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The future of computing is in 'the cloud', and we don't mean you need to go out and install an industrial humidifier in your office. Cloud computing is about drawing on distributed CPU cycles from giant server farms to get a specific job done, instead of using the local processing power in your PC or laptop.

It means access to your apps wherever you are, the latest upgrades and security patches applied automatically and, because your desktop CPU is sitting idle for around 80% of the time, economies of scale to computing's carbon footprint.

But just like those white fluffy things hanging above your head, there are many different types of cloud, and more are being invented all the time. This tiny tin box, the nivioCompanion, is just one example.

Virtual desktop

By itself, the nivioCompanion isn't much use. There's no hard drive inside, just an embedded Linux OS that's good for establishing an internet connection.

Once it's hooked itself up, it will log into nivioDesktop – a virtualised instance of Windows that's running on the nivio servers.


Everything looks the same as Windows 98 on a normal PC. There's a Start menu in the bottom left-hand corner and quick links on the desktop, but the CPU and hard drive could be on the moon for all you need to know.

Dinky as the little biscuit tin of a computer is, you don't need to carry the Companion around with you. Your monthly sub to the nivioDesktop service means that you can access your Windows instance from any Java-enabled web browser. So long as you're not offline for too long, everything will appear exactly as you left it on the last computer you accessed it from.

There is no optical drive, but installing applications is straightforward enough through an iPhone-style store. In a single click you can rent professional tools like Microsoft Office and have the charges added to your monthly bill. But bizarrely, some of them aren't actually compatible with the nivioDesktop.

Bandwidth difficulties

The real problem with nivio's service, though, is that it's a very old-fashioned approach to cloud computing.

Most of us are already using the cloud every day. We use it in the form of web-based apps like Google Mail, Google Docs, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook and Flash-based games. They work on our laptops, desktops, netbooks and mobile phones.

By comparison to these Web 2.0 upstarts, nivio's slow boot into a sluggish desktop that's unable to play video, engage in voice chats or even update text smoothly.

Retro interface

The world has moved on from a clunky desktop model as the default computing experience – it's just not necessary with web-based apps, which work best when they can draw on a hybrid of local and server power so that programs aren't held back by network latency and server spikes, but still have the always-on, always ready appeal of the cloud.

The point of an operating system like Windows is that it allows applications to talk to the hardware. By throwing away the hardware but not the OS, nivio has things back to front.

Hell, even Google's ChromeOS is going to have an 'offline' mode, and if even Google isn't trying to make you abandon the localised processing paradigm then you know you need to think twice about any company that says it knows better.


Stuff says... 

Nivio nivioCompanion review

A true original, but if nivio thinks this is the future of distributed computing it's head is in the clouds

Where to buy Nivio nivioCompanion: