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9 ways to use the cloud
You may have heard most techies - and folk who claim to be in the know - say that "the future is in the cloud". But what are they really talking about? In ordinary speak, the term refers to internet-based computing. As bandwidth in our homes and offices increases, more applications are turning web-based. So whether it is that document you are writing, the photo you are editing, or the music you are listening to, it's all being done on powerful web servers and not reliant on your processor and hard drive. With the cloud, you no longer need to install expensive software on your computers. Heck, you don't even need very powerful hardware to do complex computing tasks. The only thing that's required at the user end is decently high bandwidth and a web browser.
ALWAYS IN SYNC
One of the pitfalls of our digital life is that our data is usually spread across devices. Some of it is on laptops;some on office computers;while the rest is probably on smartphones and tablets. The cloud, however, provides you with the option to securely store all your digital content in a single location, on internet-based storage. Services like DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft's SkyDrive, for instance, give you free storage on the web (you can also opt for a paid account that promises extra features). In this way, regardless of which machine you use, you can easily access all your data. The best part? The cloud also ensures that the most current versions of all your documents and files are automatically synced to your various gadgets whenever you connect to the internet. And yes, these services constantly backup your files, so the chances of losing data are next to nothing. Consider: You are working on a project report on your office computer. It is 11 pm, and you'd rather continue working from home. But what about all those other files that you might need to crossreference to complete your work? Well, if all your files are stored on the web, it doesn't matter where you access it from. Save your report on the cloud. You can then revisit the file on your phone during your commute - and when you get home, you can fire up your laptop and continue working on it as if you were doing it from your office. drive. google. com, skydrive. live. com www. dropbox. com
WORK WITH COLLEAGUES
The cloud also provides you with free and paid versions of office productivity suites. In this way, you don't have to purchase costly software licenses to run basic utilities like a word processor or spreadsheet.
More importantly, solutions like Microsoft 365, Google Docs, Live Documents, ThinkFree and Zoho allow several people to work on the same document simultaneously. You can create a workgroup consisting of your colleagues who are spread across various office branches - and then, each user who has been given access rights to the files can use an internet connection to work on those documents and collaborate in real-time. www. microsoft. com/en-us /office365/ online-software. aspx www. docs. google. com www. zoho. com www. live-documents. com
Most users will never need expensive professional-grade software like Adobe Photoshop to edit holiday photographs. Instead, free cloud-based picture editors seem like a better alternative.
Services like Pixlr, PicMonkey and SumoPaint have easy-to-use tools, allowing users to crop photos, fix exposure, get rid of red-eye, apply filters and effects, etc. You might also want to consider Aviary that not only has a cloud version for your computer, but also apps for Android and iPhones. Of course, these software give you the option to store your edited pictures on the cloud, or on your hard drive. www. pixlr. com, www. aviary. com www. picmonkey. com, www. sumopaint. com
STREAM YOUR MUSIC
Using an app like MP3Tunes, you can access your music collection on a webconnected computer or a smartphone. Sign up on www. MP3Tunes. com and you will be granted 2GB of free space (you can buy additional storage). You can upload individual files to this personalised 'Locker', or complete folders to speed up the process.
The website has its own robust player to let you listen to your tracks, anytime, anywhere. And there are also mobile apps for Android, iOS and Blackberry, which will free up some much-needed space on your phone's memory while keeping you tuned to your tunes. www. mp3tunes. com
EDIT VIDEOS ONLINE
You can also edit your videos on the cloud with tools like YouTube Video Editor and VideoToolbox.
VideoToolbox, for instance, allows users to cut or crop videos, encode them in various formats and with various codecs, add subtitles, merge files, and even add a watermark. www. youtube. com/editor www. videotoolbox. com
ANTI-VIRUS ON THE WEB
Everyone knows how critical an antivirus software is to safeguard the health of your computer, and believe it or not, the free Panda Cloud Antivirus is as good as some of the best applications out there to ensure that your PC is protected from all sorts of viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, hacking tools and myriad security risks.
Since the software is cloud-based, all the scanning of your system is handled on a remote server rather than on your machine, thus making it one of the lightest antivirus apps in the market.
And while it requires an internet connection to function, it also runs using a cache of well-known threats when you're offline. As for how effective this Panda is, consider that when it was first released in 2009, PC Magazine gave it an Editor's Choice Award for Best Free AV. Seriously, give it a try. Another option worth considering is Immunet. www. cloudantivirus. com (Panda) www. immunet. com
SYNC YOUR SESSIONS
Syncing your web browsing sessions is a hot new cloud feature. Using the Chrome web browser along with your Google account (sync feature enabled), you can now start a web browsing session on your computer, and then continue browsing all those open windows from your smartphone. All the tabs that were open on Chrome on the PC will be neatly lined in a list in Chrome on your mobile device.
Firefox and Safari also offer similar functionality, though the latter only works with Apple products. On a similar note, apps like InstaPaper or Pocket - earlier called Read It Later - let you sync your reading list across various mobile devices. www. getfirefox. net www. apple. com/safari/download www. getpocket. com www. instapaper. com
How often have you come across an unknown file format that cannot be opened on your computer? If you say "a lot", you will love Zamzar - a cloudbased service that converts file formats for you. For instance, if you have a. docx file but don't have the version of MS Office that can open this file, you can use Zamzar to convert the file to a. doc and open it with the older version of Office. The web service supports files up to 1GB.
Or, you can upload a 1GB MP4 file and ask Zamzar to convert it into an AVI. Of course, depending on its size and format, a file may take anything from a few seconds to over an hour to convert. Once Zamzar finishes the job, it sends a link to the user's email address from where the converted file can be downloaded. www. zamzar. com
THE OS IN THE CLOUD
To truly understand the powers of webbased computing, consider JoliOS - a free Linux-based operating system that can be installed on almost any laptop or desktop. The OS comes with nearly 1, 500 preloaded apps including common ones like Gmail and Dropbox, which connect to the web. For storage, JoliOS uses JoliCloud, which helps users access their files from anywhere.
Those looking for an alternative might also want to consider the ChromeOS that powers Google's Chromebooks. www. jolicloud. com getchrome. eu/download. php
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