10 Ways to Make the Cloud Work for You

That guy needs to be freed from his desktop. The cloud can help with that. Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

In the early days of the Internet, storing data and accessing applications on servers located beyond the walls of our homes and offices was more science fiction than business reality. Users dug the concept, but wouldn't dream of getting real work done with a browser connected to the Internet.

For many people, the browser and the computer have since merged into a single entity. These folks no longer buy and install software. Instead, they boot up their computer, launch their favorite browser and then access a number of applications, hosted on servers all over the world. Their data is stored there, too -- out in the cloud, far from the spinning platters of their hard drives. And they're getting serious work done.

You can be one of those people, too. You still need a computer, but you don't need to invest in expensive software. Most cloud services -- or Web apps, as they're sometimes called -- are free or cost a minimal monthly fee. After that, all you need is a little knowledge about what's available. That's where this article comes in.

On the next several pages, we're going to explore how you can make the cloud work for you, whether you're a small business owner, an artist, a student or just someone looking for a cool way to connect to other like-minded individuals. Let's start with the foundation of any good cloud computing solution -- file storage and syncing.