ZeroPC is a relatively new entry to the cloud desktop arena. Designed to compete with other products such as eyeOS, ZeroPC is targeting the home user and a few vertical markets such as education and SMB. It attempts to take the functionality of Google Docs or Office 365 and add a lot more. It integrates with a wide variety of Internet cloud services, such as Evernote, box.net and Facebook, letting you move data around between them.
ZeroPC promises to put everything you need for a typical computer session into the cloud, where you can access it from anywhere you have a browser. While many services simply provide you with a data repository you can hook to various computers, ZeroPC brings the computer environment itself to the web. While they do offer you the option of storing your content within your own personal ZeroPC account, I found the interaction between ZeroPC and other services such as DropBox to be a preferred model.
ZeroPC allows you to compute anywhere you can find an internet connection, and access all your files from many different web services.
Like many web products, ZeroPC is free for basic usage, but offers some additional functionality, like their cloud backup service, in their “pay as you go” plan. Rather than giving you certain features at certain pricing, ZeroPC charges based on the bandwidth and ZeroPC storage you use. While it seems affordable, with very few users spending more than $5 a month, I liken it to the same kind of payment plans you find with cellular data plans. I am already paying my cable company for internet access to send and receive data through ZeroPC’s servers. ZeroPC also wants their piece of the pie, and they charge you based on the amount of data you push and pull through the service. Even if you used their service as your exclusive computing platform most people wouldn’t spend more than a very fair, $10 a month. The free version offers 15GB of storage – 1GB on their servers; and a minimum of 14GB pieced together from other partner services.
ZeroPC runs on Java through your browser; and includes access to ThinkFree Office 4. I had no issues creating or editing my Microsoft formatted files through the ZeroPC File Explorer. However, ZeroPC did allow me to exit an unsaved file without prompting me, which I found concerning. It was solid and very fast on several computers running Windows 7 and the developer preview of Windows 8. Apps for the iOS and Android tablets and smartphones should be available soon, but weren’t at the time of this writing.
There’s also a universal IM client that I tried out, which allowed me to connect with Yahoo, MSN, ICQ, AIM and Facebook; but the free version of ZeroPC only gave me 15 minutes of daily use with it. I found this to be strangely limiting, compared to the rest of the features in the free product. Most of the programs available in ZeroPC are called web apps, but they’re really just bookmarks to web pages and services. You can add new ones to the desktop easily, or even make a shortcut to a folder or file.
ZeroPC’s File Explorer gives you access to all of your files, from all of your web services, in a single aggregated interface.
Sharing is a major feature in ZeroPC. You can share files or folders via email, Facebook or Twitter. The sharing ties a bit.ly link to the items you’re sharing and, when viewed, the user is presented with an attractive web page that displays the file or folder. Un-sharing was just as easy. You can even share major portions of your desktop with other ZeroPC users. I tried it and it worked, but I wasn’t sure why you might want to do it. The features offered by ZeroPC are nearly identical to the services offered through Google Docs or a shared Dropbox folder.
Security is fairly well thought out; and there are some nice touches that I appreciated. You can set up a lock screen pin as a convenient way to secure the computer while you step away. This is better than a full log out if you’re in a relatively secure setting. You can even set up temporary passwords for using public computers such as those in a hotel or internet café.
The notion of a full desktop experience in the cloud is exciting, and ZeroPC makes an admirable attempt; but it falls short in a number of ways. I find myself liking it, mostly due to the refinement and speed of the interface, but I am having a hard time thinking of why I, or most of the world, would ever need it. It seems as though its greatest value is in aggregation and search. It might do well as a similar service to Dropbox or SugarSync, provided it aggregated everything back to its owning service. As it stands, ZeroPC is strongest when you use it as your primary interface, but that also leaves you stuck when the cloud evaporates. At the same time, this could offer a low cost way to allow users to share physical hardware while maintaining their personal data and settings.
In the end, I keep coming back to the fact that this is a great product that doesn’t seem to solve a wide-spread problem.