Computer Tutor: John Lucas

Consumers now have an alternative way to store their data and run applications. It is called “cloud computing.” The “cloud” metaphorically represents the Internet. Instead of our applications and data being stored locally on our own computer, they can be stored externally on on a remote web server owned by third-party service provider such as Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud or Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Utilizing a web browser, we can access our apps and/or files anytime and anywhere via the Internet.

But as attractive as that may seem, cloud computing isn’t for everyone. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing? After weighing the pros and cons, you will have to decide for yourself if cloud computing is right for you.

Advantages of cloud computing

Universal access — With an Internet connection, you can access your files anytime and anywhere. You can work on your documents aboard a ship in the Indian Ocean or edit your photos at a local Starbucks down the street. In addition, you are not tied down to a specific computer which has your files. You can access your files on your laptop, mobile phone or netbook or your friend’s iPad.

Costs — If you switch to web-based applications and cloud storage, potentially your home PC will require fewer expensive software programs, less RAM memory to run your applications and less hard disk space to store your documents.

Sharing — Because your documents are hosted in the cloud, not on your computer, you no longer have to send email attachments to share files, photos or scanned documents. With online storage and just a few clicks, you can immediately share a business proposal with a client across town or photos of your latest ski vacation with a college friend across the country.

Collaboration — Be it a family newsletter or a cost proposal at work, multiple users, with your permission, can quickly and easily access, read and edit a document you have stored in the cloud.

File protection and recovery — Physically removed from the originals, files are automatically backed up and kept in a secure location in the cloud. When was the last time you backed up your hard drive? Has your hard drive ever crashed in the middle of a big project? Have you ever lost a flash-drive? Had a computer or laptop stolen? Been the victim of a fire or flood? No worries; you can quickly start over from your cloud storage backup with practically zero downtime.

Disadvantages of cloud computing

Requires a fast and dependable Internet connection — Web-based apps and large documents require a lot of bandwidth to download quickly. Dial-up services and low-speed connections are not practical with cloud computing. If you are totally reliant on a cloud service, when the Internet goes down, your productivity comes to a screeching halt unless you kept an updated copy of your apps and documents on your computer hard drive.

Limited features of Web-based applications — While this may change in the near future, presently Web-based applications do not have near the capabilities or advanced features of standard desktop software. For example, for a power user there is no comparison between Google’s web-based Picassa photo editing software and the desktop version of Adobe PhotoShop.

Privacy and security concerns — To take advantage of all the benefits of cloud computing, you knowingly have to give up direct control of your data and accept the privacy and security risks involved with storing your data with a third party provider. On the other hand, cloud providers have greater resources and expertise on how to keep data safe than the average user and are highly motivated to protect our data knowing that their future existence depends on it.

Next month: comparing and choosing a cloud provider.

John Lucas is the owner of Your Computer Tutor which provides personalized home computer instruction and technical support for both Macs and PCs in the Portland metro area. A retired teacher with a Masters in Library Science, Lucas welcomes questions about common computer issues. Reach him by email at [email protected]com.

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