iCloud: Web-based Desktop

That sound you heard was the sound of Google’s execs collectively spitting their morning coffee out of their mouths.  Well, maybe not, but there’s a slim chance they should be. The reason is iCloud, a very good look at what a “cloud”-based operating system would look like. I took iCloud for a spin last night and must say, I’m quite impressed at their early workings.

Familiar Experience

One of the first things you notice about iCloud is that it feels very familiar. Obviously modeled after the major desktop environments folks are used to, an XP user would feel right at home inside iCloud. Currently, iCloud is best accessed through Internet Explorer, though some limited functionality for Firefox does exist. Their choice of browser and “desktop” feel make it obvious that iCloud is directing themselves at the largest market of computer users out there, Windows users.

Since iCloud is accessed through your browser, it works on any computer anywhere (running IE at least).  The desktop allows you to access your files and applications as well as a sidebar with many widgets much like the Vista sidebar. The “Start” menu is found along the left vertical edge of the desktop which will take a bit of getting used to for those who have never stepped out of a Windows environment.  There are a number of desktop backgrounds to choose from and you can upload your own images to create a wallpaper of your choice.

Applications

iCloud has a number of applications built in including: Word Processing, Calendar, Email, Instant Messaging, ToDo list, Photo/Video/Music storage, web browser (would this be browser in browser?), RSS feed reader, and numerous games. Most of these applications have the basic functionality necessary for cloud based users. The best part of the applications is the fact that the Video and Music storage doubles as a way to play your files wherever you go. You are given 3 GB of storage space initially which would give you the chance to store a selection of your favorite songs to be playable wherever you go.

Downsides

The fact iCloud is currently limited to IE and basic Firefox function is a limitation for many folks. When full Firefox support is completed this will no longer be an issue. Also, the homepage for iCloud says you can get up to 50GB of storage, but I’ve yet to find a way to upgrade the storage amount or a cost for that upgrade. Perhaps this is a future plan that hasn’t been implemented yet.

What Will Google Do?

It should be no secret that Google has plans for the web as an operating system. iCloud is our first look at a possible implementation of this idea. The question now is, does Google go with a similar service, perhaps even purchasing iCloud or develop their own web-based desktop experience? The thought of an iCloud like system with access to Google’s full Docs suite, Picasa photo editor, GMail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and Google Talk is quite a heady idea to say the least. How much longer before we see such a system from the company setting its sights on world computing domination?  Not much longer now I believe.

Required Technology Experiences?

The current school year isn’t even over and I’m already beginning to think about next year. I’m thinking of moving toward a digital portfolio style of assessment using my classroom wiki. Each student would have their own page as a starting point and would document activities completed in class to show proficiency or their path toward it. This would allow me to give some focused instruction on a skill/tool early on and students could use it as needed throughout the year.
My current notebook system is not far from this model. I have a selection of about 25 activities that I give students at the beginning of the year. They choose from those activities for their homework to process information in class. The activities cover a variety of learning styles and are things I model near the beginning of the year.
Next year, my goal is to do something similar with digital tools for processing information. As my classroom is a science classroom, I always show them methods for graphing data using spreadsheet software. I’ll probably also do some discussion of Presentation Zen style PowerPoint presentations to avoid the dreaded Death By PowerPoint.
My question for you all is this: what experiences/skills do you think I should include for my students early in the year? Granted, I know there will be new tools that crop up during the year, but what would be a good smattering of what is out there to start with? Keep in mind some boundaries:

  • I’m in a science classroom
  • This is 7th grade so starting the year most of my kids are only 12…as a side question, how do you all work through that issue?
  • I do not have daily access to student computers. Early in the year I could probably get close and a vast majority of my students have computers at home.
  • Things I’m already considering: podcasting with Audacity (would love something like GabCast for the under 13 crowd), hyperlinking within the wiki, VoiceThread/Animoto/PhotoStory, Creative Commons…

Looking for as many suggestions as possible.

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