Other Ways To Connect

Monday, January 13, 2014

Keeping a light footprint on your laptop/desktop

Thin client vs thick client is a cyclical debate among computer architects. Every few years, the "next new thing" takes us from thin client to thick client and back again, much as consultants like Dogbert move between distributed and centralized strategies.

Dogbert's cyclical consulting paradigm.  http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2000-08-29/

With a thin client, your computer does not have to be specialized.  It can run a standard set of programs (e.g. a browser) and all the smarts can be in some server "out there".   With a thick client, your computer is running the interesting software locally, so if your Internet connection is down, you can still do your work.

SafelyFiled Takes the Thin Client Approach

As with most computer design issues, there is no strictly right or wrong answer.  It depends on your needs and your resources.  SafelyFiled takes the thin client approach.  As long as your browser is reasonably up to date, you can work with your SafelyFiled  account.  This has several benefits.
  • There is less software to install and maintain on your desktop, laptop, tablet, parent's desktop, etc. 
    • With less software installed locally, it is more likely that you will be able to keep that software up-to-date.  There is a smaller surface area for a malicious entity to attack.
  • Your sensitive information will spend less time on the computer.  Perhaps you are sure that your desktop is secure, but what about your doctor's office public computer, or your parent's laptop?
    • If you only need to view one document, you should not need to download that document (or any other document) onto the local computer.
  • Documents are not replaced. If a new document with the same name is uploaded, the server will make a new version for it.

Dropbox Takes the Thick Client Approach

While you can use Dropbox without installing software on your computer, you normally install some Dropbox software to get the full functionality.  By installing software locally a service like Dropbox can provide the followng features.
  • The right files are automatically on the machine where you are working.
    • Services like Dropbox lets you set up virtual folders on your local machines.  The locally installed software will fetch updated versions of the shared files from the cloud, so the current version is in your file system unencrypted when you are ready.
  • You can install the appropriate software to edit or view the file.
    • A cloud server can display standard file types like pdf, Microsoft Word, or images, but it will have a harder time with obscure or proprietary files types.
  • If the Internet is gone, you can work on the locally cached copy of your files.

The Right Answer Depends on Your Needs

As Terri wrote last spring services like SafelyFiled and Dropbox are not exclusive.  They are both useful but for different purposes.  The Dropbox approach is good for active work between machines that you have administrative control over.   It really is an extension of your file system.  The SafelyFiled approach is appropriate for archiving and sharing important documents.  Availability is important, but you may have less control of the environment where these files will be accessed.  
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