Will desktops ever move to the cloud? Newsflash: Mine is *already* a cloud desktop. And so is yours.

When thinking of the term "cloud desktop," most people immediately think of either (1) a Desktop-as-a-Service remote protocol-based VDI-like solution (Desktone, dinCloud etc.), or (2) one of the pure browser-based desktop environments like the Google Chromebook or one of the web "desktops" that Gabe wrote about a few years ago.

When thinking of the term "cloud desktop," most people immediately think of either (1) a Desktop-as-a-Service remote protocol-based VDI-like solution (Desktone, dinCloud etc.), or (2) one of the pure browser-based desktop environments like the Google Chromebook or one of the web "desktops" that Gabe wrote about a few years ago.

But today I'd like to argue that there's a third type of desktop which should also be considered a cloud desktop: the "traditional" desktop that I run locally on my laptop (and the one that you most likely run on yours).

Consider this: I visited Gabe last week and forgot my laptop when I left. (It's so small!) This had zero impact on me, because all the data on it is also in the cloud. (Essentially my laptop is nothing more than a cloud endpoint.) Now people might argue "Hey, I can have the same thing with VDI!" And I would say, "Yes! That's my point exactly! VDI is a cloud-based desktop, and my local solution is a cloud-based desktop."

In fact I use three computers regularly: My laptop, my work desktop, and my home desktop. During the holidays I decided to replace my work desktop with a faster one. I bought a new Mac Mini from Apple but bought the memory and SSD from other sources. So when I powered it on for the first time, it was completely blank. Then:

  • The firmware in the Mac saw that I didn't have any OS installed and therefore let me install Mac OS X Lion directly from Apple's cloud servers.
  • I accessed the Mac App Store to re-download all of my previously purchased App Store apps
  • I installed Chrome and logged into Chrome sync, thus enabling the syncing of all of my bookmarks, browsing history, settings, etc.
  • I downloaded the Dropbox client to sync all my files and data with the cloud Dropbox service.
  • I logged into iTunes where iCloud made all my media, music, playlists, etc. instantly available on that computer.
  • I downloaded Office 2011 for Mac from Microsoft (the 30-day eval) and then entered my serial number to convert it to a permanent copy.
  • I configured Outlook for our Exchange Server (err, "private cloud email") and let it sync all my messages.
  • I downloaded the Fireworks CS5 software that I had previously purchased from the Adobe store.
  • And that's it!

From the time I powered it on until the time I was ready to use it, I spent less than 30 minutes actually configuring this computer to get up and running. (Though I did let it run overnight to download & sync everything.) So even though the full OS runs locally on my three computers, and even though my laptop works great offline, this is a cloud desktop. In fact my desktop is worthless without the cloud, and in most cases I can use the cloud apps on their own without my desktop.

And this is not a simple "backup and restore" scheme. Everything I do on my computer is synced immediately with some kind of back-end service. If I lose my laptop, I don't lose any work. The syncing is smart (application-specific), continuous, and bidirectional. The "master" copy of everything I have lives in the cloud, not on my desktops. Frankly, how can anyone NOT think this is a cloud desktop?

Some people say, "But that's NOT a cloud desktop.. I mean your stuff is running LOCALLY!" Ok. So what? Everything has something running locally (even those "zero" clients download a client package or have stuff in firmware). Thin clients have local remoting clients and browsers. Windows Embedded desktops can have even more locally. So really it's just a sliding scale of "localness." And having a high level of localness doesn't mean it's not a cloud desktop.

People will get into arguments about whether this is a "real" cloud desktop or not. But here's what's important: It's 2012, and it doesn't matter. There is no difference between a "cloud desktop" and a "virtual desktop" and a "traditional desktop." They all overlap. The only thing is common is that they're all "desktops." That's what we should call them and that's what we should focus on.

Desktops 4ever. The cloud is irrelevant (because it's omnipresent).

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