Cloud computing. It’s one of those techie terms that suddenly seems to be everywhere. But what is ‘the cloud’? And how can it help make your life easier? Chances are you’re already using the cloud. Do you access your email through a web browser? Or store your photos in an online account? If so, you’ve already got your head partly in the cloud.
To understand what the cloud is, you just need to know how it makes life easier for your PC. When you use the cloud, your computer doesn’t have to do quite so much hard work, but can instead outsource a lot of the effort to the internet. For instance, you may want to use some complex software. The cloud enables you to access a version that is running on a remote computer, rather than on your PC. You’re able to use that software via a web browser. Although it feels like the program is running on your computer, it’s really operating ‘in the cloud’.
That cloud-based power boost is one benefit. Peace of mind is another. Store your emails or photos in the cloud and you can access them from wherever you find an internet connection. You can be sure your data is safe from lost laptops, fried hard drives and other such mishaps, because it’s stored remotely.
So now we know what we’re dealing with, what can you get out of the cloud? Let’s take a look at some of the most useful services.
Imagine that some dastardly type has made off with your computer. What happens to all your photos, videos and music files? If they’re stored solely on the PC, they’re gone for good. But if you’ve got a backup in the cloud, you can get them back easily.
Knowhow’s Cloud Backup service enables you to make an online backup of your computer, with up to 500GB of storage available for £30 a year. Not only are those files safe from Burglar Bert, but you can access them from any computer, smartphone or tablet. If you’ve got more than one system you want to protect, the Cloud Backup and Share service enables you to back up three computers – and even sync data between them, so you always have the latest version of your files, whichever PC you happen to be sitting at.
Saving a system backup to the cloud can help ensure your precious data is safe and always accessible
Decent security software is a must, but antivirus programs can be real resource hogs, slowing down your computer while they’re checking for malicious files on your PC. A neat way to sidestep that issue is to install a security program that taps into the cloud for most of its heavy tasks. That means the application stored on your desktop is light on system resources, preventing your PC from slowing down.
One of the cloud security pioneers is a free program Panda Cloud Antivirus. But an increasing number of security tools – including Norton Internet Security – now tap into the cloud to ensure your anti-virus protection is fully up to date.
By getting the cloud to handle some of your antivirus needs, you can free up valuable system resources
Panda Cloud Antivirus is an example of a desktop app that pulls resources from over the internet. Web apps are a different beast altogether: you don’t actually install anything on your PC; instead the software is run on a remote system, with you connecting to it via the internet.
You’ll often use these apps via your PC’s web browser, but some of them come with a desktop interface, so using them feels the same as using any other installed program on your PC. Some will also be accessible via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Here are five worth looking at:
Microsoft’s Office Web Apps feature gives you some of the functionality of the do-it-all Office suite of programs, completely for free. You can create and edit files in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, share them with other people and work on them at the same time. Google Drive offers a similar experience and bags extra usefulness points for those with a Gmail account. For something a little different and to create presentations that really stand out, try Prezi.
Once you start using Evernote, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. At its simplest, it’s a note-taking app, a kind of cloud-based scrapbook for all your dashed-off thoughts and to-do lists. But Evernote offers bundles more. You can clip webpages, save photos, record audio files and more, making this a simple way to keep your life in order. Crucially, it works on pretty much every mobile device under the sun, with your notes automatically synced across all platforms.
There are tons of free photo-editing packages out there, but Pixlr is a favourite of ours for its simplicity. You can use it in one of three modes, and if you’ve got the time then ‘advanced’, with its Photoshop-like set-up, is a powerful choice. If speed is key, the user-friendly interface of ‘express’ mode will help you apply rapid fixes to your snaps.
Pixlr offers an impressive range of advanced editing options, making it quick and easy to tweak your photos via the web
This clever app is effectively a way of creating your own unique search engine. Every time you bookmark a site, it’s added to your collection within Historious. You can then search through all your bookmarked sites using a simple search box.
The advantage of using a web app such as Historious for bookmarking is that you can easily find your favourite sites on any computer
Here is a lovely way to keep a personal blog or diary. Sign up for OhLife and you’ll receive a daily email prompting you to write a few words about your day. Reply to the email and your reply automatically updates your blog.
OhLife is a clever blogging web app that emails you questions every day to help keep your diary up-to-date