Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I moved all my data to the cloud: living stateless all the time with Google Drive and Chrome OS

Sometimes the new is easier when it looks like the familiar.
Here is a screen capture of my Google Drive interface, using a friendly 
tree-hierarchy folder layout. For this folder of classic car photos,
I'm using a large-icon preview.

Everything is in the cloud, but you'd never know.
Would you store all of your data in the cloud?

Everything? Documents, photos, music, video? Not a single item in local storage other than what's cached in the browser?

I did just that.  This is the story of why I did and how that happened. When your data lives in the cloud, you have decoupled it from local storage. You can access your stuff on every machine, because it's no longer tied to the particular machine you have in your hand.   Data becomes stateless.

I believe it's a big trend, an important enabling technology.

In the stateless future, every device is a blank slate, ready to become what you ask of it.  Lose it, have it stolen, run over it with a truck--you don't have to care, because everything that makes the machine yours is in the cloud, free from any specific machine and ready to use the moment you sign in somewhere else, on some other device.  There is a lot to say about this idea; Infrics' coverage and advocacy of the stateless future is here.

So far, Google is the only major company bringing this idea to market*.  Improvements in the ChromeOS stateless operating system and in the Google Drive cloud data service made something possible and easy last month, my move to all-cloud-data, all-the-time.

In other words, last month, I turned my Chromebook into a dumb box.  Using drag and drop between windows in ChromeOS, I moved every file I had stored locally on the machine's flashdrive up to the cloud, and onto Google Drive.  It is now my default storage mechanism and the solid state storage on the Chromebook is empty.  There is an exception: my music and videos are in Google Play Music and Amazon Cloud Player--still cloud-based, but not part of Drive. Even though cloud-data-only is practical, we are not quite there in terms of a truly unified cloud data system.  The digital ecosystem needs work.

It doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all.  I set Drive as my default storage within ChromeOS settings, so I can save to Drive directly.  I can print any document or photo or web page to a .pdf stored in Drive. I can attach files to mail from Drive, or upload directly from Drive without any local presence of the file (as I did to import the screen capture above into this post.)

You can throw everything into Drive as one big bucket, and retrieve it on the fly using search; if you prefer more structure, use Drive's tree structure of nested folders to organize files.  It feels just like the comfortable C: drive I've used for 20 years on legacy systems, but it's as stateless as tomorrow.  Unlike the old C: drive, I can get to every file I own on any device I use without ever synching anything.

Local data is the answer to a need from the earliest days of hardwired networks, low bandwidth, and legacy thinking.  We are past those days. I gave up local data, because I believe it's time to move on.  Now, no laptop hard drive crash can hurt me, no thief can cost me months of work by taking my computer.  I never back up anything, because there is nothing that needs to be backed up.  I'll never fail to give a presentation because I left my computer in the taxi, or because I brought the wrong SD card. Everything I need is everywhere I am.

*Mozilla's stateless FirefoxOS for mobile devices is very promising, and near-market.  Because they are tied to local applications and fat operating systems like Mac OS, iOS, and Windows, I do not consider the cloud data offerings from Apple and Microsoft to be serious stateless contenders--yet.  Cloud data services like Dropbox are close to being stateless, but lack ease of integration to be useful alternatives to the Google Drive/ChromeOS pairing of stateless OS and stateless data.  There is much room for discussion on this point in the comments.  I hope you will share your ideas and questions.