Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


How The Cloud is changing the way information rains on us

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

   The survivors of the Point 'n' Click TV show get together every year for a reunion at a meeting of the Central New York PC Users Group. This year we talked about The Cloud.
   Before you ask if Nancy Roberts and the rest of us have gone meteorological on you, let me explain. The Cloud, to geeks, is the mass of amorphous networks both near and far that stores things. Instead of keeping everything on your PC or Mac -- or, especially, given the smaller capacity, on your laptop or iPad -- The Cloud lets you keep all that stuff in the air. In the ether, as it were. (This mythical substance was once thought to permeate all space between objects, but its big contribution these days is the word "Ethernet.")
   Think of The Cloud this way:
   Ordinary data storage is like hauling around a canister of oxygen (along with nitrogen, the main component of air). When you needed to breathe, you'd just stick the mouthpiece to the breathing apparatus into your face and inhale. Divers have to do that, in fact.
   This doesn't sound like what you'd want to do, right? Wouldn't it be better to have the stuff you breathe all around you? That's what The Cloud is all about. Files you need are everywhere. They're in Des Moines when you're in Iowa, in the meeting room when you're at work. They're ready when you are, and you never need to cart them around.
   As you can see, this is an ideal situation for everyone who owns a laptop, a netbook, an iPad or a smartphone. What do they have in common? Two things -- they don't have much local storage space, and they're always connected to the Internet. Or almost always, if there's a Wi-Fi connection nearby or if they have broadband wireless connectivity. (If your laptop doesn't have built-in wireless, it's time to trade up.)
   So look at it this way: You can carry your data around, using something relatively huge and heavy -- a built-in hard drive -- to hold all your stuff, or you can access your stuff any time you need it by turning your laptop, phone or iPad on and smiling a little.
   I like the smile approach. It means my magazine-thin iPad can do all the same things and access all the same data that my old desktop computer can. It means your laptop can take care of whatever you need to do. All you need is a permanent Internet connection.
   Gulp! Yes, you heard that right. You can't just hop onto the Internet now and then. You need that connection -- you need that air -- all the time. That can be a problem for many of us, but it's getting cheaper and easier. Wi-Fi hotspots are absurdly easy to find; iPads and smartphones with permanent connectivity don't cost much; laptops can use plug-in USB devices that connect to the Internet in just about any location in the country, and wireless networks, supplied by inexpensive mobile routers are already installed in millions of homes.
   Taking advantage of The Cloud is easy, too. We'll see how you can do that next week.