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Future use of desktop computing is in the clouds
July 5, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Yes indeed, folks, the use of software program applications are moving from inside our desktop computers to the Internet and straight into the clouds.

Our investigative friends who just love gathering statistical tidbits at the nonprofit “fact tank” known as the Pew Internet & American Life Project, just released a new study on Internet cloud computing.

Pew reports the technology experts expect by the year 2020 we will “live mostly in the cloud,” using software applications accessible in the clouds (data servers) via “cyberspace-based applications.” We will access these applications through networked devices such as smartphones, mobile devices, and other Internet appliances.

In 2020, our personal and business computers will be generally used to access the particular Internet data server (cloud) where our program applications and files will be located.

In the near future, we will probably be seeing “cloud-desktop” hybrid computers.

Examples of cloud computing applications include popular e-mail services from Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, and Yahoo mail.

YouTube recently announced its free online video editing application to all its users. This application is not downloaded to your computer; it is available on YouTube’s website. This is a very good example of a cloud computing application.

The social networks we participate (and sometimes live in) are also considered part of the cloud. There are 500 million of us using the social networking site Facebook. Facebook is an example of a cloud-based social networking site.

Twitter, Facebook, JustinTV, UStream, YouTube, and blogging sites like Google’s “Blogspot” are examples of social networking sites using hardware and software inside a data server or “social networking cloud.”

For our word documents, we can utilize free cloud applications like Google Docs, which allows for the creation and sharing of documents, slide presentations, and spreadsheets. The software applications and files are stored in one of the data server “clouds” Google owns, not on our personal computer’s hard drive.

I upload and store many of my digital photos on the Internet image hosting site, Photobucket.com. I use my free Photobucket account for all the digital picture images I download to the Web Site of The Week forum.

Flickr (owned by Yahoo) and Google’s “Picasa” are other examples of popular digital image and video hosting sites.

These online hosting sites are convenient places to store our files, but I would advise we also backup our videos and digital images using DVD rewritable disks, portable USB flash drives, or USB external hard drives in the event the online hosting site has a major meltdown. I know, chances of that happening are slim, but why take the risk?

Being we have more of our digital photos, videos and documents stored on various Internet-hosted cloud servers, we should consider backing up these files to a local offline storage device.

Some people use Carbonite or similar online Internet backup services to save the files stored on their personal computers and Macs.

During the next decade, many computing processes normally performed on our personal computers will be moving to the Internet cloud.

Pew reported 71 percent of their “highly engaged and diverse set of respondents” agreed with this statement: “By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications such as Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones [mobile devices]. Aspiring application developers will develop for smartphone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system.”

Surprisingly, this columnist was not called upon by Pew to be one of the highly engaged and diverse respondents.

A majority of those in the Pew survey were in agreement about the expansion of cloud computing and how it will become our prevailing way of computing.

Security concerns will no doubt arise about our information being kept in a “cloud.” We must remember that our information is being stored on a particular company’s data server. We are placing our confidence in the data servers these companies maintain. We can only “trust” that our personal data being handled by these “cloud operators” will not be compromised.

I understand the hardware is redundant and backed up. My concern centers on our data being protected. I don’t care how much encryption they use, nothing is totally fail-safe or impenetrable in the computing world when it comes to the abilities of those talented computer hackers and evil cyber crackers lurking out there.

Pew recognized this in their report and said cloud computing presents “security concerns” regarding people’s private information being exposed by computing thieves, governments, corporations, opportunists, and my favorite – “human and machine error.”

Your humble columnist suggests we add our own safeguards, like making sure we have current copies and backups of our important and irreplaceable data files and keep them – off the cloud.

To read the full Pew report, go to tinyurl.com/2g5n5ju.