Home Computing in “The Cloud”

Trends lead me to believe that the computing we do at home will soon reside predominantly “in the cloud.” This means that the applications we use and rely on every day are not on our computer at home, but in an application on the Internet that is accessed by your browser.

Move to “The Cloud”

Many people have already taken the step. Here are some of the typical things others have done and what you can do yourself to make the switch:

  1. Use Google Docs as your basic productivity tools. Not only are they very effective and free tools, but they are also online and available wherever you go (docs.google.com). You don’t need to buy Microsoft Office or even download Open Office for free at OpenOffice.org. I found that on my six year old PC, Google Docs will launch an application (eg Docs, Spreadsheet, GMail, etc.) in The Cloud faster than I can launch a Microsoft Office product (eg Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.) .) on my PC. Plus, there’s the freedom of not being tied down to that PC that’s somewhere you can’t always access it. A laptop works pretty well in this regard, but what happens when that laptop breaks or is lost? It feels like when you lose your wallet or your keys. It doesn’t feel good at all. With home computing in the Cloud, it’s a problem to lose your equipment, but little of what you’ve been working on is lost.
  2. Use Mint.com, Quickenonline.com, or other online financial tracking programs. First of all, they are currently free. That is a great advantage. They’re not as good, in my opinion, as an installed program like Quicken, at least not yet. However, if you’re doing nothing more than wanting to keep track of your current balances to make sure your cash flow is positive (ie you’re not overspending), then these seem like great tools.
  3. Use Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networking sites. These sites provide a powerful place to manage your social and professional life. This includes keeping in touch with family and friends and showing off your photos, keeping in touch with business associates, and looking for the next big opportunity.
  4. Get your news from CNN.com, USAToday.com or get more focused news of interest from more specialized sites. For example, I search through consumerist.com and pcmag.com for practical information that I can use every day.

Access “The Cloud” From Anywhere

Since I’ve moved so much of my core computing to the cloud, I’ve found that I can access it from almost any PC and from my mobile phone. Having my Cloud on my phone, which can surf the Internet, is a phenomenal tool. If the Palm Pre or iPhone worked with my wireless carrier, I’d upgrade and give up my trusty Motorola A1200.

Use “the cloud” but back up your critical data

Keep backups of your dataespecially the data you need to access your web sites.

For passwords, I use Password Safe, which is free on sourceforge.net. This way I have all my passwords in one place. Consequently, I also have all those key sites that I access in this same place. (This, I found, came in handy when I recently changed my email account.) I backup the password file every day to The Cloud using IDrive.com. I also back up my password file monthly to a USB drive that I keep in a fire safe.

Be safe in “The Cloud”

The scariest part of moving to the cloud has to do with protecting your privacy and the security of your information. I admit this still worries me a bit. Can I really trust Google? Or how about trusting QuickenOnline.com with my financial data? We hear about data breaches every day. A hacker broke in and stole personal information from thousands of customers. I have been notified more than once that this has happened at a company I do business with. I have a free credit check at the moment due to a recent incident at an investment company.

My bank has also called me asking about charges made to my credit card. It turned out to be fraudulent and the bank removed the charges from my account. What’s interesting is that I had just downloaded my most recent bank transactions into Quicken. I did not see these fraudulent charges. I immediately did another download of my bank transactions. There they were, along with the transactions that reversed the charges. My bank had detected and responded very quickly to these illegitimate activities.

My confidence in the reasonable security of The Cloud is based on doing business over the Internet since the early 1990s, when the Internet was opened up to commercial sites. Examples with my bank and investment company have helped me ensure that they are proactively trying to minimize the risk of loss.. There is no security guarantee. However, it is not obvious that your risk of loss is higher in The Cloud than anywhere else.

“The cloud” is here and advertising will pay for it

I think what we know as personal computing is moving to the cloud. In the near future we will be much less dependent on a single piece of equipment loaded with a large amount of expensive software, much of which we will never use.

Of course, like broadcast media for decades, this Cloud is driven by advertising. Just as we once watched free television, before cable, and still listen to free radio, it looks like we’re going to a cloud of personal computing paid for with advertising. The personal computer will be required to access The Cloud, but your software applications and information will be in The Cloud and not on your personal computer.

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