Are those rain clouds?

There is a lot of hype lately around cloud computing and moving everything into the cloud. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon myself to an extent with email and file synchronization. The question becomes is this a good approach to computing or a potentially damaging fad?

For years we’ve been told it’s OK to let someone else manage our email or our calendar or any one of a number of other activities. I still remember Hotmail before it was a Microsoft product. Even then moving our email online didn’t seem like all that bad of an idea, although it did remove a lot of the functionality of programs like Microsoft Outlook or Eudora. Still, being able to access our email from anywhere really helped as we all learned to use more than one computer in our daily lives.

Today, with online services providing far more than email is it still a good idea to keep everything we can in the cloud? Take Google Docs for example. It provides basic functionality for those of us who need to write a paper or use a spreadsheet, and it does so at a price anyone can afford. On the other hand, it does not have the features of the popular office suites such as MS Office or OpenOffice, and what happens when we cannot connect to the Internet? Believe it or not there are still a few places out there that don’t have an access point, and there is always the danger of the access point going out. This problem alone should have many of us who are also students worried. If we rely to heavily on these services and something goes out right before a deadline we are simply out of luck. There is nothing we can do about it.

The other question I have is security of much of the new information we put online. In the case of email it is being transmitted and stored for at least a little while on the web regardless of what we do. Moving to an online email provider such as GMail or Hotmail just leaves the email online a little longer. In addition, unlike word processing, when the Internet is out there is little that can be done with email whether on the local machine or on the cloud. For documents however it gets a little dicier. What happens when you put some sensitive information online and forget to log out of the website your using? Even forgetting to clear the cache on a public computer can result in someone having unlimited access to numerous documents they shouldn’t normally know anything about.

In my own work I find the cloud very handy for certain functions such as email, file syncing, and sharing pictures with friends and family. I have yet to be sold however on using other apps online as there are plenty of good free applications that can allow me to work on my local machine without worrying about connectivity problems, lack of functionality, or the security issues that arise when you put your sensitive information on someone else’s computer. It’s rather like a passing cloud on a hot day. It’s nice for something, but can really put a damper on things if it starts to rain.