This Week’s Thoughts: Computers In the Cloud

Cloud Computing is everywhere these days.  Microsoft has launched Windows Azure, Chrome OS also focuses on your data in the web.  But what is it all about?  What possibilities and disadvantages does cloud computing have?  Finally: Who can or should use it?

Cloud computing is currently a hyped phrase on the web.  Everybody plays with it and promises the moon.  In the end, it is about never having to install software anymore.  No problems with system crashes.  And your personal data aren’t stored on hard disks or USB sticks, but in the cloud.

Get more done on the Web

Cloud computing In the end, the ‘cloud’ is just the Internet.  There are tens of thousands of servers, and your data are stored somewhere on them.  In the cloud.  The idea by itself is great: Most of us are connected to the Web permanently anyways, so why not get everything working in the Internet, save your data there and launch programs from there?  That is the basic concept of cloud computing.  Get more done on the Web, less on your own computer.  That could make your home PC cheaper, as the real work is done by the Web instead.

Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS, preview Google has just launched their own operating system for small computers, “netbooks”.  Chrome OS is free and is more or less just the browser, Google Chrome.  You can use it to go online—and that’s it.  You launch programs that are stored on the Web, and just do your whole work on the web.  Everything happens online.  Yet, Chrome OS cannot do everything that Windows can, but if you only want to accomplish certain tasks, such as writing letters, sending and receiving mail, surfing the Net or editing photos, you don’t need anything more—thus you can save money on hardware and software.

Writing letters on the Net

However, you don’t need a new operating system to participate at cloud computing.  Best example: Google docs & spreadsheets.  A free online text processor that cannot do everything that Microsoft Word can, but that is free.  Just enough for many things like writing letters or designing invitation cards.  You don’t have to install any software and you save your texts directly on the Net.  That’s cloud computing.

Editing photos on the Web

Snipshot - Edit pictures online Even photo editing or graphics creation doesn’t require setting up software locally.  There are several web sites that can do the job nearly as good.  You can edit photos, optimize them, print them.  That’s also cloud computing.  There are many more examples.  If you are storing your photos at flickr or sharing your videos at YouTube, you are in fact using cloud computing.

Lots of advantages

Cloud computing is not necessarily completely new, only its name is relatively new—and most of us are already a part of it somehow.  There are many advantages.  You can access documents stored on the Web from anywhere, so you don’t have to take them with you.  And you can share them with work mates or friends easily—for example with Windows Live SkyDrive.  Collaboration is easy, even working on projects simultaneously.  And: you don’t have to install any software.

Concerned about your privacy?

Magnifying glass What about your privacy?  Many people feel uncomfortable with storing everything on the Web—and that has its reasons.  Surely you can set up permissions and access rules, like who may view your photos or edit your texts.  But you cannot control it.  You should rather not store very private or sensitive data on the Web.  What might happen as well: You’re offline, there is no web connection.  You won’t be able to access your data.

Summarized: Cloud computing has its good and bad sides.  The solution: think about the advantages and disadvantages of storing specific data on your local disk—or, if they are not too private, easily on the Web.

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