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Where's my CloudBook?

August 24, 2007

John Markoff, writing on the New York Times tech blog, points to "an obvious market opportunity" in the portable computing market: a lightweight, thin-client, ultralight laptop that draws its data and applications off the Internet. On a recent trip, the hard drive died in Markoff's Mac laptop and, desperate to get his work done, he tried running the computer off a CD with a copy of the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Turns out, it worked like a charm:

What I discovered was that - with the caveat of a necessary network connection - life is just fine without a disk. Between the Firefox Web browser, Google’s Gmail and and the search engine company’s Docs Web-based word processor, it was possible to carry on quite nicely without local data during my trip.

I had already stashed my almost 4,000 sources and phone numbers on a handy web site which I had access to, and so I found the only things I was missing were the passwords to online databases and my files of past reporting notes and articles which I occasionally refer to.

Bouncing between hotel rooms to Wi-Fi-enabled lobbies and conference rooms, I was easily able to stay online and file my stories without incident. Afterwards it made me wonder why there aren’t more wireless, Web-connected ultralight portables for business travelers.

Markoff's may well be right. The time seems ripe for the debut of a simple, cheap, lightweight portable with a browser, a wi-fi card, and nothing else. (OK, maybe a little flash drive, too.) If you really want to jumpstart the adoption of online productivity apps by business folks - and make Microsoft very nervous - create a cool CloudBook for road warriors. With the iPhone, Apple is demonstrating that the Web itself can be a platform for writing and running software. Why not take the next step?

(The first part of Markoff's post is here. See also my sort-of-related post from earlier today.)


Everybody is laughing at Palm's Foleo but I expect it to be one of the first CloudBooks.

Posted by: Roman Stanek [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2007 04:39 PM

One thing I'd recommend is a USB flash drive with a copy of portable Firefox.

This way all your cookies/extensions would be saved.

Posted by: engtech [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2007 05:03 PM

this is the "thin client" again.

I suspect the business thinking is that the "thin client" is 95% of the cost of the full machine, given that the difference is mainly the cost of a disk and maybe some CPU power. So even though most people won't need the full machine, they think that the 5% more in price is better value for a real notebook as opposed to a toy.

It's one of those situations where the actual value and the perceived value are very different.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2007 08:08 PM

I'd love to be Nick's 3G provider if the CloudBook comes along :-D

Posted by: Thomas [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2007 09:20 PM

Oddly, this is exactly the vision that Bill Gates was plugging in a previous century. In particular, I was at a Comdex keynote about "mobile companions" running Windows CE, which is in ROM and doesn't need a hard drive. (AMD also had a go with its Webpad design.)


Oh yes, notice it says: "Office Online: Nothing but 'Net". Back in the last century, Microsoft was also promoting a full version of Microsoft Office online. That was when the ASP model was the "next big thing" ;-)

When Palm's Jeff Hawkins unveiled the Foleo, I pointed out that he had reinvented the Compaq Aero, which was one of the many CE-based systems Gates promoted. I still have an Aero. HP had some nice models, too, albeit without the Foleo sync.


John Markoff has been around more than long enough to know this stuff, and to know that nobody bought the idea at the time. It flopped.

Times change, of course: maybe people will buy it now. (I think Seth has probably nailed it.) But it would be silly to pretend that any of it is new.

Posted by: Jack [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2007 08:04 AM


Absolutely. It's the context that's new, not the concept.

Note that Markoff gives a nod to history at the end of his post:

After all, this where many reporters came in to the network-connected world. In the early 1980s tens of thousands of us paid Radio Shack what I recall as $599 for the Model 100 portable. It was a simple and light laptop computer with a full keyboard and a 8 line by 40 character display and a 300 baud modem.

And guess who designed it? A young software entrepreneur named Bill Gates along with his Japanese hacker friend Kay Nishi. There was a second generation, the Model 200, which proved a disappointment and then the computer vanished.

Too bad Mr. Gates hadn’t yet learned the lesson he would discover later at Microsoft - that the product was never ready until version 3.0.

When it comes to the success of a product, context is at least as important as concept.

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 25, 2007 10:29 AM

Nick wrote:
> With the iPhone, Apple is demonstrating that the
> Web itself can be a platform for writing and
> running software.

Huh? Has this not already been demonstrated for the last ten or so years?

Heck, "Web as Platform" was principle #1 of Tim O'Reilly's "What is Web 2.0" article:

I feel like I'm missing something from your comment :-)

Posted by: Bill Higgins [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 27, 2007 08:32 AM


Yes, of course, you're right.

I should have said something like: "With the iPhone, Apple is demonstrating that a successful consumer computing device can be designed to use the Web itself as the major platform for writing and running its software."


Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 27, 2007 11:37 AM

here it is:


maybe you should sue them for the trademark?

Posted by: yish [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2008 08:49 AM

For all of those interested in the CloudBook (or plan to purchase one in the future), there's an online community and message board forming here: CloudBook Lounge (http://www.cloudbooklounge.com/). It looks like it will also have product reviews and a mods & hacks section when the product is released. Good looking site, I just registered on their forum...

Posted by: hartjr [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 21, 2008 12:28 AM

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