"Point of failure?"
Who cares if the computer dies? It isn't the end of the world. What I care about it never having to reconfigure anything or set anything up again for my personal research/communications/etc. environment ever again.
“A USB stick full of portable apps” doesn’t give me the apps I actually want to use. And the USB stick itself is a point of failure! (I go through about 2 a quarter.)
As to complicated…I don’t see how. “Virtual host run personal virtual machines that maintain a personal computing environment that I can move from host to host to host without having to reinstall or reconfigure anything. Ever. Oh, it also can run little scut-work virtual appliances that someone who is not me put the time and effort into testing/installing/etc.”
The endpoint runs nothing but video games locally. My house can burn down – and all my computers with it – and I could be back up and running in a half hour. Which would be important. That VM is where my email, IM, etc lives. All my contact information, my communication with my insurance company, my bank…all of it.
For all intents and purposes my entire personal life’s worth of information and communications history resides in that VM. As my personal research environment, so to do my settings, configurations and preferences. Bookmarks, saved passwords, little notepad documents with half-written ideas (digital post-it-notes!) and all the detritus that I need to do things like write articles for El Reg, find the archaic list of super-secret code words to get the good cell phone plans from my carrier, the phone numbers that let me call tier-2 tech support instead of the call center in Manila, etc.
It is more than just some files. It is like being able to take my entire office and carrying it around with me in my pocket, knowing that every scrap of paper, every pen, even my desk plant is exactly the way I left it. Safe and backed up. And I don’t have to do the smallest stitch of work to make it so.
That I have to install Steam on the notebook in order to play a game is perhaps irritating, but not remotely the end of the world. I don’t have to touch that notebook otherwise. I don’t think I have opened a browser on that device for anything other than “downloading steam” since the day I bought it 6 months ago.
So no, the setup isn’t perfect. It isn’t complete…but it requires zero effort to keep all my stuff working and configured exactly the way I want to be regardless of the hardware changes to endpoint, virtual host, etc.
And that endpoint can be – and for several hours a day usually is – an Android phone. It can be my Android tablet. (Wyse pocketcloud is a good thing.)
Unless I am playing video games, the endpoint simply does not matter. And frankly, Steam turns my windows PC into a console. Simple, easy, and my roommate’s xbox seems to need to download roughly the same amount of content anyways.
I've been doing this for about 7 years now. So far, it has served me quite well; I have gone through about 18 endpoints, but haven't had to rebuild my personal workspace once.