Cheap Hardware Will Force Cloud Computing

Last Updated Aug 21, 2008 12:05 PM EDT

Reflections on Cloud GateFor all of the availability of such online productivity suites as Google Apps and HyperOffice, applications that live on a computer's hard drive have remained king of the hill. But that's about to change, I think. Intel's acknowledgement of the netbook and nettop markets -- low cost computers designed primarily for Internet access -- with a new chipset for sub-$200 computers not only potentially opens that market wide, but helps set the foundation for hardware to drive software off into a cloud.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, personal computing hardware continuously lept while software lagged behind. Applications grew to fill the space available because it was easier, faster, and more cost-effective to focus on adding features and not optimizing code. (I remember older programmers shaking their heads at the profligate use of RAM.)

Now applications take up hundreds of megabytes of space or more and require multi-gigahertz machines with a half a gig of RAM. But hardware configurations will be taking a u-turn. A cheap machine must skimp on CPU speed, RAM, and hard drive size to be economically viable. Engineers will design machines to run a browser and email software and eliminate the costlier configurations that have become necessary for long-bloated traditional apps.

The prices of these new machines will be tempting and greater numbers will migrate to them, especially as the economy continues to feel pressure. Need and machine configuration will combine, as always, to direct software usage. Users will have to increasingly look for applications on the web, because that will be the only practical way to run them. So even if cloud computing didn't exist, consumer pocketbooks would force its invention.

Cloud gate image via Flickr user RcktManIL, CC 2.0.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.