9 Apps for Computing in the Clouds

When we turn on our computers most of us go straight to the browser and on to the internet. We can now do more than ever without installing any software at all. Web apps have become more sophisticated and are being used by people on their personal computers and in businesses. Nowadays applications ranging from business level SAP® and Microsoft®, to music services, to personal email are being run on shared servers over the internet (“the cloud”). Cost reduction and increased scalability are reasons companies are adopting it. Ease and reliability are reasons many people are using it at home. The data and software are not stored physically on your computer but rather in the cloud.

Here are some interesting (and mostly free) personal uses of cloud computing you should check out:

Spotify

Imagine if the entire iTunes store was your library and you could listen to any song you want, whenever you want, and create playlists from them. This is what Spotify does, and it’s free. It’s a new service where all the content comes from the cloud so you can access your music anywhere. It’s currently not available in the US, but where there’s a will there’s a way around it. This could be the next big thing. Spotify is currently in Europe and Sony BMG Sweden says, “Spotify is a success. Not just in terms of users but also with regard to revenues for music companies. Spotify is now bigger than iTunes in terms of our monthly revenue in Sweden.” The basic plan is free but ad supported. You can purchase premium plans for higher quality streaming with no ads. Expect Spotify in the U.S. soon.

DropBox

Who needs a thumb drive to move files from one computer to another? This dead simple service gives you two GBs of storage free and lets you sync files anywhere you want. It acts just as another folder on your computer where you can copy and paste files into it. Take work home, bring it back. Copy your iTunes library there and sync your iPod on multiple computers. Also share files with whomever you want.

Xmarks

Sync your bookmarks and passwords across multiple computers and browsers securely. Right now it works in Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari with Chrome coming soon. You can also set up separate profiles on one account.

Gmail and Google Apps

You should be using Gmail. It blows away all other email services. I never see a spam email because of its powerful spam filter, which uses user input to weed stuff out. They also give you more storage than you’ll ever need. I’ve been using my account for three years and have only filled up 15% of the almost eight GBs they give me. I figure as long as Google’s around I’ll never have to delete another email.

Google apps is a great way to save and store documents for access anywhere. It’s loaded with tons of user submitted templates to get a quick document started. In response, Microsoft is launching its own free online version of Office.

Google’s Chrome OS

Now here’s a great example of cloud computing. Google is launching an OS, like Windows and Mac OS, that will run almost entirely in the clouds. Rather than be a competitor it will first be installed on netbooks with internet-only in mind. This will aim to be an ultra-portable and super fast system. Expect this on a tiny laptop sometime next year.

Photoshop.com

Uploading and sharing photos for free is no new idea but adding in editing tools that come with Photoshop Elements and you’ve got a pretty nice web app. Get your yourname.photoshop.com domain name and send your photos out to anybody you want.

Mint

Mint is a free service for tracking all your money in one place. It will do it all automatically including downloading bank transactions. You can track credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages, loans, investments and more. You can also keep track of spending trends and budgets. Definitely check this one out.

Mozy

Why don’t you backup your whole computer to the cloud? Mozy is offering $4.95/month for unlimited backup. I don’t know how “unlimited” that really is, but it would be nice to have peace of mind that you won’t lose everything.

Evernote

Evernote is a free service for your computer and phone that lets you track notes on anything and everything. It indexes them so you can always find them later. You can even take photos on your phone to send to it. It can also search text in images. Take a picture of someone’s business card and then search for it on your computer or your phone. Clip stuff off the web and save it forever. Evernote is very advanced and has tons of features.

A big issue with cloud computing is privacy and data security. Just be smart about it and use personal responsibility. These decisions are up to you whether to do it or not. Most of these companies usually keep backups of backups of backups so losing data should not be a problem. For putting personal info online, I could see an issue. Companies like Mint have a strict approach to security as well as others. And finally, don’t use the same password for everything!

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