Change is in the clouds!

If you have been paying attention to the latest round of TV commercials from our friends at Microsoft you may be under the impression that they have invented some new fangled way of using a your computer and the Internet. The rallying cry of “to the cloud” echoes through each commercial as the hero finds some new way to make their life better by accessing some form of data online.

Microsoft is doing a great job of making the general population aware of cloud computing, but they hardly invented it. Still I give Microsoft credit where it is due. They are, in some areas, refining it very nicely, such as the way they have incorporated things in the new Windows7 phones — but more on that in a later article.

Today I want to talk to you about cloud computing. I guess it is really something we should credit Google with as far as making it popular and viable for the average user, but it really hearkens back to Oracle. Under the leadership of Larry Ellison, Oracle’s marketing slogan was “The network is the computer” way back in the ’90s.

The concept is that computers, smart phones or any Internet-connected device doesn’t need to have powerful applications or massive storage capabilities — only the ability to access these files or services online. For most of us this comes into focus when we look at Google.

Think about how little we need to do on our computer and how much gets done online if you use the tools and applications offered for free by Google.

It all starts with a little Gmail. You sign up for an account for free and bingo, you have email. You can access your email now from your computer at home or a different computer at school or work because all you need is a Web browser. Your smartphone can also access your email, as can your iPad, if you have one. Those of us who have been in this game for any length of time marvel at the simplicity of it. It used to be configuring email on multiple devices was a right of passage for geeks — now anyone can and does do it!

But the cloud hardly stops at your email. If you save all your contacts in your Gmail address book, for example, they are now also available to you everywhere you need them. As soon as I sign on with a new phone to Gmail, all my phone numbers and addresses are magically on the phone! Look at the top of your window in your Gmail account and you see all sorts of services: Calendar, Documents, Photo, and it goes on and on. Each of these is a different service or resource available from Google, and once again any of these services or documents can be accessed by any Web browser. Everything lives on the Internet, in the cloud. Syncing your appointments between your phone and computer? Child’s play!

The convenience is amazing, the potential staggering. Configuring new computers is a treat. (What used to take me a week to make a notebook use-able now takes an hour!) Staying in touch, getting work done and recovering from setbacks like hardware failures is easier, cheaper and far less stressful. The downside? Security. We are all concerned about where our data lives and who may or may not access it. And the cloud is really not that different from a notebook or desktop computer in that it could just as easily get stolen.

So pay attention to what Microsoft is saying about computers, the Internet and our use of them. Change is in the air — in the clouds, actually!

Photo © Tatiana Popova

Steve DottoSteve Dotto is Canada’s most respected geek. For over 15 years, as host and executive producer of Dotto Tech, a nationally syndicated TV show, Steve has entertained and educated millions of Canadians on all aspects of technology. Steve has a passion for understanding the social impact of technology. His DVD Cybersafe with Steve Dotto , teaches parents and caregivers about the opportunities, dangers and challenges of social networking.