You've probably heard the term "Cloud Computing," but what does it actually mean? Basically, the term encompasses the shift of software and strorage from your computer's hard drive to the web. Almost all e-mail is now cloud-based; if you use Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or any other web provider for your e-mail, then you're in the cloud. If you have ever stored photos using Flickr, Picasa, or another photo storage space, then you're in the cloud. If you've used GoogleDocs, then ... oh, you get the idea.
When it comes to the cloud, there are good things and bad things and things that haven't been figured out yet.
- You can get at your stuff from any computer with an internet connection and it's always synced.
- Someone else is responsible for backing up the data.
- If the software and file space is someplace else, you may be able to get away with a cheaper, less powerful computer.
- Someone else has your data -- do you know what they're doing with it? Data-mining at the least.
- It may cost you something (like money or information) to subscribe to cloud-based services or storage space.
- There may be restrictions on how you use things in the cloud -- restrictions that don't exist on your own computer.
Things that haven't been figured out yet:
- What happens to all your data if a cloud service goes belly-up? Or gets sold to another company? Or changes their policy (e.g. they started out free and now they want to start charging users)?
- How good is the security of your data and the privacy of your personal information?
- Is the information and data you offer up to the cloud actually yours? Who owns the data if it is on someone else's computer system?
Depending on your comfort level with these issues, you may or may not choose to take advantage of cloud computing. Being aware of the good, the bad, and the up-in-the-air will help you make an informed decision.
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