Working With Files Online
You probably already work in what many people call the cloud and not even realize it. I personally find the term annoying, because it applies a cute label to a way of computing that’s been around for quite some time. Just call things what they are. If you use Facebook or Twitter, your data is hosted outside of your computer and accessible from any device with an internet connection. Your photos, posts and links are all stored on remote computers. That’s all the cloud really is, a web site.
There are other things that you can do besides using social networks. Online document services can be used to create, share and edit documents. New devices such as the iPad will make this even easier no matter where you are. For example, you could create and save a presentation to an online service from your desktop computer. On your way to a meeting someone in your office could enter final images, details and information. When you share the presentation with your client all the last minute changes will be included.
Online Files and Applications
Google Docs is a document service that will give you the ability to store and share a file of any format online. You could consider this a separate internet hard drive. If you want to work on a file from home, you would save it, upload it to the service, and then download it from home. When you finish, you can save, upload and again download it from work. This could be very useful if you’re on a work trip or an a different computer.
A more connected option eliminates file uploads altogether. You use your browser instead of desktop applications such as word processors, spreadsheets or even presentation tools. You log into the service and work on your files directly online. You’ll want to use a newer browser such as Google Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer 8. All of these are free, and Chrome in particular, should run fine on most systems.
One disadvantage with this option is that features will be simpler and more limited than what you may be used to. However, if the content is what’s most important, this is a minor point. And the simplicity of the tools can be an advantage instead. Also, if you’re on a plane and without an internet connection (although this is becoming more available) you’ll have to work on a local copy, and then update the online version.
Collaboration is a major advantage and can help you work more efficiently with clients. You can share an online version of a file and grant the other person editing or read only rights, and they will always see the most recent version. This benefit may outweigh any other limitations for you. If you currently share several documents with different people, especially outside your office, this would be very helpful and could save you time and stress.
Security and Connectivity
It can feel much safer to know that all your information is on the desktop right in front of you, and you may be concerned with not having files on your local computer. You can always periodically download copies of your online files and save them locally. With these services you trust they will be available, and larger services have had a good reputation for reliability. Network issues can happen, and a complete disconnect from your files is a possibility. However, spilling a cup of coffee on your computer, or losing power in your office can happen no matter what system you use. Also, if you have unreliable internet access and can’t switch to a better provider, cloud computing is not for you just yet.
Tools and Services
Google has two options for sharing documents, Google Docs and Google Applications. For most small to mid-size design firms, you can start with Docs and migrate to Applications as your needs grow. The service is free and you can use your existing email address to set up an account. You can check out our walk through.
Microsoft Office now offers an online version of their system as well. It does not have as many extensions as Google Applications, but it may be easier for users familiar with their products to migrate. This is also free and you can use your existing email. Go to http://bit.ly/91qbKj to learn more and sign up.
Browsers (all work on Mac or PC except for Internet Explorer)