Gaps in the Cloud
Well, I’ve been getting a lot of use out of my CR-48 ChromeOS netbook, and I’ve found that I can do almost everything I normally do with it, although not always with FOSS. There are a few gaps that I haven’t found either proprietary or FOSS options for, and that is the focus of this post.
The biggest one is financial management. I’ve been stuck away from home for about a week and my CR-48 is my main lifeline to the outside world. I can look up my bills online, and pay my bills online. The one thing I can’t do from my CR-48 is access my checkbook register.
The problem is that I’m using Quicken for my checkbook, and the only way to get at that remotely is to remote desktop into a windows server over ssh (perhaps a virtual one). The CR-48 doesn’t support either RDP or ssh connection forwarding (which is the only way I’d ever use RDP – without setting up a VPN or something equivalent).
The most obvious proprietary alternative online is mint.com, but it really isn’t a Quicken alternative. Mint is great for telling me what happened last week, but horrible for telling me what will happen three weeks from now. I get paid monthly, so I can’t afford to pay somebody $500 today only to find out that I have some big transaction coming in three weeks from now that will send me into the red. Sure, I could just keep some huge balance in my account, but I’d rather keep large balances someplace more useful (like paying down loans or in some kind of decent investment).
Email is a big FOSS gap. Right now I’m using Gmail and that is great. However, it would be better if I could set up my own cloud hosting for Chrome OS authentication/syncing, and have a Gmail-like experience with FOSS. The closest I’ve seen is RoundCube, which is nice, but it lacks the keyboard shortcuts and streamlined interface of Gmail. Drag-and-drop is a real pain on a netbook, and just being able to hit “e” or archive to deal with incoming mail is a lot easier than the multiple-click-on-small-icons workflow of RoundCube to do the same.
FOSS up till now has tended to focus on big desktop applications. I guess it makes sense from the standpoint that the average desktop user isn’t going to set up their own LAMP box. However, I’m perfectly happy to set up a LAMP box and run my own cloud-based services. It just seems like there aren’t many worth running.
I suspect we’ll start to see better solutions if cloud-based netbooks (running ChromeOS or whatever) take off. As we move towards a more mobile world, it becomes more important for data to be accessible on the run.
Oh, and if nothing else it would be REALLY nice if somebody came up with an NX client that runs as a Chrome application. I’ve seen a VNC app, and I guess I could sort-of live with that (if it supports ssh), but NX would be much nicer. An RDP-over-ssh app would also be nice…