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Things are looking "cloudy"

It seems that more and more we are hearing the term “Cloud computing” being used. But what is “the Cloud” or “Cloud computing” and what are the benefits of it?

In a nutshell, cloud computing is any kind of computing that is done over the internet. Google is one company that is really pushing for cloud computing. Microsoft, on the other hand, prefers to keep things based on software installed on our PCs, although they too are now providing more cloud based solutions.

An example of this would be Microsoft Office. It is installed on your PC and when you create a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, you are opening the program locally on your PC, and generally saving it onto your local PC. Google Docs offers a similar service but rather than have to install software on your PC, you access it through your web browser. The software is kept on the Google servers, and generally you also save your files onto the Google servers. With their latest version of Office 2010, Microsoft has now also provided an online version that can be used without having to install software onto your computer.

So why would anyone want to do use applications over the internet rather than on their own PC? There are several reasons. One is that it takes up less space on your hard drive. You don’t have to install the programs, some of which can be quite large, and you don’t have to store the files you create on your own PC. With the applications and files stored online, you are not restricted by what PC you are using. You can access your applications and files from any PC around the world with an internet connection. Working with files online also saves you from losing important documents if your hard drive crashes.

Sharing and collaboration is another advantage of cloud computing. It is much easier to collaborate with others and share documents with them when working on the cloud. Google Wave (which is still part of Google Labs right now) is being designed with easier collaboration in mind.

Cloud computing does not come without its own drawbacks. One of the problems is that you have to be online to do anything. If you don’t have access to the internet or if your internet connection is down for some reason, you can’t access anything. A dial up connection is also not very efficient for working online either. Similarly, if a service goes down, you won’t be able to get to your applications and files.

Another concern is privacy and security. How secure really is cloud computing? That will vary depending on what service you are using, but it will likely be a continuing concern.

Some cloud versions of applications have less functionality than the desktop versions of the software. Microsoft Office is a good example. The online Office Apps allows you to create Word docs and Excel spreadsheets etc but does not have the full functionality that Microsoft Office has.

Despite these drawbacks and concerns, cloud computing looks like it will not only be sticking around, but increasing in usage and functionality.

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