I’ve written before, elsewhere, about cloud computing as the latest trend (though that’s not to say it’s new, just that it is trending.. again). At the time I laid out pros and cons from the point of view of putting the entire computing experience into the cloud. But of course, that’s only one way to do it. Currently there are two major companies who are pushing their own views of how cloud computing should be done, Google and Apple. And Google just stumbled.

Google suffered an outage today with their Google Docs service. Google Docs, if you are not familiar with it, allows one to import, create, edit and share documents using only your Google account and a modern browser. These documents are Office-like, with the ability to import Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents as well as to create native Google Docs documents too. All of the storage is tucked away on Google’s servers. All you need to be able to do is launch a browser and direct it to Google and you’re good to go. Equally convenient is the ability to share these documents with other Google users making them immediately available for viewing or even editing, including collaborative editing should you so choose. That is, convenient until it stops working.

Apple on the other hand is nearing the release of the much anticipated iCloud service, enabling the cross-device sharing of documents and settings between thick client apps on a per user basis. As information is altered, it is marked for synchronization. Presumably if the service is unavailable, the synchronization step is simply delayed until the service is available once more. This could be because the network connectivity has dropped or because Apple’s servers are dead. It doesn’t really matter. The cloud connection becomes a mere background task while for the end user life goes on as usual. And that’s the way cloud computing should be.

Google’s entire platform is centered around it’s own services run on its own servers. Apple is about their hardware. The services are an aside, or perhaps a funnel, showing potential buyers the extra goodies they get by joining the Apple camp. As a result, Apple doesn’t need to create a web enabled version of iWorks or iLife that works in a browser. They don’t want to. They want apps that run on your iron, in your own home or office. Namely, the iron you bought in the form of your MacBook or iMac or Mac Pro. Google, on the other hand, is platform agnostic. You could be using a Dell, an Asus, an HP (well, for a little while longer anyway). It only matters that you are using their services.

I should correct myself. Google does actually have hardware for sale… the Chromebook. Running their OS, targeted at their services and software. So in fact, insofar as Google is playing in the hardware space, they are actual working the exact reverse route as Apple, using hardware to sell their services. As their flagship hardware product, I don’t expect them to drop it, but I also don’t expect it to take off. Especially with the possibility that one little network outage could leave you unable to work with any of your documents.

Which brings us back to today’s outage. Google hasn’t misstepped very often, but they’ve double down on software as a service and full commitment to cloud computing, pushing everything off of the user’s PC and into the cloud. As a result, if they lose this bet, it’s going to hurt very badly. And that doesn’t even mention Microsoft’s burgeoning efforts in this space. Google is taking their stand in the cloud but if they’re not careful, they’ll find themselves taking a big fall.