What is Cloud Computing?

Posted By BrokenClaw on April 3, 2008

A web application is a computer program that you access over the Internet. Some of the first ones to gain widespread use were web mail services like Hotmail (now part of Windows Live) and Yahoo Mail. Other popular examples are shopping sites, blogs, forums, and instant messaging. You can also put active content on your desktop, such as news and weather updates.

Active content on your desktop can be fun and useful, but you must always consider the source. Message notifications from trusted sites like Yahoo, Facebook, CNN.com, weather.com, are fine, but be aware that unscrupulous websites can use active content as a means of installing malware.

Web apps continue to grow in popularity and are moving into areas traditionally done on your personal computer. This new type is sometimes described as cloud computing.

Cloud computing is a slang term to describe the process where you use your computer as a remote terminal to run software and to access your data on the Internet. In other words, the actual computing takes place somewhere in the Internet cloud. The analogy and graphical representation of the Internet as a cloud is a long-standing tradition. Technically, of course, the computing takes place on a server somewhere, but exactly where that server is has no impact on the process, so it might as well be in a cloud. Cloud computing is a step up from simple remote storage. (In 2008, the Dell computer company asserted that they held the legal rights to the phrase, cloud computing.)

Normally you run applications and store your data locally on your PC. That was, in fact, the main attraction of having a PC to begin with — to have full ownership of your data. However, with high speed Internet connections, it becomes more and more feasible to use the Internet as an extension of your PC. Instead of launching a program on your computer, you launch the web program in your browser.

Some early examples of cloud computing include photo-sharing and social networking sites. Instead of keeping all of your photos and contacts on your own computer, you use the website’s server to store and share them. More recently cloud computing has expanded into other areas like word processors and photo editing tools. The main advantages are

  • the application and your files are accessible from anywhere
  • your data files can be shared and edited by a group as a collaborative effort
  • administrative tasks like updating the software and backing up your data is handled by the web server

The main disadvantages are that you must have an Internet connection to use them, and you have to trust the website for privacy, security, and reliability.

Some personal web apps are free to use, which normally means they are ad-supported. Google Docs is a free online word processor and spreadsheet. FotoFlexer is one of many free online photo editors. Other companies offer premium services for business, such as Inventory and Accounting, via subscription or based on usage.

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