You might have heard cloud services being referred to as the future of the internet. But what do they do? And which of them is best for you?
We’ll take a look at the major offerings from Microsoft, Apple and Google in a moment. But first – what is a cloud service? Well, it essentially means anything that uses data stored on internet servers rather than your own PC.
The benefit of this is that all your data is saved and backed up independently of your PC or smartphone – so you can access the same data from any device.
Other cloud services enable you to do things such as check your email from any PC or smartphone using a web browser – essentially, it’s taking away our dependence on having the same PC or Mac with us all the time.
You probably already do some cloud-based things. Using Google Gmail, for example. Or uploading your photos to Facebook. And, if you use a music service like Spotify or movie streaming service like LoveFilm then these two are effectively cloud-based.
The key players such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, want to store as much stuff as possible. This is partly so they can make more money from advertising, but also because each provider wants you to use its other services.
Let’s take a quick look at what the key companies have to offer you from their cloud services.
The search giant has been offering web services in the cloud for a long time. It probably has the most cohesive set of services for both productivity and fun. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Picasa Web Albums and YouTube are all part of the family and use a single Google Account login.
Google uses the browser as much as possible and, apart from a couple of key apps such as the photo editing software Picasa, doesn’t make desktop software.
Apple’s iCloud is all about your devices – your iPad, iPhone, PC and Mac. The service will back up iOS devices automatically, but it can also store other things – the Photo Stream service means that if you take a photo on your iPhone, it will appear automatically on your PC and iPad. iCloud automatically update all your Apple documents and iTunes purchases too.
Download a track from iTunes on your iPhone and it will be waiting for you on your Mac. So iCloud is much more about a service and connecting your devices, rather than things like webmail.
Microsoft’s cloud services started with Hotmail, and it dominated the market. But unfortunately Google appeared and Microsoft rather fell behind on cloud offerings.
It has its Windows Live suite which you may use, but the real breakthrough for the software giant will come after the late 2012 launch of Windows 8. This places SkyDrive – a cloud storage repository for your files – at its heart.
It also wants to move more Microsoft Office apps online – Microsoft Office Web Apps is already available, while Office 365 is a cloud service for businesses, too.
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