Moving to the Cloud? So Am I and Here's Why
With the popularization of cloud-based storage from services like Google Drive, Google Photos, iCloud, Evernote and Dropbox, it’s more convenient than ever to work entirely in the cloud. Freeing you from having to store massive amounts of data locally, lightweight tablets, smartphones and Chromebooks make it possible to do powerful computing on relatively low power devices.
The benefits of cloud computing aren’t just limited to those looking to do simple tasks. With Office 365, the Microsoft Office Suite is available online, our music can exist entirely online with services like Spotify, and advanced image editing can be done with Adobe Creative Cloud Photography. So much today can be done with a simple web browser or a lightweight app so you don’t have to download massive resource-hungry applications.
Google Docs for word processing
With cloud storage, word processing becomes a lot easier and less restricted. If you’re working on a document, you can get started on a desktop at home, move to rounding out some key points at the park with your smartphone and finish things up with a lightweight Chromebook or tablet at a cafe. Rather than using clunky USB sticks, CDs or portable hard drives, everything’s just there when you need it. Plus, working in the cloud streamlines your workflow by making it easy to share documents, collaborate and see changes being made by colleagues in real time. Google Docs, a hugely popular choice is a powerful word processor similar to applications like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice, with a variety of formatting options, fonts and add-ons. For super fast note taking I also use Simplenote. With Simplenote, there aren’t a variety of features like the ability to change fonts, add images, etc. but it’s a powerful distraction-free choice for jotting down ideas and making outlines on the go — all in the cloud and available anywhere.
Google Docs: Free at docs.google.com
Simplenote: Free at simplenote.com
Locally backing up mission critical files just in case
When a document happens to be highly sensitive or mission critical, most computers, phones and even Chromebooks have a local storage option. What I do is backup my incredibly important files on an external hard drive along with a working copy in the cloud. There are all kinds of inexpensive portable hard drives. I’ve used WD, Toshiba and Seagate without any problems. Having that portable storage in a safe place can provide peace of mind and serve as an easy option to move files between devices in the event of a slow connection.
WD 1TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive: $52.99 at Amazon.com
Toshiba 3TB Canvio Basics Portable Hard Drive: $99.99 at Newegg.com
Editing photos online
Editing photos in the cloud is simpler than it might seem. Personally, I like to use Pixlr Express or Polarr for basic quick photo edits. Used together, it’s possible to gain access to a range of powerful filters, color correction, unique overlay effects and the basics like image cropping, adding text, etc. — all for free. On the iPhone I use an Pixelmator, an excellent tool for more advanced image layering and effects. Photos can be pulled from iCloud, or stored on Google Drive, downloaded and then edited on the phone and uploaded again. This keeps space free and available on your local devices, so even when you’re doing work from a local device the files themselves don’t need to stay indefinitely. For advanced cross-platform cloud-based image editing options, take a look at Adobe Cloud Photography plans starting at $9.99/month (creative.adobe.com/plans).
Polarr: Free at photoeditor.polarr.co
Pixlr Express: Free at pixlr.com/express
Pixelmator: $4.99 on iOS. Great Android alternatives include Aviary and Adobe Photoshop Express
The main benefits of moving to the cloud
When internet access was slower, harder to find and less reliable, moving to the cloud wasn’t a practical option. Now, with near universal Wi-FI availability along with cellular options, accessing the internet isn’t an issue for most of us. Coupled with more powerful machines sporting lighter form factors (most notably Chromebooks, iPads and Microsoft Surface devices), it’s not difficult to get serious work done on simple devices carrying all-day battery life and very little weight. What I find especially reassuring about the Chromebook and cloud computing is the reduced fear of losing my device. While important data can be lost online, most servers have multiple layers of redundancy with regular backups, whereas leaving a device somewhere only takes a little absent-mindedness. In some ways, especially when it comes to mission-critical data, it can actually make more sense to store your files in the cloud than on a local device.
Cloud computing makes it easier to upgrade
For me, one of the most compelling benefits of working in the cloud is the ability to easily upgrade to the latest devices. With natively stored apps, photos and settings, upgrading machines used to feel like a herculean task. Re-installing software with long security keys was a nightmare. With the cloud, changing machines is simple because everything you own exists beyond a single device. This kind of versatility and flexibility represents the future of computing in my view, revolutionizing how we work, play and manage our digital lives.