Making the cloud pay

Everybody's doing it. No, it's not the Macarena or the Monster Mash. Software developers are moving into the cloud. And everyone seems to be pursuing a somewhat different strategy for making money.

Google Apps and Zoho are already there with a mix of released and beta products.

Google Apps offers a surprisingly useful set of applications online, most of which are available at no charge to the user. Document editing, a calendar, e-mail and online chat ' you can access all of them through your Web browser and store your documents online.

There are, of course, limitations. You can upload a document no larger than 500K (1M for spreadsheets) with the free edition of Google Docs, and you're going to see advertising along with your e-mails. What's more, storage for your e-mail is limited to a little more than 6G. If you want to lose the ads and get as much as 25G of storage, you're going to have to shell out $50 per year for a single-user account.

Zoho offers a much broader set of applications and doesn't set limits on storage. Most of the basic applications are free, including a word processor, spreadsheet, planner, presentation manager, chat utility and wiki editor. There is no integrated e-mail yet, but an e-mail application is in private beta.

And what about the 800-pound gorilla? Yes, Microsoft is also moving quickly to the cloud on several fronts. Not surprisingly, given Microsoft's longtime investment in delivering applications to the desktop, the company's approach to the cloud is to use it as a place for storage and interaction rather than applications.

Microsoft Office Live and Groove deliver a set of workgroup communication, editing and document-sharing tools.

And Microsoft has just gone into beta with a new product dubbed Live Mesh, which focuses on hands-off synchronization of data on your various devices ' desktop and laptop PCs, smart phone ' so you can access it wherever you are. The product also promises to provide tools for sharing data with others and checking the status of those in your mesh.

Like others with cloud offerings, Microsoft plans to offer much of Live Mesh's functionality for free. 'For example, we expect to continue to provide at least 5G of storage for free,' a Microsoft spokesperson told GCN.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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