How (and Why) to Move Your Digital Life to the Cloud

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A cloudy, blue sky

The cloud is more than just a buzzword. Moving your digital life online — to the cloud — means being able to access your important data from all your devices, anywhere. It means not having to worry about backing files up and moving them around. In a multi-device world, cloud services are essential.

Why the Cloud?

The bad old days of connecting your PDA to your PC with a cable to sync your contacts, notes, and emails are over. People now have more devices than ever — laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and more. Storing your data with a cloud service ensures that data is accessible from all your devices. You can move among your devices, taking your data with you.

Take email, for example. In the old days, most people used mail clients that contacted their email servers, downloaded a copy of the email, then deleted it from the server. All your email was stored in one place — on your computer. You couldn’t access it from other devices. You also had to worry about backing your email up so you wouldn’t lose it.

These days, even people who use desktop email clients generally use the IMAP protocol. Rather than storing all your email on your computer, IMAP puts all your email on a server so each one of your computers and devices can access it. You can get your email from any device, and move from laptop to smartphone to tablet at will without missing a beat. The email service is in charge of backing up your email — you never have to worry about losing it if your hard drive dies.

Moving to the Cloud

Here’s how you can begin moving your digital life to the cloud:

Documents: Use a free office application like Google Docs, Office Online or Apple iWork and your documents are stored online. Access them from any laptop, tablet or smartphone — no more moving files around on USB flash drives. Office 2013 saves your documents to Microsoft’s OneDrive service by default — Microsoft wants to make the desktop version of Office work more like a cloud service so your documents can be available anywhere.

Files: Store your files in a cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive and they’ll be accessible everywhere. If you use multiple computers, your files will be synced between them. When setting up a new computer, just install the client and log in — your files will be downloaded back to your computer. You can also access them via a Web browser or use an app on a smartphone or tablet.

Photos: Services like Dropbox, Google+ Photos, Flickr and Microsoft OneDrive allow you to back up your photos online. They can even be installed on your smartphone and will automatically back up the photos you take to the cloud. You don’t need to spend any time manually transferring photos to your computer or backing them up. Some of these services also work well with your computer. For example, if you’re using Dropbox on your computer, you can connect a digital camera to your computer and Dropbox will offer to automatically back up and upload the photos from that camera.

Dropbox camera photo upload dialog

Music: Why spend time downloading or ripping, organizing and backing up a huge music collection on your hard drive when you can get on-demand access to millions of songs for a few bucks a month from a service like Spotify or Rdio? If you’re attached to your current music collection, you can always upload it to a cloud music locker like the ones provided by Amazon, Google or Apple. You can then access your music from any device and you won’t have to worry about backing it up and moving it between devices.

Moving to the cloud doesn’t mean doing everything through a Web browser. Evernote is a great example here — there’s an Evernote desktop application for Windows, but it syncs with Evernote’s servers so your notes are available everywhere. Your notes don’t just remain trapped on your computer. That’s the core thing — where is your data stored? Is it trapped on your PC, or is it stored somewhere where you can get to it from any device?

Photo Credit: James on Flickr

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