Get Your Head in the Clouds

With the Web as a repository, ‘cloud computing’ allows users to air on the side of convenience.



Photo Illustration: Jason Jones

“Cloud computing” is the latest buzzword in the tech marketplace. But even with all the hype, most consumers don’t know what
it means.

Confusion reigns because cloud computing isn’t just one specific thing; it’s actually a collection of software and services all tied in to the Internet. Cloud computing lets you ditch traditional applications like Microsoft Office or Yahoo Messenger, and instead rely on Web-based software you can access from your browser, or “in the cloud.”

Some services—Web-based email services like Gmail or Hotmail—you’ve probably been using for years. But more advanced features like online syncing of documents, music streaming and remote file backup are the future of the Internet.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the different cloud-computing options:

Document storage: Thanks to the cloud, you no longer need to have your USB thumb drive to take your documents and spreadsheets on the go. If you’re a Microsoft Office user like most of the world, Office 365 (office365.com) can be your new workspace, offering the functionality of Office, including storage of files, from right within your browser. Plans start at $6 per month, and a free trial is available. If you’re looking for free alternatives, try Google Docs (docs.google.com) or Evernote (evernote.com).

Back up and access your files: Forget backing up to an external drive or emailing huge files to your friends. Instead, try Dropbox (dropbox.com), a free service that lets you upload to the cloud. A basic account comes with 2 gigabytes, while larger plans can be purchased. Dropbox also offers an application to install on your computer, letting you simply copy files into a local folder where they will automatically be uploaded and synced online. Also available is Windows Live Mesh (part of skydrive.live.com), while Apple’s iCloud (icloud.com) should be out any day. Both offer 5 gigabytes for free.

Stream your music: Amazon Cloud Player (amazon.com/cloudplayer) lets you upload your collection to Amazon’s servers and stream them to a computer, or even your Android phone. So if your phone has limited storage and you’ve got a large repository of music, this is an easy way to access all of your songs on the go. Amazon Cloud Player comes with 5 gigabytes of free storage, but you can pay for more space. Another option, if you can get an invite, is Google Music (music.google.com), currently in beta.

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