I have written a couple of articles about Peppermint Linux in the past few months (http://www.everydaylinuxuser.com/2012/09/peppermint-3-cloudy-future.html, http://www.everydaylinuxuser.com/2012/08/peppermint-linux-3-mint-with-no-holes.html).
Peppermint Linux is a lightweight distribution which provides the perfect link between a desktop distribution and “The Cloud”.
If you read the comments at the bottom of these articles you will see that there is some cynicism about how safe the cloud is.
This article is being written to go some way into explaining why I think “The Cloud” is a good thing and whilst I don’t necessarily think we should all go full tilt and get rid of our hard drives, we can use the applications and storage provided online safely and without fear.
So what is “The Cloud”?
Well as far as I can tell “The Cloud” and “Web 2.0” etc are just buzz terms devised by marketing people. In reality “The Cloud” is broad terminology for using the internet for multiple purposes.
For instance I see “The Cloud” as being a mixture of web applications such as email, word processing and spreadsheets, file storage such as image hosting and file hosting, online banking and basically any function that ordinarily would have been performed locally but which can now be performed on the web.
Should we fear “The Cloud”?
Should we fear “The Cloud”? My answer to this question is absolutely not. Of course we should all be careful and make clever judgement calls but not adopting a good idea because it might go wrong would have left us with rollers instead of wheels.
I think a great example of where the cloud has moved us forward is with banking. Now in the UK we love to hate banks and bankers. They are greedy,slimy,money grabbing and unethical (and that is just the good ones). However advances in banking in the past 20 years has really made a difference.
Some of you will remember the time when to withdraw money from bank accounts you had to walk to the bank, join a queue and wait patiently to get to the front hoping that you could get there before a couple of the tellers went away for lunch.
Then came cash machines and telephone banking. Withdrawing and depositing money became easier because of cash machines and transferring money became easier because of telephone banking. Today we have online banking and I don’t know about you but I can’t live without it. For years I have received paper bank statements which were at least a month out of date by the time I received them and their only use was to try and match the payments against the home finance application installed on my computer.
Now I know where my money is going instantly. I can transfer money between savings and current accounts to make sure I don’t go overdrawn and receive extortionate fees. I can apply for credit and with the aid of some of the newer sites I can lend money in small amounts to people.
If I didn’t trust the cloud I would lose the benefits of online banking.
One of the comments I read against the cloud is that if everything is on your own computer it is in your possession therefore you are fully in control of it. Lets consider this in banking terms. To have everything in my possession means storing all my cash in a tin under my bed. Is that any more secure than my money sitting in a bank account with a major bank covered by regulations and government guarantees? If my bank gets robbed I lose nothing, if I left my money in a tin under my bed and my house gets burgled then I lose the lot.
Banking isn’t the only area of the cloud that has improved my life. The ability to write documents online using Google’s office suite has proved invaluable. Of course I can use desktop applications like LibreOffice for writing documents but using Google gives me extra benefits. If I want access to my documents created with LibreOffice I either have to carry them on a pen drive, external hard drive or upload them to the web somewhere where I can access them. If I upload them to the web then I am in fact using another cloud service.
So which is safer, carrying my documents around on a pen drive or having them stored on a service such as Google? If someone guesses my password or gets past my security question then of course they have access to all my documents, however if my pen drive falls out of my pocket then I not only lose my documents someone still has access to my documents and even if they are encrypted certain people would be able to crack the encryption given enough time.
Another great online service is the ability to store all my family photographs online and share them with friends and family. In the past I would have had to send a film off to Truprint, pay £1.99 and wait a week or two for my film to come back. I then had to work out which pictures were worth getting copied to send to family and friends. Now I can use the digital camera and instantly delete the photos not worth keeping and upload the rest online.
The great thing about such services is that I can now access those photos from absolutely anywhere. The great risk of course is that the service is removed without warning and that I lose all the photos. I think it is only prudent to keep a backup of all the photos on DVDs but I also think that this isn’t just the case for cloud services but for normal desktop computer use. If you store all your documents and images on your hard drive it is a good idea to back them up somewhere in case something bad happens to your hard drive.
Whilst I am talking about backups what about file hosting services? Ubuntu One, Google Drive and Dropbox give you the ability to backup important files to the cloud where they can be retrieved from anywhere. You can also choose to share the files with other people.
Again the issues with such services is security and also whether the service is going to be removed at any point in time. This basically boils down to choosing good passwords and choosing reputable companies to do business with.
If you wanted to you could totally restrict yourself and stay safe in your house by bolting all the doors and windows shut every night. The same can be said for the internet. You can restrict your computer usage and not embrace new technologies
Sometimes bad things happen and the written press do nothing to help with people’s fears. Yes servers get hacked in the same way people get mugged in the street. Does a mugging in a street stop any of us getting out of bed and going to work in the morning? Of course it doesn’t.
Life goes on and the web will move on whether you are or I am ready to embrace it. I am delighted at how the web has moved on. It remains as the most important invention since the wheel.
Thanks for reading.