Clearing the Fog About 'the Cloud'

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The term keeps popping up more and more often:

“It’s on the Cloud.”

“We’re Cloud-friendly.”

“It’s Cloud-based.”

And in the immortal words of a pretty annoying commercial, “Thanks, Cloud!”

So what is “the Cloud”? It’s just a cool way of saying “the Internet.”

Up until a few years ago, the Internet was like a pipeline. E-mails went from place to place; web pages traveled from a company’s server to your screen. And if you wrote, say, a letter, you’d save it to your hard drive, which sat in the same box as the rest of your computer.

In the last few years, the widespread use of “always-on” broadband internet access has changed how we think of distance. Now, at least in terms of computers, distance means nothing. You can save that letter you’ve written to a hard drive in a server 8,000 miles away just as easily as you can save it to the hard drive that sits inside your computer, inches away from your keyboard.

The Cloud is a place to store programs on the Internet.Realizing that, companies have begun hooking up servers (essentially stacks and stacks of hard drives) to the Internet and offering customers the ability to easily store their files—documents, pictures, etc. In many cases, the customer might save that letter to their computer’s hard drive, which then automatically sends a copy to a server run by an online storage company.

This has several benefits:

  • Easy file backup: If your hard drive dies, your crucial files are backed up and can be downloaded from the “Cloud” server.
  • Easy file sharing: Instead of e-mailing files, you can put the files in a special folder in your Cloud account and let others download them from there. This is great for larger files like photos, which may be too big to be handled by e-mail programs.

Why is it called “the Cloud”? Probably because the online server could be located anywhere in the world, and the term “the Cloud” implies that exact location doesn’t matter.

Several companies are offering free Cloud storage to anyone: Dropbox (which is used by TimePilot), Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s iCloud and Amazon’s Cloud Drive, to name a few of the most popular.

TimePilot’s Extreme Blue Enhanced uses Dropbox to transmit data from the phone to the computer running TimePilot Central.

The latest thing is Cloud-based programs. Imagine not having a word processing or spreadsheet program on your computer’s hard drive, but, instead, using the Internet to access the programs.

Google offers one of the most popular cloud-based office suites. Microsoft has one too. Depending upon the features you want, they're both free or cost a small amount per month. Here’s an example of how they work:

After you've signed up for an account, start your web browser, log in to your account and start writing. If you didn’t know any better, you couldn’t tell whether the program was running on your hard drive or in “the Cloud.” Documents can be saved to an online cloud account or to your PC’s hard drive.

You always have the latest version of the software, you don’t have to worry about keeping the program updated and the documents you create are available to you on many different platforms, so you can start a document at your work PC, add to it on your tablet or phone on the bus home and finish it on your laptop. Or you can start a document and give co-workers access to it so they can add to it or edit it.

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