The Cloud Computing buzz is growing every day with a growing number of businesses and government establishments opting for cloud computing based services. On December 14, 2009, the City of Los Angeles (United States) switched to cloud computing. It equipped 34,000 city employees with Google Apps for eMail and collaboration in the cloud. The other U.S. cities already on Google Apps cloud are Washington D.C. and Orlando.
There is no dearth of Cloud Computing based services if you are ready to pay. But we all love free stuff on the Internet, and free stuff is often just as useful as the stuff you pay for. In fact, perhaps the best Internet innovation ever is absolutely free. If you guessed Google search, then you guessed correctly! I stumbled upon some excellent free software and services, though you can always debate on what makes them cloud based. Cloud Computing is still fuzzy and everyone has her or his own definition.
Update: Cloud Computing definition is no longer fuzzy. NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has come up with standard guidelines & is now widely accepted in the industry. I’ve simplified them briefly in the following post: 5 Essential Characteristics or Attributes of a Cloud Service
The Best Cloud Storage Service
Dropbox: In my opinion, this is the simplest and most efficient storage service in the cloud – think simplicity, think Dropbox. Apart from storage it offers synchronization, web sharing of files and client software for Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry).
With Dropbox installed at my office and home computers I no longer carry USB flash drive. As your files are auto-synchronized on every computer/device - no emailing and downloading of files to different computers/devices – i.e. no headache of getting messed up with multiple file versions. On a new computer (or device) you can always use web interface to access your files (photos, videos, docs etc).
Web sharing of folders/files to non Dropbox user is possible through Get link feature - instant preview (and download link) of shared file/folder through browser. It offers 2GB of Free space which can be increased up to 16GB through referral bonus. Paid accounts of 50 or 100GB are available. Dropbox for Teams offers 1TB or more of storage space. Wikipedia says: "In October 2011, Forbes published that Dropbox had 50 million users, of which 96% were using a free account”.
On a broadband connection, it should not take more than a couple of minutes to sign-up, install and get started.
It competes with Google Drive, Box.net, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive and many other similar services.
The Best Cloud Application to Manage your Money in the Cloud
Mint: A Cloud based personal finance tool to manage your money. Launched in September 2007, in just 2+ years of existence it has received 30+ prestigious web awards from the likes of CNN Money, Time, Business Week, PC Mag etc. Just create an account and access all your balances and transactions together on the web or on your iPhone. I think it’s a simple but innovative concept: All your money related accounts viz. bank accounts, credit card, loans, stock brokerage and other investments in one place.
I created an account but unfortunately none of my India based banks are supported by Mint. Interestingly, although the FAQ page at Mint explicitly mentions that currently it supports only US-based financial institutions, I found State Bank Of India (credit card account) supported at Mint (But I don’t have an account with State Bank of India). Barclays, ABN Amro and few Europe based banks are also supported but you must check at Mint for the specific details, because I did find ABN Amro but could not find my ABN Amro India Bank on their list.
If your Bank or Financial institution is not supported by Mint you can always make a request to add it.
Optional Info: Mint has following information to share about adding your bank: “Due to factors outside our control, including approval of the banks themselves, we cannot guarantee that your bank will be supported, but we will do our best. We add support for more banks and credit unions every week thanks to requests from customers like you”.
You may worry that you have to give Mint the login data for all your accounts. As per Mint:
“Mint provides bank–level data security and industry–leading identity protection. Its security and privacy have been validated by VeriSign and TRUSTe. We never know your identity. You register anonymously using any valid email address, and then add the log–in information for the online bank, credit union, credit card and investment accounts you want to consolidate in Mint.”
No wonder over 1 million customers have put their faith in Mint.
