wings and fly.

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