What’s the Cloud – and How Can I Use It?

You’ve probably been hearing people talking about “the cloud” and wondered,  what is that?

The quick answer: It’s a network of servers that store information for people. In fact, most of us use the cloud. You use the cloud if you use web-based mail like Gmail or Yahoo, or a social network like Facebook; in all these cases, none of the information is actually stored on your computer.

With the cloud, instead of storing the stuff you create and the programs you use to create it on your computer’s hard drive or a CD or DVD, you save and access these things online instead. All you need is an Internet connection, and you can access your music, photos, documents and other files.

Some advantages of using the cloud:

  • Say you create an album of photos on your PC and then copy it to your tablet; when you update the album on your PC it will automatically update on your tablet, too – and on your smartphone, if you have one.
  • You took photos of your vacation with your digital camera and saved them to your computer. You stop by a friend’s to visit a few days later. With a cloud service, you can simply access the photos from your friend’s computer and show off your whole vacation album.
  • You create a list of people to invite to a family event and invite your sister to add to it. Instead of emailing the list back and forth, you can both work on the same document, and it will always reflect the latest update.
  • Storing photos and other documents in the cloud means that if your computer’s hard drive crashes, you won’t lose  irreplaceable memories and information.
  • Storing large files like photos and music in the cloud stops your computer’s hard drive from filling up – and slowing down.
  • With cloud-based applications, you don’t have to update your software once a new version is released. Many of these programs are free, which is also a plus.

Intrigued? Here are a few cloud computing services that you might look into.


Google Drive


What it is Google Drive is essentially the Microsoft Office of cloud computing. You can create word documents, presentations and spreadsheets just as you would if you were using Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, or Excel, and store them in the Google Drive cloud.

Why you might like it One of the top benefits of Google Drive is its collaborative sharing feature. After you’ve saved your document to the cloud, you can share it with someone else so both of you can work on the document at the same time. This completely eliminates the need to send updated versions of the same document back and forth by email. Instead, the version that’s saved on Google Drive will always be the most updated version.

You might also find Google Drive much simpler to use than Microsoft Office, which probably has more features than you need. If you need to make a simple text document or spreadsheet, it’s easier to do it with Google Drive instead of getting lost in the many buttons, tabs, and features of Microsoft Word or Excel. Plus, unlike Microsoft Office, Google Drive is free.

Insider tip If you’ve created a document in  Microsoft Word, Powerpoint or Excel, you can upload it to Google Drive and it will convert it for the cloud. And you can do the inverse, too.

Click here to access Google Drive
Click here to read more about Google Drive




You can store documents, music files, photos, videos, and more on Dropbox. Though Dropbox works off the cloud computing concept, it will feel very familiar if you are used to saving files to folders on your computer.

You install the Dropbox application to your computer or any other device (like your iPhone or iPad), then any time you make a change, that same change will be reflected across all those computers and devices. This is particularly helpful if you work from more than one computer. You can even access your Dropbox files from the website.


It’s also easy to share files through Dropbox because you can send people links to specific files. So if you have a photo or document you want to send to someone, you can simply email them a link to it.


Dropbox is also a great way to safely store important documents or files you may need to access later. You could upload digital files of your passport, driver’s license, prescriptions, or list of medications to Dropbox and have easy access to them in the event they get lost or stolen.


Follow this Dropbox tutorial to install the program on your computer.


Insider tip: If you refer friends to Dropbox and they join, you get even more free storage space.




Though you can use Dropbox to store photos, Flickr is a cloud storage program you can use to not only store images, but also organize them into albums and display them as slideshows. Furthermore, Flickr offers a huge amount of free storage space, which is very helpful since photos tend to be large files and people tend to have a lot of them.


Keep in mind that Flickr isn’t best for photo editing — you can’t use it to remove red eye or sharpen images. But you can add titles, descriptions, and tags to photos to better organize them. This step seems tedious, but it saves time and makes it easier to find photos later.


One features of Flickr is that you can download photos and print off hard copies. So for example, you might add all your photos from the year to keep them safe and organized, then select one to print off for a card when the holidays come around.


Insider tip: You can find friends or family who also have Flickr accounts, then follow them to see their photos. If you know their email address or are Facebook friends, you can find people you know with Flickr’s Find Friends tool. 


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