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Could you live in the cloud?

I've been giving serious consideration to trying to move to totally cloud-based computing - in other words, trying to use applications and file storage only on the Internet with nothing on my computer's hard drive except a web browser.

Why try this? It would nice to be able to work on any project, anywhere regardless of the computer one is using. Any likely 1:1 computing scenario in our school would probably involve students getting low-cost netbooks that will use cloud-based apps and file storage. I would like to see about lowering my personal hardware computing costs by using an inexpensive netbook (that is lighter and has more battery life than my MacBook as well). I'd like to lower the potential "cost" of my loss of both physical and intellectual property should my computer ever be lost or stolen. And hey, and what else to I have to do?

I don't think it is going to be as difficult at might first appear.

I would rank these as my Top Seven computer uses:

  1. E-mail. Both my school Outlook and my personal Gmail accounts already have robust online e-mail clients. My biggest challenge would be moving all my saved e-mail from my hard drive-based Entourage client to my online Gmail account and then tagging all that old e-mail so I can find it again. (I have a folder mind, not a tag mind, I'm afraid.) GoogleMail can now be used off-line in conjunction with GoogleGears.
  2. Web searching and bookmarking. I already have a delicious account so I'd just need to reimport the bookmarks now saved in my current browser.
  3. Word processing. After years of using Office, I believe I need to move to GoogleDocs for this, and the next two applications. I need to see if these programs are sufficiently full-featured and robust. While the WP seems fine for writing short pieces, will it be practical for writing a book? The presentation program lacks animation, transitions, and in-program image editing - which may not be a bad thing. With the advent of GoogleGears, I can work on stuff even when I don't have an Internet connection.
  4. Presentation creation. See #3.
  5. Spreadsheet use. See #3.
  6. Photo storage and editing. I've been storing my best pictures in SmugMug (a commercial photo storage site) for years. I have a lot of pictures that still need to be moved there. I know there are a number of online photo editing programs, including an online version of Photoshop. I have no experience using these. I suspect it would be more cumbersome moving pictures from my camera, organizing and arranging them, and posting them online without the help of iPhoto.
  7. Web page editing and webmastering. My personal blog, wiki, and website are already completely managed via an application service provider who uses online tools for management and editing. As does our school website. As do the professional association websites I help manage - Kiwanis, our lakes association, our state library/tech association, etc.

I believe I would still need clients for these applications:

  • Antivirus and anti-spyware apps
  • Adobe or other PDF reader
  • My DropBox
  • iTunes (to manage my iPod apps)
  • Mozy (to do online file backup)
  • SecondLife
  • Skype

and little helper apps like:

  • Flash
  • Quicktime and other movie players
  • File compression/decompression programs

I also recognize that were I ever to try to edit video, I'd need a full blown computer and I wouldn't be using CDs or DVDs. (When are they going to start selling movies on flashdrives do you suppose?) I use Mozy for off-site file storage, but I don't know if that is a practical solution for storing documents to which I want easy access.

So what am I forgetting, readers more techie than I? Can it be done? Is it doable but impractical?

Can my virtual life be spent in the clouds?

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Reader Comments (20)

I'm 95% of the way there. Interestingly, the most difficult part has been getting used to having to use two browsers at the same time. Firefox takes care of streaming audio (, video (, work related Google Docs...while Safari takes care of the rest. Mostly so when I accidentally kill the browser I'm not dropping my music. Strange.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Pederson

Can't wait to hear how it goes. And don't forget about Buzzword for another wordprocessing option and Adobe's Share site for storing PDFs and such.

Good luck!

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

I don't know that I could go totally online, but I look forward to reading about your experiences on making the transition.

About your question of when will they make movies available on flashdrives: I was in Target the other day and saw a few Disney movies on SD Cards. I think they were made to go in some type of Disney player, but didn't pay that much attention.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Loy

I'm not that interested in the cloud...mostly because of ownership issues. If it's on my system, I'm responsible for it and keeping it private, safe and available. If it's on Google's or Microsoft's systems, who's responsible for it? Not that these companies would let my data out in the public, but who can be sure? What happens when the cloud begins costing? Are you willing to pay the price; and can you get your information off if you can't afford it?

I'd be much more interested in a cooperative cloud, where the owners are the users and I could directly be involved in decisions relating to the infrastructure.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Ediger

You didn't mention privacy issues. Some "cloud computing" is fine, but some should be avoided. I find the trend for schools to shift their email and office work to the cloud irresponsible. To make matters worse, many schools are training students to do the same thing. A basic fact often not considered is that "cloud computing" means putting your data in a 3rd-party's hands. I've questioned this before, but would like to see more conversations regarding this issue.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I can't go completely into the cloud - yet - but I'm almost at the point where I don't need anything but what came on my computer and what Firefox/Safari links to. The amount I spend (or that my employer spends for me) on third party software has dropped to almost zero.

