I’ve been fascinated with cloud computing for a while now and have been moving more and more of my work (both personal work and job work) into the cloud.
I won’t go into a lot of details about how it works since that information is available elsewhere, but, in short, cloud computing allows you to access applications and storage on the Internet, thereby not requiring you to have software packages and storage on your computer. Most people do a lot of cloud computing without thinking about it as such, such as writing to a blog that’s not self-hosted.
Why does this matter, and, why particularly would this matter to a writer? One benefit of cloud computing is that it allows you to be more mobile. I recently purchased a netbook which is small and light. This particular netbook has a nice amount of disc space but many are rather limited. My Asus does not have an optical drive, which means either I need an external drive to load software or I have to download software. Or rely on “cloud” applications, which I’ll detail in a bit.
The other major benefit is that cloud computing reduces the need for version control. I write on my home PC, my netbook, and sometimes I’ll even work at lunch hour on the job. So, I work from 3 different computers. In the “old days” I would have to move files using a flash drive from one computer to another and, yes, I made mistakes and not always be working on the most recent version. With cloud computing, you can access the same exact files from different computers.
Another major benefit of cloud computing–one that I find more useful for the job, not so much for my writing–is the ability to easily share and edit documents.
And let’s not forget that most of these applications are free, at least for the basic service.
In a more practical sense, how does this work? I’ve played with a few different applications and am settling in on the ones that seem to be working for me.
One of the most popular online applications is Google Docs, which consists of word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. I have also recently tried Adobe Buzzword which is just a word processing application. Both are very convenient, but are limited as far as how much formatting you can do. Both allow you to upload existing documents and export them into common file types such as .doc or .pdf. Buzzword is a little slower to load than Google Docs but offers more formatting options. However, I found that it did some funky things to my documents on export. I would recommend either for drafts or brainstorming but would work locally to put a final polish on a document.
Dropbox is an excellent resource for remote storage. Dropbox basic is free and offers 2GB of storage. If you get a referral, both you and the person doing the referring get an additional 250MB of storage. Feel free to use my referral link to take advantage of the extra storage.
To use Dropbox, you need to install a very small application on your computer. This application allows you to have a folder on your desktop (or wherever you like) that functions like any other folder. You can drag and drop or cut and paste any files or folders into Dropbox and then access it from any other computer onto which you’ve loaded the application. As a Dropbox user, you also have access to your files via their website, so you can get to your files even if you don’t have the application loaded.
Although Dropbox also has options for sharing files with other Dropbox users, I am inclined to continue using GoogleDocs at work since many people already use it, and it seems to be an easier option for the workplace since it does not require the application download.
I also use some cloud applications for keeping on task and keeping organized, and I will write about them in another post.