Cloud computing has been heralded as a revolution in how we interact with technology, but few people really understand what it actually is, Conor O’Nolan explains

Cloud computing is one of the ultimate buzzwords in the world of technology today. It is almost exclusively used as a vague marketing term to make a company seem exciting when in actual fact they are doing nothing new. To try and vaguely define it, you could say it is ‘selling computing as a service as opposed to a product’.

A crude example would be a hypothetical version of ‘SicroMoft Office’ in the ‘Cloud’. Instead of paying SicroMoft money to let you install it on your computer, you pay SicroMoft to let you use the software installed on their servers, i.e. you log in to their server, edit your document, save it and log out. Some companies are already operating systems such as this (e.g. Google Docs’ editing capacities), and it is only a matter of time before other companies also make the switch.

Leaving control with the manufacturer has its advantages, but also harbours serious drawbacks.

On the plus side, it ought to cause the price of computing to come down alongside the ultimate cost of developing and distributing software. If the software breaks, users will be much quicker to force the company to fix the problem. However, if a company ever decides to withdraw a product you use or the infrastructure they use breaks, you won’t be able to use it because you won’t have the software on your machine, and if companies do offer the option to install the software on your own machine, it will most likely be prohibitively expensive in an attempt to encourage people to move to the Cloud.

Few people seem to realise that the concept of Cloud computing has been around since the 1960’s. Back then computers were extremely expensive to make, so to get around this, companies sold terminals that could access the actual computer, which was at a remote location, and users would pay for the time that they used the computer. More recently, Google partnered with Acer and Samsung to release their line of ‘Chromebooks’, a line of laptops with a uniquely limited feature set; the central application is the web browser. If you want to do something other than browse the web as normal, you install an app from the Google App Store. You can use these offline if they don’t require an Internet connection, but the computer becomes an expensive paperweight if your Internet connection dies.

Like it or not, Cloud computing, much like tablet computers, is almost certainly the way forward. Hopefully Ireland will have semi-decent Internet service providers by the time we all move ‘to the Cloud’.