I seem to like computing in clouds. I don’t want to: I don’t like the idea of putting my business or academic data into someone else’s for-profit servers, and I think it’s nutty in a special way to put your private photographs and social relationships in there too. But that’s just ideology, in practice I keep on opening up new documents sporting the Google logo, day-dreaming about the science computing I could do with a few hundreds dollars worth of clock cycles on an Amazon-hosted hadoop cluster, and contemplating moving my email address over to Google Apps for Your Domain. It’s all just so useful. It works across computers, it works across people, and nowadays it even sometimes works when you don’t have internet. The benefits are immediate and tangible (if cloud computing can be called tangible), and the drawbacks are longer-term and probabilistic.
Thus I was excited when the words “private cloud” started cropping up. A private cloud is web-based applications that run on your own server, instead of running on theirs. Advantages without drawbacks. For now private clouds are for corporations to run on their internal intranets. So the words I especially want to see are “personal cloud”. I already rent space on a web server, now I want to be able to install a calendaring service on hughstimson.org, in the same way I’ve already got blogging and photo gallery apps. And I especially want to install Mozilla Docs there. Mozilla, are you making Mozilla Docs?
Big question: if everybody has their own personal cloud running, can they work together? One of the major advantages of current cloud computing is collaboration. If I open a new Google Docs document here in Vancouver, my collaborators over the straight in Victoria can see it and edit it right away, using an interface they’re familiar with. If I were running a document application on hughstimson.org I could create that file, but other people probably don’t want to open an account on hughstimson.org to edit it, nor do they want to learn to use the interface for whatever editing application I’m running there.
I’m guessing there are technical solutions to this technical problem. People already care very much about standard formats in existing cloud computing, and if all of our clouds are able to speak to each other in a common language, then maybe collaboration across them isn’t such a big deal. I open a new spreadsheet, stored in .ods format on my own server, and start editing it on my web interface in my browser. Then I send out an invitation to an email address at Pink Sheep Media, and they open that document up in their own browsers using their own editing application running on the Pink Sheep Media cloud. Or maybe they’re still using Google Docs, and they access the file from hughstimson.org/docs, but edit it in the Google Docs interface. Maybe login access is handled using OpenId. Why not?
It would mean having not just open standards for file formats, but also some common commands for editing functions. The editing could be done on their servers, and then the document would be saved back to mine, staying in the open standard file format the whole time. Is that hard? Does someone know?
As far as I know, Mozilla is not working on Mozilla Docs. But they are doing some cool stuff in cloud computing. This one looks like a big opportunity to me. At least, I know I want it very much. So somebody, please, build me a personal cloud.