Google's doing it. Adobe's doing it. Soon we'll all be doing it - the age of hosted applications is upon us! And the iPhone is a nascent thin client Mac. Read on...
Adobe this week revealed plans to introduce a stripped-down free version of Photoshop. This entry-level service will offer some Photoshop features, will be ad-supported and is set to launch in just six months.
Meanwhile Google continues its efforts to introduce a range of free online-accessed tools that will let users create documents, spreadsheets, sketch pictures and much more as the company moves to an OS-agnostic online services model.
There's others involved in producing these open tools across the technology industry now. It's like a .Net environment that people will actually like – and use – and unlike .Net these solutions seem set to be open to any operating system. Wave goodbye to Microsoft.
What could all this mean?
I think we have finally reached a tipping point. We are entering an age in which thin client computers may actually become a viable choice for many of us.
In the model I see emerging, you can expect a range of small, eminently portable devices to appear. These will potentially use flash memory for on-board storage, will offer a few basic on-board applications, limited processing power – and deliver excellent battery life.
These devices are sub-sub-notebooks, they aren't particularly intelligent on their own, but they are connected devices. Because they can be connected to the internet, they will be able to access any available online applications.
Sure, it'll be a slow start. Right now, something like the Apple iPhone could (potentially) be used to access Google Spreadsheets, for example. And images you take with that devices's built-in 2-megapixel camera could (theoretically) be uploaded to the online Photoshop service for editing.
You will perhaps be able to create documents using the device and Google's online hosted Documents service. You won't need a Microsoft product to achieve this.
In future, as online hosted services become more sophisticated, you can expect these thin clients to become ever more popular.
And Apple could drop in to offer even more.
In a blog item called "How Apple Can Save .Mac" I wrote about the desire to have my entire Home folder saved and accessible through .Mac.
Imagine that - everything you have on your desktop or notebook Mac today - your music and images, your applications, your files - all accessible, editable and saved on .Mac. You become the ultimate remote user.
Now imagine if you could use online hosted versions of all your favourite applications to edit the data you have hosted on .Mac. Effectively you would never need your Mac to carry any of your data, and you wouldn't need to install any applications - they'd all be available through your client device.
Tablet PC? What rot. A small, portable, Apple-branded client machine, perhaps with a touchscreen, and it does everything your existing Mac can do, or at least enough of it that you'd never need to travel with valuable perhaps business-critical data on your machine.
Lost you Mac? No problem - no one can access your data without the password and user ID information you hold in your head. Add a little face or fingerprint recognition and you have a completely secure, completely mobile computing solution.
Sure - full-weight computers will still be part of the mix, but many of us will also choose to use such devices when travelling around.
Welcome to the new paradigm. It should be interesting - and will (naturally) be completely different to the situation I describe.