Two Views Of The Cloud

A few years ago, there was a distinction between the “world wide web” and the Internet. The distinction has decreased, but in the wake of Apple’s landmark WWDC keynote, I think the technical distinction between the terms is an important point to make. The difference between the Internet and the web that rides on top of the Internet forms the basis for two very different points of view for the future of personal computing.

Forgive me as I drastically oversimplify a highly complex system.

The Internet

I recently had the privilege of speaking at career day at my kids school. When asked if any of them could explain the Internet, the kids gave a few entertaining answers like “that’s where the Google is”, and “it’s where you can find stuff”. Although most kids knew what a computer was, none knew that the Internet was a collection of computers of varying sizes. Calling the Internet the “Cloud” further abstracts the reality of what the Internet is from what it is perceived as being. The Internet is an interconnecting of devices, both large and small. Many other systems ride on top of the Internet, like email, file transfer, name mapping, and, most popular of all, the world wide web.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web uses the hypertext transfer protocol to send hypertext markup language between computers. The markup language is compiled into web pages viewed in a web browser. Web pages contain hypertext links to other web pages, links that branch out like a spider’s web, hence the name, World Wide Web, the “www” part of the naming scheme for web sites.

The Web rides on top of the Internet. Companies like Google make money by selling ads on web sites. So, in their view of the Internet, the web is not only the biggest thing, it’s the only thing, and the more they can draw you into the web browser, the more money they can make.

Who Profits From This

Apple’s recent announcement of iCloud centers around native applications that run on their devices. This is because Apple makes money from selling Macs, iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Apple makes software to make their hardware more appealing to potential buyers. They are a hardware company. On the other hand, Google is an advertising company. They make software to sell ads. They give away the software for free so they can build a large user base to make their advertising space more appealing to corporations.

In Google’s view of the Internet, the “Cloud” is centered on their ability to present the user with ads, therefore the Google view of the Cloud is inside the web browser. Apple, being a hardware company, sees the Cloud as an interconnect between their devices, not a restricted window seen through the web browser. Apple is willing to use the entire Internet to move things around, Google wants to keep you in the browser as much as possible. So much so that they are building an entire operating system that is nothing but a web browser.

I should note that I do not know what file transfer mechanisms iCloud uses. It is very possible that they are using protocols that are built on top of http, and are technically higher up the stack, but what I’m trying to address is the conceptual model. Apple’s iCloud is device centric, Google’s “cloud” is web centric.

In Apple’s view of the Cloud, it is entirely possible that eventually a person could forget they were using the Internet at all. The promise of iCloud is that news, messages, emails, documents, pictures, music, and entertainment could be delivered to all of your devices without thinking about it. Eventually, as this technology is refined, it will be more common to live outside of the web browser than inside, a concept I could see ad companies like Google having a problem with.