About a year ago, someone in our audience asked us to explain the TV ads for Microsoft where the people kept murmuring something about ‘To the Cloud.’ We explained that ‘The Cloud’ was just a new marketing term for the Internet – that’s true, but it has come to mean something more personal than that. The nebulous entity that is created by many computers being connected together has always been represented in diagrams by a cloud.
In one of Geeks on Tour’s earliest videos (basc11.Intro to Web Browsing), we analogized the Internet to a ‘parallel universe’ above the earth … in the clouds. We found this to be very helpful with concepts like UPload and DOWNload, for example.
Your Data in the Cloud = Device Independence
The Web, as it becomes more pervasive, is being used to accomplish more tasks. It started out as a place where only web-savvy programmers could create content. Webmasters created websites and the rest of us accessed the content in those sites. Now it is a place where you can put your own stuff in a password protected area – your own ‘Cloud’ – so you can access your stuff with any device. Email was probably the first example. If you use web-based email – like gmail, you could look at your email on your computer, or on someone else’s computer. Now you can use your smartphone or tablet to access the same email. All you have to do is log in. It doesn’t matter what device you use, because your email isn’t stored on any of your devices. It’s stored on the Web, in the Cloud, and you access it with whatever device is most convenient.
With faster internet connections, and cheaper storage, we have the ability to put a lot more of our stuff on the web. If you use software like Carbonite or Mozy to back up your computer’s file to the Internet, a year ago you might have said, “I back up my files to the web.” Now you probably say, “I back up my files to the Cloud.” If you have an account with Google, Apple, Microsoft, or Amazon, you have a password-protected place to store your stuff. With Google it’s called Google Docs, Microsoft is SkyDrive, Apple is iCloud, and Amazon is Amazon Cloud Drive. Most any file that you store in any of these locations will be accessible by any computing device you have. This means no more worries when you leave home about what computer to take with you and what it has on it.
Software in the Cloud – It’s more than Just Storage
Every year, around March, I used to buy a box from the computer store for the TurboTax software for that year. When they started making the software available on the web, I jumped on it. I had no desire to own the TurboTax software for every year, I just wanted to rent it to do my taxes each year. And, since I use the online system, it keeps my data from year to year. I only need to update the numbers. I used to say, “I do my taxes online.” Now I guess I could say I do my taxes in the Cloud.
Google Docs and SkyDrive, mentioned above are also more than just online storage areas, software is included. If you have a Microsoft account and use SkyDrive, you can create documents with the online equivalent of Word.
You can also create spreadsheets with the online equivalent of Excel, or presentations with the online equivalent of PowerPoint. Now we’re talking Cloud Computing. Your only need for a computing device is to be able to connect to the Internet and run the applications on your Cloud. All your computing work is done in the Cloud!
Google Docs can also read and write to Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but you’ll use the Google equivalent while working in the Cloud. Google Docs takes spreadsheets one step further and allows you to create Forms. These forms can be embedded in websites and used as surveys or other data collection devices. Any user who sees the form can fill it out and, when they click Save – their data gets collected in the Google Docs Spreadsheet. What used to take hours of technical web programming is now just a few clicks in Google Docs. For example, this survey of your Cloud Computing usage was created with a Google Docs Form. Go ahead, take the survey – it’s just a few questions! You’ll be able to see the results after taking the survey.
Take a guess what SkyDrive with its apps, or Google Docs and apps cost? Hint: I’ll bet you can afford it!
They are both free. What a boon for travelers! You don’t need to take your main computer with you on the road. You don’t even need to copy important files from your main computer to your travel laptop. Just use Cloud Computing services and it doesn’t matter what computer you have. Your smartphone or iPad can even do most of your work for you. You’re free! Free to get away without losing any of your connections to family, friends or work. Your Cloud is always there, as long as you can find a good Internet connection.
So, get a Google account and play with Google Docs, or get a SkyDrive account and play with the free Office Apps. This is how most computing will be done as we go forward.
Better yet, register for our Techno-Geek Learning Rally April 22-28 in Bushnell, Florida. You’re guaranteed to learn lots about the Cloud!