Mejia: Cloud computing puts apps online

If I told you the next big thing in tech was going to be cloud computing, you might be a little confused. After all, clouds and computers don’t usually go together.

“Cloud,” in this case, refers to the Internet: a “cloud” of interconnected computers holding huge amounts of information. But cloud computing, a departure from the current infrastructure in technology, stands to become an important innovation in computer technology.

Over the last decade, as Internet connections have switched from dial-up to broadband, the Internet has morphed from a space of only text to a complete multimedia experience. The large increase in bandwidth has allowed Web sites to become more interactive and offer much more content.

Cloud computing relies on this expanded bandwidth to provide users with a variety of different online applications, ranging from word processors to calendars. Instead of going to a store, buying Microsoft Office and then installing it on your computer, cloud computing allows you to log onto Google’s site and use their word processor or spreadsheet program, right in your Web browser. This eliminates the need for users to have to buy different versions or multiple copies of a program, since a Web application works on any computer.

Even more important than cross-platform compatibility is the portability of information. This is where the “cloud” part of cloud computing comes in. When you use a Web application like Google Documents, your data is stored in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere and by anyone you choose. All of these Web applications aim to replace desktop applications, essentially freeing you from your computer.

Services such as Apple’s MobileMe aim to integrate desktop and Web apps by syncing data between the two whenever either is updated. Similar to the way e-mail works on a device like a BlackBerry, MobileMe pushes out new information to the device whenever it is received.

While the term “cloud computing” is relatively new, the concept has been around for some time. Simple online services such as Web mail, YouTube and Facebook are Web apps that could be considered types of cloud computing. But now the concept will be taken to the next level, with even more complex programs. For example, Adobe now has a version of their image editing software, Photoshop, that runs online for free. You can edit and save images online on the Photoshop web interface without having to purchase the software.

For all the benefits that cloud computing brings, there are certainly concerns as well. First of all is reliability. All of these applications require access to the Internet. Some services, like Adobe’s Photoshop Express, run only online. Without an Internet connection, you are unable to access your files. And since your information is all stored online, you don’t have a physical back-up. It seems that if you need to constantly access files, using a Web application might not be the best solution.

Security is another major concern. What happens if someone else obtains access to your data? Can you trust sensitive personal information to be safe if it can potentially be stored on a computer somewhere where you no longer have control over it? Individual Web applications’ terms-of-use policies as well as security efforts headed by the company hosting the service would hopefully solve some of these problems.

In all, with a couple of caveats, cloud computing stands to be a huge benefit to consumers everywhere. With the number of computers around today and the greater levels of Internet literacy, it only makes sense to use the Internet to connect everyone and their information.