There is an important shift happening on the Internet, one that started only a few years ago. There are web sites online today which work just like an application running directly on your computer. Sometimes this type of web service is called Web 2.0, or sometimes called ''Cloud Computing.'' When a chart is drawn showing a computer network, the standard symbol for the Internet has become a cloud. This symbol for the Internet is where the catchphrase ''cloud computing'' was born.
You may have heard the term ''Web 2.0.'' No, there isn't a new Internet out there; it only refers to the new type of web sites being created on the 'Net. Web sites like MySpace and our own CU site (cu.post-journal.com) are examples of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 sites have interaction with or can be customized by the user, not just the author.
Normally, to run a program on your computer, say an office program - word processor, spreadsheet, etc. - you buy a box with discs that you use to install the software on your computer. Since software is just bits of data, why not have the program on the 'Net? This can save on production costs - the cost of the box, the discs, instructions, etc. For the publishers, they don't have to ship millions of boxes to stores where people have to drive to and purchase. Of course, one of the problems with cloud computing is that you need to be connected to the Internet to get access to your information - the faster the connection, the better.
One of the biggest players in Cloud Computing has to be Google. Most people know Google as a search engine, a place where you type in some key words on a subject of interest and get a list of web sites that match. Google is much more than a search engine, their main business is actually advertising, and they do a very good job at it. Google's first ''cloud'' software was G-Mail, a web-based e-mail client. They now have Google Docs (office suite), Google Calendar, Google Earth, Picasa, YouTube, Blogger, Groups, Orkut (social networking similar to MySpace or Facebook), and Google Talk (text and voice chat).
Adobe has entered the fray of Cloud Computing with two new online services. Adobe is best known for Photoshop. They are counting on this with their new site Photoshop Express (www.photoshopexpress.com). To handle document needs, Adobe has www.acrobat.com.
Photoshop Express is an amazing online photo organizer, gallery, and even photo editor. Express goes beyond a normal photo gallery Web site. The ability to catalog and store your images on-line is nothing new, but the ability to do things like retouching and color correcting is. Check out Photoshop Express if you are into digital photography.
For those who need to organize and create portable documents, then Acrobate.com is the place for you. The Web page states ''Use Acrobate.com to create and share documents, communicate in real-time, and simplify working with others.'' Acrobat is Adobe's universal document creator program, which is used in conjunction with Acrobat Reader to create and open PDF (Portable Document Format) files. By turning your documents, whether they are text files, forms, or even a newsletter, into the PDF format, they can be read by most any computer while still retaining all the fonts and graphics of the original document.
To go along with their new Acrobat.com service, Adobe purchase Buzzword, an online word processor created by a small company called Virtual Ubiquity. Added to this mix is Adobe's ConnectNow online conferencing system. This allows users to connect together by using audio or video conferencing, using webcams, or even sharing computer screens. In the end, the documents you create can then be converted into PDFs and shared with anyone.
Probably the most amazing Cloud Computing site I have seen recently is called 280 Slides (280slides.com). This is a full-blown presentation program, much like Apple's Keynote or Microsoft's PowerPoint, and it's totally free (for now). Here you can create a business presentation or slide show of your family vacation. It has built in themes, access to media files (like YouTube videos), and the ability to share your show with others (through e-mail or a service called SlideShare). Your presentation can even be embedded into your own website or saved as a PowerPoint file. This site is very polished and shows what Cloud Computing can really be.
Apple has dabbled with Web 2.0, but since they introduced their iPhone last year, they are now diving deep into cloud computing. When the iPhone was released in June of 2007, Apple locked the smart phone so that the user could not install of any additional software. The only way around the limitation was to create Web Applications, programs that could be run from the built-in Safari web browser. Apple has since decided to open the iPhone for other applications, but web applications will still be a big part of the iPhone, and Apple.
Announced at the 2008 WWDC, Apple has revamped .Mac renaming it Mobile Me. While this is not just a name change, Apple has added some Cloud Computing functions. With a Mobile Me account, you will be able to access your e-mail, calendar, and contacts from any modern computer connected to the Internet. When logged in, these applications look amazingly like the actual software running in OS X. Mobile Me will be available starting later in July, when the new 3G iPhone is released. Mobile Me is a subscription service that runs $99 a year (Amazon sells .Mac now for $78, which should automatically upgrade to Mobile Me when it starts next month).
As long as you have a modern computer (the latest Mac OS X or a PC with XP or Vista) and high speed Internet access, cloud computing is a viable alternative to some types of traditional software. While Google Docs is not going to replace Microsoft Office for most businesses, it can replace it for the home user or anyone who only occasionally needs Office compatibility. Photoshop Express is not going to replace Elements or the full Photoshop CS3, but it is a very useful tool for anyone who needs simple editing or organizing of their digital photos. Cloud Computing is here now, and can be a powerful tool for those who can use it.