Recently, there has been a lot of talk about cloud computing and storage. From Google’s Music Beta, to their new Chrome Operating System that will start hitting the market this month, their is a growing emphasis on delivering the cloud to consumers.

But what exactly is this new “Cloud” stuff everyone is talking about? To put it simply, instead of keeping information locally stored on a hard drive, files are kept in a different remote location and can be accessed remotely through a network. Chances are you’ve used some form of this storage without even realizing it. When you use Yahoo email or Gmail, or upload pictures to Facebook, your files and emails live on their servers. And you access them from another location. This is cloud computing in it’s basic form. And this is just the beginning.

The future of cloud systems is rapidly approaching; June 15 marks the release date of Google’s custom Chrome OS. Due to a small hard drive and low amount of processing power required to run the OS, these new “Chromebooks” boot up in under 10 seconds. Because all your files will be stored and accessed remotely, there is only ONE actual program on the computers – a modified version of the Chrome web browser that is always running. Instead of different programs for editing word documents or listening to music, there will instead be web apps, not unlike current chrome or Firefox add-ons.

Another new cloud project, also headed by Google, is called Music Beta. It enables you to listen to and sync your entire music collection anywhere wirelessly with any computer or Android-based phone or tablet. Apple is developing a similar service, but is still in talks with music publishers.

While cloud systems allow you to access your files anywhere, which is great, there are also a few downsides. Some people are worried that cloud computing would open up a whole new world to hackers. Because you could access your files from anywhere, then so could they. Developers for Google and others insist that your cloud-stored files are encrypted and impossible to crack . That’s no consolation for many of us though.

Another worry is that cloud systems would inevitably help spread the practice of piracy, for example one person could buy a song, put it in their cloud, then let anyone download that song from the cloud.

Personally I want to wait and see how well Google’s new Chromebooks perform before I start throwing all my music, pictures, videos, and files into the cloud. How about you? Are you ready to commit to the cloud yet?

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