I just swapped my old pc for a new one. With all the proper backups in place, it’s easy to load all the old data and software back onto the now pc and get on with it.
But should I? I asked myself if I ever really need any of this.
Mail: I’ve not used a mail client for years. I discovered that Gmail is much easier to use than any other mail application, and I can access it anywhere, and it has even better spam filtering than my own Bayesian filter (which is pretty good, in fact) on my (not at all good) webmail. So Gmail is for me.
Documents: I started typing my texts into Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and now I can access those wherever I am — except on the road, but I also couldn’t do that earlier. While on the road, I still have my trusty old Psion Series 5. I still work locally with other formats, like photos and MS Publisher files, because I need more precise features than available online (yet). I have not yet installed any Office suite on my pc, and I’m surprised to see that I don’t need it: I discover that I actually do not use all those old documents that I keep backing up and caring about. Should I need a document and miss MS Word on my pc, then I can just upload it to Google Docs and work with it from there. That way, Google Docs will only contain files I actually use(d).
Photos: I have a lot of photos. I could use Picasa to manage them, too. The upside would be the elegant (and to me, important) integration with online galleries, not least Picasa Web Albums. But I don’t like the way the Picasa application works, and I also want to publish to a gallery on my own domain. These two issues keep me from Picasa, otherwise I would probably have switched already. As yet, I find that cam2pc works better for me because I can configure it so that when it downloads the photos from my camera, it will name the photos and put them in folders exactly like I want. That is a powerful feature that lets me navigate tens of thousands of photos directly in Windows Explorer, rather than always having to use a specific application.
Maps: I no longer use my MS AutoRoute 2004. It is good, but Google Maps is better. And it has the most up-to-date maps and street information, it is excellently searchable, and it is fast. There is barely an argument left for installing a map application locally. I live in Austria and Google Maps is American, but it easily beats Austrian online map sites anyway. Because Google Maps is so good, I actually use mapping info much more than I used to. When it takes so little effort and time, I look up addresses much more often than I used to.
Will it be possible to work online-only? Not fully, but the most useful things are already available. Give it a few more years, and you’ll have most useless things, too…
Do I trust my data to online services? That’s a much tougher question, and much more subjective. My brother dislikes Google and others than can and want to peep into your mails and stuff, but I don’t feel bothered by it. As long as I don’t see ad banners and my data is not given to third parties, I am not concerned. I feel that Google is doing a good job of keeping my trust, and they provide the best online platform for complete data management. I’ll go with this and see where it takes me. I might run a homebrew linux with heavy double encryption and only use plaintext online services through an anonymizer, but to me, it’s simply not worth the trouble. Google may be evil, but if they are, they are even better at hiding that fact than they are at delivering useful services.
But I didn’t mean to praise Google, they are just the major player. I mean to say that “online” is a way of life, it may even be a fact of life, and there is less and less sense in staying “local”.