The Web is evolving rapidly these days. In what seems like the blink of an eye, more and more Web applications spring up to catch our fancy and intrigue. However, many people are neglecting to switch to Web-based solutions for their routines, creating stagnation for both the Web and productivity.
The “cloud” is a wonderful place to work and play, with more and more useful applications appearing every day. Yet why should you bother moving your work from a local, desktop-based outfit to one on the Web? Here is a mighty fine list to ponder:
- The cloud gives you accessibility — As long as you have an Internet connection, your work will always be available to you when it is located somewhere in the cloud. Perhaps you forget an English essay you wrote on your desktop, or you leave the flash drive it is residing on in your other pants? If that essay document is stored on the cloud, you can easily retrieve it by jumping onto a computer at school (provided you have the means and permission to do so, of course).
- The cloud gives you mobility — As the population of Internet-enabled smartphone and tablet users expands, so too does the plethora of mobile apps that grant you access to your most important tasks and activities. I have been in many a situation that required me to pull my phone out of my pocket to make a few changes and tweaks to a document I was working on, whether it was on the bus to school or in a restaurant eating a burger. Keeping my work on the cloud allows me to modify and improve it whenever inspiration (or desperation) hits me.
- The cloud gives you a voice — Most Web app developers these days are fairly hip about staying close to their users (and customers, in many cases). If you notice a bug in the app you are using or you are in dire need of a feature, it is usually fairly simply to give a shout to the developers to get the cogs of change rolling. While the same might possibly be said for a few desktop applications as well, this trait is definitely expressed greater in today’s Web environment.
All right, then, you have decided to give the cloud a shot and want to know where to begin. It is fairly simple these days to accomplish a task on the Web making use of the cloud without even recognizing it. With that said, here are a few examples of things you might do on your local machine that you should heavily consider offloading to the cloud:
- Email— I remember way back when I would walk into my dad’s home office to find him backing up emails to another storage device (back then, that usually meant transferring them over the home network to another computer). We all used desktop email clients back then because, well, there simply were no better alternatives. You must understand, these were the days before the modern Web revolution; Internet Explorer was king, and it played by its own rules, as ugly and dysfunctional as they were. I remember the day I finally ditched the email my ISP had provided me with for so long for a Hotmail address (of course, I still used a desktop client to retrieve my emails). It was a step — albeit a small one.Eventually, however, the Web progressed further, and I discovered the joy that was Gmail and specifically, Gmail’s Web interface. From that day onward I managed all my email on the Web, even forwarding emails sent to my domains (e.g., [email protected]) to my Gmail address. Which webmail service you choose is up to you, of course. I enjoy Gmail, but there are plenty of others such as Yahoo! Mail and Windows Live Mail. Give each a try and stick with the one you are most productive with. Remember though, that any Web option is fundamentally better than a desktop solution, as you will never have to worry about saving emails to a separate storage location.
- Office applications — Mentioned previously, the cloud offers plenty of options for storing documents and spreadsheets online, making them accessible (and editable) from just about anywhere. Perhaps the most well-known of these suites is Google Docs, but you can essentially use any simple cloud file service (e.g., Dropbox) to store documents, then retrieve them and edit them locally. Microsoft also recently released Microsoft Office 365, its cloud competitor to Google Docs. You’ll have to pay for it, though.
- Music — Up until a few years ago, I had stored all of my music locally, keeping it safe and sound on multiple storage devices. Then, I found Pandora, and that changed how I listened to and discovered new music. Similar services also exist, such as the popular Last.fm. Needless to say, I enjoyed being able to stream free music from the Internet (that was actually relevant to my tastes), but I often missed my personal collection. Therefore, I would find myself finding the music on one of the numerous media devices in order to play it. Two services have recently been released that have changed the way you store and listen to your music: Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player. Both of these services are connected with their own online music stores, and when you purchase an item, it is immediately added to your online collection for streaming (or downloading, if that’s still your thing). Who will come out on top is unclear, but I personally use Google Music due to its tight Android integration. As a side note, Apple also has its iTunes Match service that appeared not long after Google and Amazon’s services, but in my honest opinion is it a complete waste of money. Why spend $25 a year on a service that works in a worse fashion than the free competition? That is a whole other article, I suppose.
- Skype/video chat — As we get more social online, we want to connect to people in a more personal manner. Google+ is one such service that offers a more personal way of connecting with people: Google+ Hangouts. There are others out there, too, such as the popular Tinychat application. These Web apps allow people to connect to others in a much stronger fashion than mere instant messaging or a phone call offers, all without needing a standalone desktop client installed.
- Web development — The Web has evolved to the point where you can develop an application for the Web, on the Web. (Webception, anyone?) Cloud9IDE has burst on to the scene as one of the leading Web IDEs available. Of course, it offers a variety of language support beyond the languages of the Web, but it offers tight integration with services like GitHub and Heroku that allow you to store and deploy your code entirely online. How’s that for progress?
The list grows longer and more expansive every day; the hard part is simply discovering that these useful applications exist and can increase your productivity, creativity, and maybe even your available cash flow (if you’re paying for desktop clients, for instance) if you utilize them to their fullest. With that said, what services or Web applications are you using that exist entirely on the cloud? I’d love to hear some I’ve yet to discover!