Yesterday I spent the morning with my 7-year-old son at a university-based learning lab here in Boston. I had been told by the university in advance to come prepared with something to do, since my son's tests would likely run three hours and I would not be allowed to observe. I was totally fine with this scenario since I always have plenty of work to do. With my laptop and a wireless Internet connection I can get it all done from anywhere.
This new way of working is often referred to as "cloud computing." That's because we're actually storing, sharing and accessing our information through the Web—a.k.a the cloud—instead of our individual hard drives. Take this blog for example. We use TypePad to publish and archive our posts. Certainly I could write my blog posts in Microsoft Word on my hard drive and then transfer them into the blog publishing tool, but why do that when I can type right into TypePad's templates? Because there's no special software to download, I can write and publish my posts from any connected computer (including a netbook with zero software on it except for a free web browser).
Using Google Docs or BaseCamp, I can share work files with colleagues around the country and collaborate on documents and spreadsheets in real time. If you've ever sent a document to three people for edits, you know how valuable real time editing is. The most widely accepted example of cloud computing today is probably Web-based email programs. If you're using Gmail or Yahoo! mail you're already storing your personal messages and contacts in the cloud.
Most of us probably think of our individual computers or backup hard drives as our primary place to store our information and data. Sure, we might occasionally upload information we need to share (pictures or video, for example) only to have the recipient download it on the other end. But if we assume that we're always connected, via wireless networks or mobile devices, where our stuff lives becomes even more important.
And herein lies a tiny problem. Beyond the issues of security (which I won't even pretend to know anything about) Internet access can still be an issue. Yesterday, at the university for example, I was not able to connect to their wireless network without a user name and password. Then there was the downtime I spent last week in Logan airport following a mechanical problem with the plane I was taking to Chicago for BlogHer. We were told not to leave the gate area because they weren't sure how long the delay would be. I decided to spring for a day pass on the airport's wireless network (for $6.95) and 20 minutes later had to power down and re-board.
What's your experience? Are you doing more of your work in the cloud? Are you relying more on your mobile device than your personal computer? Is Internet access ever an issue for you?