Free *Cloud based Desktop
*Optional Info: Expert opinions differ as what exactly is a Cloud Desktop / VirtualOS / WebTop / Remote Desktop / Online Desktop / WEB-OS / OOS (Online Operating System) / Virtual Desktop / DDE (Distributed Desktop Environment). I think for the sake of simplicity, all these jargons can be treated as representing almost the same thing, though with a subtle difference.
iCloud CloudMe: I love this application for its slick design. Its punch line: Your friends, files & digital life on any computer, Access, upload and share your files from anywhere, even your phone, truly represents what it does. Online storage, Photos, Music, Movies, Application development, Calendar, Mail, Media Player, Word Processors etc. It has both free and premium signup. It also offers a platform for web developers (Platform as a service, PaaS). The free account provides 3GB of iCloud CloudMe drive storage. Check out the following screen shot, which I created after signing into my free account. Here you can view the wallpaper, desktop icons, Programs (like All Programs of any Windows OS), the user name (and his photograph), Start Menu, Taskbar etc.
Update [June 13, 2011]: iCloud has recently (June 2011) rebranded its services as CloudMe. iCloud domain name was purchased by Apple and now forms the core of Apple’s cloud based music service. As per a Gigaom report the price paid to buy the domain name was $4.5million…The price of Appl’e obsession with the letter i…
Cloudo: A free computer that lives on the Internet, right in your web browser. This means that you can access your documents, photos, music, movies and all other files no matter where you are, from any computer or mobile phone. Cloudo is a hosted service, there is no hardware or software to setup and maintain, and the DDE is fully accessible from any internet connected device. Other advantages of utilizing hosted software include centralizing data backup, updates, and security at the data center as well as the benefits of lower cost which can be associated with the administration of a single global instance of software versus many local instances. Here, I have created the following screen shot after opening the Word program. You can also see the attractive media player(right hand bottom), desktop icons, wallpaper etc.
eyeOS: It describes itself as the Open Source Cloud’s Web Desktop. I found it similar to the iCloud & Cloudo described above. It has a very attractive design, but as this is just an introduction, I am not providing any distinct comparison between these services. You should go and explore: Create an Account at eyeOS to get started with this free Cloud Desktop.
The Best Free Cloud based Antivirus
The first free Antivirus from the cloud. It has received many decent reviews. PC Magazine stamped its renowned Editor’s Choice on Panda CloudAV for Best Free AV.
- No need to worry about regular updates.
- Occupies very little system resources.
- Uses collective intelligence servers for fast detection
- Simple interface.
Also protects your PC while offline (not connected to internet) as it uses a local cache of signatures from Collective Intelligence. But please note that the local cache does not maintain a signature of virus/malware which it deems dead or not in circulation.
Best *Free Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Google App Engine: Released (Beta) in April 2008, it’s a platform for developing and hosting web applications in Google-managed data centers. It virtualizes applications across multiple servers and data centers. Currently, the supported programming languages are Python and Java (and by extension, other JVM languages).
*Google App Engine is free up to a certain level of used resources. Fees are charged for additional storage, bandwidth, or CPU cycles required by the application. When I signed up in my free account, it’s showing I can build and deploy up to 10 applications. Not so sure about it as it says it will reset quotas every 24 hours; I will share about it later.
Following is an excerpt from Google App Engine’s website:
- Google App Engine enables developers to build web applications on the same scalable systems that power our own applications
- No assembly required. Google App Engine exposes a fully-integrated development environment.
- It's easy to scale. Google App Engine makes it easy to design scalable applications that grow from one to millions of users without infrastructure headaches.
- It's free to get started. Every Google App Engine application will have enough CPU, bandwidth, and storage to serve around 5 million monthly page views for free. You can purchase additional resources at competitive prices when you need them and you'll pay only for what you use.
To Sign up for Google App Engine:
- You can sign up using your existing Gmail account.
- You must provide your mobile number as Google will Verify Your Account by SMS.
- You’ll be asked to enter the Google App Engine Code which you receive in your mobile. You’ll only need to verify your account once.
- After SMS verification you’ll enter Application Identifier and Application Title (Choose any relevant name)
- You can also sign in to Google App Engine with your Google Apps account, use the following URL:
Force.com Free Edition: It’s a leading cloud platform (PaaS: Platform as a Service) for business applications and websites, an offering from the SaaS (Software as a Service) leader Salesforce.com. But you can build and run only your first application for free. Yet something is better than nothing. Just Sign up and explore.
Enjoy the freebies. Do share if you know about other free cloud based applications.
Cloud Computing Articles at Techno-Pulse