Most of the Internet experience will move away from the desktop and into the cloud by 2020, according to technology experts interviewed in a recent survey.
The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, asked nearly 900 Internet experts about their predictions regarding the role of cloud computing in the next decade. It is the fourth in a series of surveys on major high-tech issues that aim to spark discussions about technology's role in the society of the future.
Almost three-fourths of interviewees agreed that in 10 years Internet users will have moved further away from software that runs on a fixed desktop and closer to cyberspace-based applications accessible through the network.
"People are social and busy and want to share information wherever they are. The cloud is going to dominate most transactions because it allows people to have instant and individual access to information and tools," said Janna Anderson, lead author of the report and director of Imagining the Internet Center, which studies the potential impact of emerging online innovations.
Internet users today already use services in the cloud to a large degree -- Web-based e-mail like Gmail, social networks like Facebook and photo-sharing services like Flickr are some examples. According to a 2008 Pew Internet Data Memo, 69 percent of Americans reported having stored data online or used Web-based applications at least once.
Many of those interviewed agreed that the appeal of easy-to-access and personalized services will continue to be the motor that pushes toward the cloud, and smart phones and other mobile devices will be the vehicles that deliver the goods.
"The PC as we know it is slowly dying due to increased desire of the marketplace to be mobile," said Tom Golway, global technology director at Thomson Reuters.
But many respondents think desktops will not entirely disappear, as users will still retain the need to store information in less public spaces than the cloud.
And the move to the cloud will not happen without its challenges, they said.
The current broadband spectrum, for example, would not be able to support the kind of traffic that would be generated by massive use of cloud services, they said, and significant strides in expanding its capabilities will be necessary before widespread use of the cloud is achieved.
The report also said increased reliance on the cloud will amplify questions that are already the subject of heated discussions, like how exposed is private information to governments, corporations, criminals and human and machine errors.
"I think a big issue will be information privacy," said Craig Partridge, chief scientist at government contractor BBN Technologies. "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?"
E-mail Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera at amartinez-cabrera(at)sfchronicle.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.
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