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BLOG: Cloud Computing for Consumers—The Downsides

Bill Snyder | Sept. 13, 2011
The cloud should be seen as a choice for some functions, and not an absolute must have.

If you read much about tech, you've undoubtedly been told by some snarky writer that if you're not headed for the cloud, you're hopelessly unhip, behind the times, and probably overweight. You know -- the cloud, that repository of all things digital contained on giant servers owned by someone else out there in cyberspace.

Well, wait a minute. I'm not saying everything about the cloud is hype and bunk. It's not, particularly for businesses that don't need to own and operate infrastructure.

But for us regular consumers, the cloud should be seen as a choice for some functions not an absolute must have, much less a measure of your IQ and sex appeal.

The cloud has some real downsides you should know about. Here are some of them, some suggestions of how to do things down here on terra firma, and a few tips on when the cloud really does make sense.

One of the dirty, not-so-secret secrets in techlandia is that vendors want to lock you into their products. Unlike, say, makers of dishwasher soap, who also want to keep your business, but have no way to force you to stay loyal, tech vendors have a club to beat you with. It's an issue that permeates the fundamental nature of the cloud, and you need to watch out for it.

The Trouble with Offline

To understand that club, think about working offline, which is the first and most severe downside of the cloud. If you don't have a live Internet connection, there are lots of things you can't do, like see your email, edit or compose your documents, retrieve a backed up file and so on.

Nonsense, you say. Didn't Google just announce that you can work offline? Not exactly. Google has an app that lets you look at your Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs offline -- but not change them. Not so much a problem with calendar, but a big drawback with Docs. What's more, even that limited offline capability is limited to users of Google's Chrome browser. Want to use Firefox or IE? Too bad. That's what I mean by lock-in.

At some point, Google says it will introduce offline editing. However, when it does, you'll still face the lock-in problem because Google Docs is all that will work. Me, I use Microsoft Office, Open Office and Google Docs, depending on the preference of my clients. I want to work on them when I want to work on them, and I don't want to be locked in to any of them.

When the Lights Go Out
There's a somewhat different issue that's related to the offline problem: outages. And that means exactly what it sounds like it means; the service is down for some reason that has nothing to do with you. And since Google offers no support for its free apps, all you can do if there is an outage is troll the online forums and hope it gets fixed before it causes you a significant problem. Telling your boss that you can't give her the report because Google Docs is down is only a cut above the classic "the dog ate my homework" excuse.


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