There seems to be a misconception that because I write a blog about cloud computing that I am a serious techie, a code jockey who likes nothing better than whip out an app in a tea break or stripping down a computer and rebuilding while blindfolded.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask my wife who, any time I pick up a screw driver or mention a very minor DIY job, is immediately onto the local hospital to check on blood stocks. It also here that I must confess to the heinous crime of murder.

Basic Coding Was, Well, Basic!

Back in the 1980s in the UK we had an inventor called Clive Sinclair who pioneered the concept of home computing and like a complete idiot I bought a ZX81 and attempted to drag myself into the 20th century. Quite simply you connected one orifice (sorry, socket) to a cassette tape recorder which acted as a storage device and another into your home television.

The coding language was pretty basic, well, it was Basic, and I tried to convince myself that coding was simplicity itself. It may well have been but what I didn’t know is that the PCB used to warp after some time and the little silvery connection type things used to disassociate themselves from each other and wipe out everything you had being doing.

One night after a particularly onerous three hours of trying to code a simple clock – with a second hand you understand, nothing simple like a big hand and a little hand – and I lost my patience as the bloody thing crashed yet again.

Ripping its umbilicals from the TV and recorder, I grabbed the hapless computer, got my 12 bore shotgun, took the ZX81 out into the paddock (free of horses) threw it in the air and gave it both barrels. While it was adios amigos to the computer a wave of cathartic calm swept over me and I didn’t think about computers for another 10 years or so.

Road To Damascus Moment

My re-introduction to the glories of potential allowed by a beige box was brought about after I was made redundant as a director of a PR and Marketing company and self employment became a opportunity to free myself from the pleasures of Wordstar (yellow text on green background) to the greater joys of my own PC and the sophistication of WordPerfect (white text on blue background). But my real Road to Damascus Moment came with two important words – WinFax and CompuServe.

To send out press releases meant printing off the sheets, stapling them together, folding them into envelopes, printing off address labels, attaching stamps and traipsing off to the postbox. The alternative was to stand at a fax machine, punch in fax numbers and manually feed the releases through.Time consuming and not very environmentally friendly!

With Winfax I could make up a master database of all publications and differentiate by filter. WinFax would then “mailmerge” the press release with the chosen database. Best of all I could schedule the faxes to go out in the middle of the night when the charges were cheaper and the chances of hitting an engaged tone almost none existent. I didn’t have to know how Winfax worked, it just did.

CompuServe Breakthrough

Similarly with CompuServe it opened up a whole new world of global communication and I could liaise with people all over America, Europe and the Far East. It was CompuServe that made me realise the potential of technology and teleworking.

Again I didn’t know how CompuServe worked, it just allowed me to explore a brave new world and unleashed numerous possibilities including a four year project with the European Commission to explore how emerging Internet technologies could helped the geographically disadvantaged – Euro speak for those stuck in the middle of nowhere! My project team even did the first teleconference broadcast over the Internet; halcyon days.

Fifteen years on and I am still amazed at what we can achieve but I still have very little idea how the glue that holds it all together works and I don’t think I need to. I have a car, I insert a key, start the engine and I drive the vehicle where I want to go.

I don’t have a clue about compression ratios, coils, pistons and if it goes wrong I take it to a mechanic who does know these things. I guess I could enrol in a night school and learn mechanics but why bother, I am happy with the status quo? Similarly I could, at a push, learn to code and create my own Facebook but why the hell bother?

Screw The Coding, Feel The Functionality

When I try out a new cloud based service I don’t look at the coding but the interface, the functionality, the bolt on goodies that enable me to achieve what I want to achieve. There are some services with what I can only assume is wonderful coding, lines of poetry and beauty to someone who appreciates the finer art but too often the interface is pretty dire. I have long maintained that a lot of people will put up with sub-standard functionality as long as it looks pretty!

Because of the target audience of this site when I review a service I look at how easy it is to use; how powerful the background functionality is so newbie users can grow into it. Do I need to know how the nuts and bolts work? I don’t think so and if it ever becomes necessary I guess I shall retire the PC to a more gentle fate than my ZX81.

What is your view on the technology underpinning cloud services?