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How the Apple iCloud could change computing

Apple made some rather impressive announcements this week. And although people will roar at the news about the new Lion OS, I think the biggest thing was the fact that the company is getting into cloud computing.

Of course, the company has to put its stamp on things, hence it’s called the iCloud. But what exactly is an iCloud? What does it mean for government? And how is it different from all the thousands of cloud-based systems GCN has written about over the years?

First, in terms of the direct effect on government agencies, there probably isn’t any, unless an agency happens to use a lot of iTunes content for presentations and things such as that. If your agency uses iTunes, that process will be a lot easier.

The coolest thing about the iCloud is that, like almost everything else Apple-related, the implementation of the cloud computing technology should be extremely intuitive once it gets fully off the ground in the fall, though some of the services are available now.

Kudos go to Apple for taking a complex topic like cloud computing and making it simply work for consumers without really having them need to think about it too much. That, more than anything else, could change the computing world.

Here is how the iCloud works: Every Apple device, such as desktops, iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches, can now connect to the cloud wirelessly. This means users have access to all their documents, applications, photos, calendars and e-mail messages from every single device they own that can connect to the cloud, and from any location.

Backups to the iCloud happen automatically every day as long as a device is connected to the Internet — and of course, being connected wirelessly counts.

As a nice little bonus, any music you buy from the iTunes store can be listened to on any device connected to the iCloud. I’m amazed that they are offing this as a free service, even if there are some necessary limits due to it being a massive shared space. Users can store up to 5G of documents inside the iCloud, and photos are only able to stay inside the cloud for 30 days. The iCloud is replacing a service Apple named MobileMe, which was largely unused and cost $99 per year.

Because a lot of iDevices are all about music, Apple put extra emphasis on that part of the service. For $25 per year, you can even sync music that you have not purchased from iTunes into the iCloud, making it available on any connected device.

How it works: Apple will scan your devices for music that you ripped from a CD, bought from another store or acquired in almost any other method. If it finds a match in the massive iTunes catalog, then that song is available on any device you own that is also connected to the iCloud. If no match is found, say for clips of your personal garage band playing a gig, it’s not a problem. The song is simply uploaded to the iCloud and made available to all your devices that way. That $25 per year lets you do this process with up to 25,000 songs.

So although there may be little direct effect on government, the indirect effect will be huge, because it may for the first time give huge numbers of people real experience with that crazy thing called The Cloud.

No longer will people need to be told what cloud computing is all about, because they will be using it daily. And more than anything else, that could change the computing landscape because it will affect everyone, even Uncle Sam.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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