Cloud computing -- a networked computer system that harnesses the resources of several servers to complete tasks and store data -- is shaping up to be the next big trend in the computing industry. Traditionally, only a few people could access the processing power of a supercomputer. With cloud computing, practically anyone could tap into that sort of power.
Since the debut of the personal computer, we've become used to storing information either on an external storage device like a compact disc or on a computer's hard drive. We're also conditioned to buy new machines or upgrade old ones whenever applications require more processing power than our current computers can provide. With cloud computing, the responsibility of storage and processing power falls to the network, not the individual computer owner.
Although it's a relatively young industry, many companies offer cloud computing services. One of those companies is Google. The Internet giant offers a suite of Web-based productivity applications under the name Google Docs. While these applications aren't as complex or comprehensive as the leading desktop counterparts, they have other advantages over traditional software.
The most obvious of these advantages is that the applications aren't tied to a specific computer. There's no need to download and install software on a particular machine. Any computer connected to the Internet can access Google Docs. Because each user saves information to the cloud system, he or she can access the same file from anywhere. Users don't have to worry about which version of a document is the most current -- it will always be saved in the Google cloud.
Another advantage is that multiple users can make edits to the same files at the same time. This is called online collaboration, and it could streamline teamwork over the Web. Because Google Docs preserves earlier versions of documents, there's no reason to worry about irrevocably changing a file. Collaborating on files might mean changing the way we think about document management. But it might also mean project managers can save time and effort.
What exactly can Google Docs do? Keep reading to find out.