Everybody is talking about The Cloud these days. But apart from those white fluffy things in the sky, what is the cloud?
Files in prison
A few years ago, if we created a word processing document, a spreadsheet, or a photo, we probably saved it on our own computer.
If we wanted to share that document with a friend or colleague we probably put it on a floppy disk. A colleague would put the floppy disk into their computer, cross their fingers that the file format would work and then open up the document.
More recently we might exchange files by putting them on a thumb drive or a CD, or perhaps by sending them by email.
But still the document would originally be locked away on our own computer.
If we were away from our computer for some reason it would be almost impossible to access that file.
For example, we might be visiting a friend and want to show them holiday photos. With the photos locked away on our computer back in the office we’d be out of luck.
Files fly free
That was the old days though. These days we have more options for where to save and store files. There are many many services that let us save and use our files online, or “in the cloud”.
A good example is Flickr. If we upload our photos to Flickr we can share them with certain people or the whole world, and we can look at them from any computer that’s connected to the Internet.
If we make videos we could upload them to You Tube. And just like Flickr we can share them or look at them how ever we like.
It’s not just photos and videos though. We could use Google Docs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, or a service such as Xero for our accounts.
Software such as Evernote not only runs as an application on our Mac, Windows PC, Blackberry, iPhone or other devices, but we can also access the notes we create through a web page.
The Dropbox service lets us setup a folder on our computer whose files are automatically synchronised with any other computer we choose. Those same files are also available through a secure web page.
Dropbox also lets us go back to see older versions of our files. That’s very handy if we accidentally save changes we didn’t mean to make.
All of these services are “in the cloud”. All of them make it much easier to access our files over the Internet any time we want from wherever we are.
It means documents are no longer locked in the prison of a single computer.
Take a look at the services I’ve mentioned above, most of them are free, and see if they’d fit with your way of working.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, August 2010. This article has been modified for publication here.