For word processing, it's either TextEdit (Apple's free text editor) or Google Docs. I don't use spreadsheets very often and I haven't used a "slide show" for a presentation in a long time. Photo storage is Flickr and iPhoto, both of which have all the editing capabilities I need. All the communications tools I use are free. My web publishing needs are taken care of by WordPress. PDF creation and file compression are built in.

As to anti-virus/anti-spyware/anti-malware... Why would I need that clogging up the works?

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Although I really like google and all their products, II still find google docs very cumbersome. I'm sure they will continue to improve it, but until they fix some of the editing features, I can't go to using it exclusively yet.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

@Peter is correct - what happens when that 3rd party abuses your privacy? Worse, what if they go out of business/get sold to another company? Giving up too much control over our information and intellectual property can be a dangerous thing.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLazygal

Linux is also getting into the cloud: "Karmic will also include functionality for building "EC2-style" clouds on companies' own hardware." which would eliminate 3rd Party issues.

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

I agree that complete cloud computing is undesirable due to privacy concerns--also back-up. If the company hosting your information suddenly goes bust, where will your information be.

Finally, I'm just not 100% sure we should smooth the way for Google's world take-over. Yes, this is an overstatement, and yes, I use Gmail and GoogleDocs and plain old Google because they work so well. But I'm not willing to trust them completely. For the record, I also refuse to use a cell phone as my primary phone just in case all the electricity goes out, and the old phone lines still work! (Too much science fiction in my reading diet...)

March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLibby

Hi John,

So what is the missing 5%?


Hi Ninja,

Zoho is another option as well.



Hi Lazy, Steve and Peter,

Yet, don't we trust 3rd parties with our "stuff" all the time online - banks, investment firms, etc?

Well, maybe those are bad examples!

Concerns noted, but I believe this is an area where we will have little choice but to trust. (And keep backups on paper or a separate storage device!)


Hi Tim,

Yup, for our teacher computers we are spending almost nothing on software here anymore either.

I DO worry about what happens if the network goes down - potentially we lose ALL productivity (plus voice, video, etc!) This is why we still need GoogleGears or OpenOffice on machines as well.

Thanks for observation,


Hi Libby,

Yes, I believe in local backups too! And I wonder why more people don't use Zoho for productivity?


Hi Robert,

The version of Firefox that runs on my little Linux ASUS works just fine too.


March 17, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

"I believe this is an area where we will have little choice but to trust."

Why would you believe that you'll be forced to put all your data on 3rd party servers? Sensitive data should be kept local and I see no reason why the choice to keep it local would be taken away.

There is nothing wrong with GMail or GoogleDocs. What is wrong is using such services when privacy is needed.

March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Hi Peter,

Again, there is already so much "private" data - financial, health, e-mail, etc - stored on 3rd party servers, I don't see why one would worry much about a few letters or spreadsheets. But I respect the right of anyone to protect his/her privacy as he/she will. I suspect the best solution is to lead a blameless life, but that is easier said than done!

All the best,


March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I have some concerns about going all Cloud. Concern about my computer crashing is important, but what about their server? What about the company? So many companies trying to move into the business - who will win? Who will just drop out? Even if given warning, it means moving everything somewhere else, and starting over.

I also have some big concerns about privacy. Yes, I use the internet for banking, bill checking and paying, but do I really want my grandson's and granddaughter's pictures out there? I know, only available to family and friends, but still ... I have put a large number of old family photos on flickr, but still not putting the newer ones of my grandkids

I would envision using some of these resources to act as the back up for my PC documents. If I did computer via the cloud, I would still want to use my PC as a back up to that data. I am not really sure yet.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathie

Hi Kathie,

I still like the analogy of saving one's physical valuables - under your mattress (on your harddrive) or in the cloud (in a bank).

I tend to trust banks!


February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Security worries me too! I'd like to hear more about that.

February 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJuanita

Hi Juanita,

It bears more study for sure. I'll get around to thinking about in more soon.


February 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I just sat down a wrote letter, then put it in an envelope and mailed, I also just got finished writing a check to a an electric organization, I put it in a an envelope and mailed. It is now in the governments hands-will they keep it private? ha! ha!

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBookman

I am slowly working on moving my life to the cloud, especially since I was fortunate enough to get a CR-48 notebook from Google. I really don't care about the so called privacy issues. I wouldn't store my really really sensitive documents online. Even if an online company went bust, they would give you good amount of notice ahead of time to get your stuff. If I put most of my documents into Google docs/gmail, what are the chances of Google dying?

Very unlikely.

March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFPGA


I requested a trial version of the CR-48 but did get one. I'd love to know how you like it.


March 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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