When most people talk about “cloud” computing they’re usually referring to an application that is not installed on a local computer that you access via the internet AKA Software as a Service (SaaS). Salesforce.com, ClientLook, Google Apps…those are SaaS/”cloud” applications.
But there’s also cloud platforms (APIs…) that allow you to develop web based applications or infrastructure clouds – public ones like Amazon’s Elastic Cloud – or private ones created by companies for internal use. Commercial agents don’t normally get involved with the latter two – those tend to stay in the realm of programmers/developers/IT departments.
The big attraction for individual users is access – you can connect and use the application from any web-enabled device through a web browser or sometimes using a proprietary app (like Salesforce.com’s mobile app). That’s also a downside – no internet connection, no access – and that’s often enough to scare plenty of people from using them.
But depending on the type of application, you may still be able to store and access data/documents locally (like your contacts on your cell phone or use Word to work on documents and upload/sync later). This might sound as the best of both worlds, but it can negate the other advantages of cloud applications – no fooling around with software upgrades or maintenance, centralized document storage and you’re always backed up/synchronized.
And then there’s security. This is more of an issue for companies with sensitive information but individual users need assurances that their data is protected, so look for SSL (the website will start with https instead of http) or other data encryption offerings.
Since there are thousands of cloud apps to choose from for individual use, consider how you work and what you’d be comfortable with storing/working with online. If you like the idea of moving everything off your computer and into the cloud, you’ll want a full featured set of apps like Google Apps or Zoho. Or maybe you’ll pick and choose based on what you want to access remotely, whether you want to share with others or other features the application may offer. Here’s a few categories and apps to try:
- Email – any web-based email system is considered a cloud app – Gmail or Yahoo are your best bets. Most will also manage contact information.
- Calendars – integrated into many web-based email systems – some even include reminders – but if you’re just looking for something basic, try Freeminder or Mark the Day
- Tasks/Lists/Notes – not all Email or Calendar apps have these features so ifi you’re a big list/note taker, check out Evernote, Toodledo and Remember the Milk (integrates with Google Calendar and other services).
- CRM – if you need something more than basic contact info/appointments, try ClientLook, Salesforce, Zoho CRM
- Project Management – built into many CRM cloud apps (including those above) or stand-alone apps like Basecamp or Mavenlink.
- Productivity Software (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations) – Google Docs, Zoho, OfficeLive. Some of these will include project management type features like doc sharing. None of these are suitable for those who need intensive spreadsheet capabilities.
- Presentations – Go beyond the meager features in the Productivity group with Prezi or SlideRocket