The ‘Cloud’ is simply The Internet – but it is taking on special meaning as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are offering accounts where you can have your own slice of the sky. They also offer device independence. If you can start a document with your computer, finish it on your tablet, and view it on your smartphone, you’re using Cloud Computing. With names like DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud, or SkyDrive, it no longer matters what device you have in your hand because the application, and the content is in the Cloud.
The Cloud is the Internet
So, where is this cloud? And who owns it? Remember … the ‘Cloud’ is simply a synonym for the Internet. The Internet is made up of thousands, maybe millions of Server computers, connected by millions of miles of cables, and thousands of routers. It’s all linked together with an agreed upon system, an Internet Protocol. Nobody owns the whole thing, although Google, Microsoft, and Apple do own some pretty large chunks. It is the mother network of networks, it is vast and it is complex, so we need a simple analogy to describe it. Pretend that the Internet is in the sky rather than in computers here on earth, and the term ‘Cloud’ fits nicely. It also helps with terms like UPload and DOWNload. UPload means taking something on your computer and sending it UP to the Internet … to the Cloud. DOWNload means taking something that is on the Internet (in the Cloud) and bringing it DOWN to your computer.
Cloud Computing is using Computer Services from the Cloud Instead of your Computer
‘Cloud Computing’ means using Cloud-based services to store your stuff, rather than your own computer or hard drives. For example, you can store all your spreadsheets in the Cloud and access them from wherever you are. Cloud Computing also means using Cloud-based services for your software instead of buying boxed software. For example, you can use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on Microsoft SkyDrive rather than buying Microsoft Office for your computer. Most travelers we know don’t have a whole lot of need for Excel anymore, but occasionally, you need to make a spreadsheet, or read one that someone else sends you. Using SkyDrive, you can do that without paying for any software.
I could argue that I’ve been using Cloud Computing since the early 90s when I used CompuServe for communicating with friends on the Internet, or definitely since 2003 when I started using Blogger.com to post to my website – my blog. But we didn’t call it Cloud Computing then, we called it Web-Based software. The term Cloud Computing is taking hold because of services like Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Using SkyDrive, you can create and store Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. All you need is some device (computer, tablet, or smartphone) to access your SkyDrive account. It’s like having a virtual computer in the sky with your name on it. Some people think that the Cloud has something to do with Apple because they call their service iCloud, but no, Cloud Computing is a generic term.
What if you Don’t Have an Internet Connection? Synchronize!
Having a good, high-speed Internet connection is taken for granted in modern American households, but for those of us who live in an RV – we don’t take anything for granted! That’s why we love the synchronizing (sync) feature. Using Dropbox as an example, it not only stores your stuff in the cloud, but it synchronizes with a folder on your computer whenever your computer is connected to the Internet.
For example, we plan our travels using Microsoft Streets and Trips, we create a file called geektravels.est. Let’s say that I created the travel plan and Jim says he wants to make some changes. Before Dropbox, we had 2 choices:
- Jim could use my computer to make his changes, or,
- I would copy the geektravels.est file to a USB drive and give to him for his computer. Now we have two files, one with my version of our travels and one with his – what a mess.
Now, we each have a Travels folder that has been set up with Dropbox and shared. Whenever I make a change to our travel plans, I save it to my local copy. Dropbox automatically notices the change and synchronizes it with the Cloud copy, AND, it also synchronizes the Cloud copy with the copy on Jim’s computer. The next time either of us looks at the geektravels.est files, we will be looking at the current version even without a current Internet connection. We are working with a local file, Dropbox takes care of making sure that both my local file and Jim’s local file are the same. This has made our lives so much easier.
Comparison of Major Cloud-Computing Services
|$ for more||$10/yr for 20 GB||2.49/mo for 25 GB||9.99/mo for 100 GB, but you can earn more free space||$20/yr for 10 GB|
|Sync Method||Download SkyDrive desktop app for Windows or Mac||Download Google Drive for your PC or Mac||Download Dropbox for Windows, Mac, or Linux||Download iCloud for Macintosh, Windows, or AppleTV|
|Web Apps Included||Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note, Excel Survey||Google Docs: Docs, Sheets, Slides, Form, Drawing||None (3d Party apps available)||iOffice: Pages, Numbers, Keynote|
|Mobile platforms||Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Android||Android, iPhone, iPad,||Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Kindle Fire||iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,|
|Sharing with others||Easy, including sharing with groups||Easy||Easy, you can even just right click a file and share via a URL||Not so easy, iCloud is designed to synchronize all of your Apple devices|
|More Info||SkyDrive Support||Overview of Google Drive||Dropbox Help||iCloud Features|
This article is meant to introduce you to the concept of Cloud Computing, any specifics about how these programs work is likely to change on a daily basis! Jim and I, at Geeks on Tour, use Dropbox constantly to keep all our shared files synchronized. We would be lost without it now. We’ve also used Google Docs (which is now Google Drive) for a few years as a way to create and share online documents and spreadsheets.
If we were to start today and pick just one service, it would likely be SkyDrive … it has the most complete set of capabilities, the most free storage space, and it’s integrated with Windows 8. We also like the Group sharing feature. If you use any of these Cloud Computing services, we welcome your comments below.