Some of the Best Clouds are Personal Clouds

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My Technologizer column over at this week is about the time I spent with a Cr-48, Google’s experimental Chrome OS notebook. It’s called “The Promise and Pitfalls of Cloud Computing.” And really, I dislike the buzzword “cloud computing” so much that was a major concession on my part using it at all. Like many buzzwords, it (A) means different things to different people, and (B) is redundant. (The “cloud” already had a perfectly good name–“the Internet.”)

As with buzzwords past, cloud computing is also so fashionable that companies are rushing to jump on the bandwagon. Lately, I’ve chatted with execs from several companies who have bandied around the phrase “personal cloud.” Each one has had a slightly different definition of what that means, so let me formulate one of my own: A personal cloud is a storage strategy that involves storing some files on local hard disks, but in a way that lets you get to the data over the Internet. It’s a cool idea–a cooler idea, in some cases, than the impersonal shared cloud which stores everything on the Internet. (More on See the ALL-TIME 100 gadgets list)

In fact, I have a personal cloud of my own. I use a service called SugarSync, but you can achieve variants of the same effect with, Dropbox, and other options. Basically, I use SugarSync to automatically back up certain folders on my computers to the cloud Internet and to sync the same folders among every computer I run SugarSync on. It lets me get at my stuff–word-processing files, images, and more–from any machine and use it with local applications. (SugarSync also has apps for accessing files from smartphones and the iPad, but I’ve focused on its PC- and Mac-based capabilities to date.)

In some ways, this is more intuitive than using purely Web-based storage, at least for us geezers who have been using old-school computers for a long time and like having everything stored the way we’ve always stored it. (I use and love Google Docs, but I still get a bit befuddled by how it organizes documents.) SugarSync,, and Dropbox all have fee-based plans that you’ll probably want to use if you get really serious about using them, but they also have freebie versions (5GB for SugarSync and, 2GB for Dropbox) that you can take for a test drive. And you can do quite a bit even with just a few gigs of space.

I still give the term “cloud computing” no more than another 18 months until it’s replaced with an equally silly, unnecessary buzzword, though. I vote for “the great binary ranch in the sky…”

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