By 2020, most people will access software applications online and access information through the use of cloud services hosted on remote server networks, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project survey of 895 technology stakeholders and critics.
A solid majority of technology experts and stakeholders participating in the fourth Future of the Internet survey conducted by Pew Internet and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center agreed that the cloud will dominate, and desktop usage will diminish in the next 10 years.
"Among the most popular cloud services now are social networking sites (the 500 million people using Facebook are being social in the cloud), webmail services like Hotmail and Yahoo mail, microblogging and blogging services such as Twitter and WordPress, video-sharing sites like YouTube, picture-sharing sites such as Flickr, document and applications sites like Google Docs, social-bookmarking sites like Delicious, business sites like eBay, and ranking, rating and commenting sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor," according to the report findings.
Hybrid Mix of Desktop and Cloud
The survey found most of these experts think the desktop computer will not disappear soon. The majority sees a hybrid life in the next decade, as some computing functions move towards the cloud and others remain based on personal computers.
“By 2020, most people won't do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications such as Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones," the report notes. "Aspiring application developers will develop for smartphone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system.”
A minority (27 percent) envisioned most people continuing to work with software running on a general-purpose PC.
The switch to mostly cloud-based work has already occurred for some users, especially through the use of browsers and social networking applications, the survey noted. Use of smartphones, laptops, and desktop computers to network with remote servers has surged, with users carrying out tasks such as working in Google Docs, following web-based RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, uploading photos to Flickr and videos to YouTube, doing remote banking, buying, selling and rating items at Amazon.com, visiting with friends on Facebook, updating their Twitter accounts and blogging on WordPress.
A More Sophisticated Desktop?
Many of the participants who agreed that cloud computing will expand as the Internet evolves said the desktop will not die out, but be used in new, improved ways in tandem with remote computing. Some survey participants said they expect that a more sophisticated desktop-cloud hybrid will be people’s primary interface with information. They predicted the desktop and individual, private networks will be able to provide most of the same conveniences as the cloud but with better functionality, overall efficiency, and speed. Some noted that general-purpose in-home PC servers can do much of the work locally via a connection to the cloud to tap into resources for computing-intensive tasks.
But cloud computing raises concerns as well. Some respondents observed that putting all or most of faith in remotely accessible tools and data puts a lot of trust in the humans and devices controlling the clouds and exercising gatekeeping functions over access to that data. They expressed concerns that cloud dominance by a small number of large firms may constrict the Internet’s openness and its capacity to inspire innovation – that people are giving up some degree of choice and control in exchange for streamlined simplicity.
A number of people said cloud computing presents difficult security problems and further exposes private information to governments, corporations, thieves, opportunists, and human and machine error.
Hurdles to Cloud Adoption
Survey participants noted that there are also quality of service and compatibility hurdles that must be crossed successfully before cloud computing gains more adopters. Among the other limiting factors the expert respondents mentioned were: the lack of broadband spectrum to handle the load if everyone is using the cloud; the variability of cost and access in different parts of the world and the difficulties that lie ahead before they can reach the ideal of affordable access anywhere, anytime; and complex legal issues, including cross-border intellectual property and privacy conflicts.
Among the other observations made by those taking the survey were:
- Large businesses are far less likely to put most of their work “in the cloud” anytime soon because of control and security issues;
- Most people are not able to discern the difference between accessing data and applications on their desktop and in the cloud;
- Low-income people in least-developed areas of the world are most likely to use the cloud, accessing it through connection by phone.