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Cloud Services: A Definitive Explanation

It seems like every software package is starting to offer cloud services, but what does that really mean? With so many types of software out there it is often difficult to navigate the changing landscape of what they can do for you. When you purchase, subscribe or download new software, most will have a new feature that will attempt to get you to store your data with them in the cloud. Software vendors like Microsoft, Google, Apple and even smaller services like Dropbox all offer these types of services.

Storing your data and information in the cloud means that you are trusting a service to securely backup your information on their servers.  This means your information can be more secure from disk crashes and allow more power for collaborate than ever before.

I will briefly outline some of the larger services, but this is by no means a complete list. There are just too many of them out there and each performs a variety of functions that it’s too much to list them, all. This is more a survey of some of the most popular to get you started.

First, one of the most well known is Google Apps (GA). With GA you get a host of cloud services, including Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Drive and Gmail at the most basic. However, they have many more. Google Docs is your online space for creating documents (think Microsoft Word). If you have used Word then you will be able to use Docs. Google Sheets is your area for creating spreadsheets (think Microsoft Excel). Google Drive is your online storage area that holds all of the services, Docs, Sheets, Gmail and Drive storage. The great thing about GA is that you can share these resources and allow others to view or collaborate with you. It is also a great place to keep any files that you would need to access from other places like home or on your mobile device.

Next is Apple’s services called iCloud. This service is your space for Apple Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Reminders and my favorite Find My iPhone, which is an Apple service you can also install on your PC and mobile devices. Just like GA it has text, spreadsheet editors and storage space. It can also be configured to keep your photos and bookmarks on your phone safe. Some of the sharing that happens with GA is a little more difficult with iCloud. Overall, it is a great service but geared more for personal use.

Next is Microsoft’s Office 365 service. This is closest to Google Apps. It offers an online version of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, Calendar, People and OneDrive. I admittedly know the least about this option, as we primarily use Google’s products, but they offer the full suite of Office solutions.

Dropbox is the last, and this services does exactly what its name implies. It is a box (or folder) to drop your files. It syncs your information online and allows sharing just like the other services. However, this one is more limited.  It does not offer any applications or editing apps to go with the service. It is simply storage. If all you need is a place to access or share files then this is the one for you.

All of these services offer desktop and mobile compatibility to one degree or another. Often you can just put a file in the correct folder and it will automatically upload and be ready for online access. So, no matter what option you choose, your files, email and storage can be more secure than ever and at the same time more shareable than ever.