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Hey, You, Get On My Cloud

We’re entering a new era in the way we use technology: it’s time to say hello to the world of cloud computing. The basic idea is that software, services and documents are stored on a centralized network, somewhere on the internet. This allows users to access files and programs from any device, wherever they are in the world. So, it’s possible to edit documents, manage your blog, or stream media on your desktop PC, notebook or smart phone, no matter where you are. Everything is synchronized, and you don’t have to worry about your device having the right software: everything is processed and stored on the elusive cloud. Essentially, you can think of whatever computer you happen to be using as a window into your own virtual work-and-play space.

People are already using this kind of technology without even realizing it. Take Spotify: a massive, centralized music library that millions of people use every day. Or Google Docs: with its streamlined office suite, all your computer needs in order for you to be productive is a web browser. The list goes on: YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps, Wikipedia; all offer amazing services, with everything stored remotely. It’s easy to take these advances for granted but they are, without doubt, the future of the way we use computers.

But, what is this cloud exactly? To claim it’s a ‘centralized network’ is actually to miss the point. The cloud is a distributed network of thousands of computers and server across the globe. Applications and documents are hard to pin-point geographically, but they’re easy to find in the virtual world, where everybody has their own space – like your Google Mail inbox, or Flickr albums. It’s this physical elusiveness, the ethereal quality of the data, from which the cloud gets its name.

There’s currently a debate brewing over the future of the cloud. Some think that it should be a true democracy, that it should be open and shared. A bit like open source programming and Wikipedia, this would mean that users would be able to tailor the cloud to suit their own needs. They would be able to generate not just the content on the cloud, but how it works and fits together, too. On a more ideological level, it would also prevent the bland homogeneity that would come with a cloud run by large corporations.

Skeptics, though, complain that an open source cloud raise huge issues for usability. One of the sticking points with open source projects is that they are often deeply incompatible with each other, and full of bugs. If the cloud is to provide a means of improving productivity, it at least needs to work properly.  So, though there’s a lot to be said for a digital world that isn’t monopolized by the likes of Microsoft and Google, it may be the price we have to pay for a service that works properly.

Regardless of what direction the cloud takes in the future, there’s no denying that it’s here to stay. So, if you’re not already, now’s the time: c’mon, get on my cloud.