By 2020, Internet users will keep their data "mostly in the cloud," using Web-based programs and remote servers, and not on their home or work computers, according to a new survey.
Desktop computers will continue to survive, but play less of a role in many people's lives, said 900 Internet experts interviewed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina.
Still, with Web-based privacy and security issues an ongoing concern — recent weeks and months have brought renewed concerns about Facebook and Google, Hotmail and Google Gmail e-mail outages, and just this week, news of AT&T's Web servers being hacked to obtain more than 100,000 e-mail addresses of Apple iPad users — not everyone is on board with the "keep it in the cloud" notion.
“I think a big issue will be information privacy. How do you really control access to your valuable data if it is in the cloud? How do you retrieve your prized novel or your business records if the cloud fails?” Craig Partridge, chief scientist, BBN Technologies, told Pew.
"We'll have a huge blow up with terrorism in the cloud and the PC will regain its full glory," said R. Ray Wang, partner in The Altimeter Group and a blogger on enterprise strategy.
"People will lose confidence as cyber attacks cripple major systems," he told Pew. "In fact, (the) cloud will be there but we'll be stuck in hybrid mode for the next 40 years as people live with some level of fear."
Cloud computing "will not replace the PC, but the desire of everyone to access information from anywhere using any device drives toward the cloud," said Jerry Berman, founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet public policy organization.
"The impact on privacy may give us pause. There are almost no protections for sensitive information stored in the cloud."
Seventy-one percent of those surveyed agreed that by 2020, "most people won't do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications such as Google Docs, and in applications run from smart phones."
Another 27 percent took the opposite view, saying that in 10 years, "most people will still do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs and applications run from smart phones will have some functionality, but the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring from) a PC operating system."
Many of us are already relying on Internet-based programs, Pew said, based on a research from September 2008.
At that time, Pew said, 69 percent of Americans "either stored data online or used Web-based software applications at least once."
Today, Pew said, "the number of cloud users has grown; there are 500 million people sharing friendships 'in the cloud' on Facebook, and many millions are using the cloud every time they access a Hotmail or Gmail account for e-mail, store browser bookmarks online, maintain a blog on WordPress, or store, link to and view videos and photos on YouTube, Hulu and Flickr."
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