Move your “Stuff” to the Cloud

Cloud computing is in the news more and more these days, as newer players such as Google and Amazon have pushed the older traditional players such as Microsoft and even Apple to abandon the PC as the “center of the computing universe” and move services to the Internet.  This change was coming, whether we wanted it to or not, and really is happening rather organically due to changes in our habits and consumer preferences.  New laptop releases are ho-hum affairs that no one pays any attention to these days.  Everything these days is about smartphones and tablets and apps.  We still use our PCs, we’re just not that excited about them anymore because they aren’t our only or most used Internet device.   Steve Jobs calls this the post-PC era and I think he’s right.

So it’s a natural thing to want all our “stuff” that still sits on our PC’s and until recently was the only practical place to keep our digital belongings – photos, music, email, documents and the like – to be on our other, more used devices like our iPads, iPhones, Android devices, secondary PCs and even shared computers.  And now the pieces are in place for that to happen and there are many benefits to moving our digital stuff to the cloud.

With our devices freed from the PC we have access to all our things no matter where we are and what device we’re using.  For example, Google Music (currently in invite-only beta) lets you upload all your music files to Google’s servers (the Cloud) and then access them either by streaming the music or by downloading it to other devices such as an Android phone.  No more syncing or storage limits.  I have over 60GB of music (over 7,000 songs according to Google’s count) and now every last song is available to me whenever I sign in with my Gmail account and without filling up my phone’s storage card.

Apple just announced their iCloud service which will replace the over-priced MobileMe service and will be free.  You will no longer need a PC or a Mac to sync your iPhone or iPad.  Your PC will be demoted to just another device that syncs to the cloud so photos you take with your iPhone will automatically appear on your iPad and PC through the Internet – no cables to connect, not even to activate a new phone.

Another big shift is in document creation, storage and sharing.  Many people have already moved off the PC-with-Microsoft Office paradigm to Google Docs, Dropbox and Microsoft Live.  Google Docs comes free with your Gmail account and allows you to upload existing Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files to Google Docs and also to create new documents from within Google Docs.  You can then share them by supplying the recipients email address or you can download the file in .docx or openoffice formats (or other applicable formats) and simply email the file (the old school approach).

The benefits of this approach should be obvious – you have anywhere, anytime, any device access to your documents that you can invite others to collaborate with you on and you have no software to purchase, no computer to maintain, no files to back up and total simplicity in sharing.  I am quite certain we have signed our last Microsoft Office license contract and will instead move to this model.

Microsoft in turn has offered their version of Office in the Cloud with Office Live, a free service offering a light version of Word, Excel and Powerpoint that should suit most non-Power users of Office.  If you aren’t creating a web page or linking multiple spreadsheets to each other than the online versions of these programs should work great for you.  You’ll need a Windows Live ID (like a Hotmail account) and you’ll get 25GB of storage in your SkyDrive in which to store documents.  You can upload documents just like Google Docs and can share documents with others as well.

In our offices, we have Microsoft Office installed on three or four computers per office.  When a document is created and saved on that one PC it can only be accessed again from that one PC and if someone is using that public computer when you need access to that file, or someone deletes or alters that document you are out of luck.  You have no privacy or security and only one place to get to your documents.  If instead Google Docs or Office Live is used, you have total control, privacy and security and access from any machine and with no software costs – so you can use your own devices rather than a shared machine.

With this shift the device you’re on becomes less important than the service you are connecting to.  We’re moving to a TV-like model; like a television only displays content rather than creating it, your device will let you access and manipulate data but won’t be as responsible for it since it won’t store it and in many cases won’t be responsible for the actual processing.  Your device (tablet, television, smartphone, laptop) will simply be a display and interface device and the content providers will handle software updates and data storage and backup making life much simpler for the average user who just wants to get things done and not concern themselves with the technical hurdles and headaches.

Posted by: George Christodoulou

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