There has been much talk in the past year about cloud computing. Some like it; some don’t. Say what you will, but there are some services that can only be provided through the cloud. As a result, the concept has been around forever and will probably never leave. There are some really stellar services available that make your computing life a lot easier. Several weeks back, I posted a question on Ask.Metafilter asking what are the favorite premium online services. Some of the answers I expected while others I had never heard of. Let’s hit the highlights (in no particular order).
- Flickr- This was one of the most oft repeated responses. Flickr is a fan favorite. It has a huge community and a great featureset for organizing and sharing photos. If you’re going to use a photo sharing service, it’s a pretty safe bet your friends already have accounts here because Flickr offers both free and paid accounts. The free account limits uploading to 100MB per month and only allows you access to your last 200 pictures. The paid account lifts both of these limits and comes with a few other perks as well like video storage for video up to 90 seconds. Paid accounts are $24.95 per year.
- SmugMug- SmugMug fans are quick to talk about features and support which are the two areas that make this service stand out. It is a photo-sharing service like Flickr, but it doesn’t have quite the userbase of the Flickr service. They do not offer a free version of their service, but users may share with people who do not have a membership. SmugMug has three different levels of accounts offering different features. Each of these is more pricey than Flickr’s service which is probably why they have fewer users. Accounts range from $39.95 to $149.95 per year.
- Dropbox- If you want an easy way to store files online, Dropbox has to be it. Install the client, tie it in to your account, and drop files into the Dropbox folder. You can also install the client on multiple machine, link all of them to your account, and wait for it to synchronize your Dropbox folder across all computers. It supports Mac, PC, and Linux. This is another service with both free and paid offerings. The free service offers a healthy 2GB of storage, but the paid version (at $9.99 per month or $99 per year) gives you a whopping 50GB of storage space.
- Backblaze- Get unlimited online backup from Backblaze for $5 per month per computer. It supports Mac and PC. Backblaze prides itself on requiring little to no user intervention. It backs up all the files on your computer. Everything. If you lose your data, you can redownload it or, for a fee, they will mail you the files on DVD or an external hard drive.
- Safari- O’Reilly Publishing offers online access to a huge library of technical books. Users may access 10 titles at a time for $22.99 per month or an unlimited number of titles for $42.99 per month. If you need to catch up on your knowledge or if you just need to keep up with the ever-changing tech landscape, this would be a cheap alternatives to purchasing a plethora of books at $40 to $60 each.
- lynda.com- For $25 per month, lynda.com offers a plethora of video tutorials for many current creative and programming technologies like Flash, Photoshop, and PHP. It seems like a great quick way to get up to speed on a particular technology that you need familiarity with for an upcoming project. You can watch some of the early lessons for free before you buy. They are very well-done.
- MetaFilter- A predictable response coming from the community, but this is truly justified. The cost is $5 for a membership. That’s not $5 per month or per year. Just $5. This entitles you to post on the “community weblog” at metafilter.com once per 24 hours and ask a question at ask.metafilter.com once per week. I have never actually posted to the blog, but I frequently tap the community for answers and am always surprised by the quality and depth of knowledge. Almost any question no matter how specialized or obscure receives attention.
I’m not entirely sold on the cloud as a place to create and store data. I will probably never subscribe to Apple’s MobileMe and be locked in to paying $100 per year for access to my data and services I have become dependent upon. However, some services are uniquely suited to being outsourced to the cloud. In these services, there is often value and justification for a reasonable subscription fee. We are not returning to the days of dumb terminals in which most of our activities take place outside our own machine, but people are beginning to realize the merits of the emerging trend of “the cloud.”