iCloud Isn't the Only Cloud in the Sky
Apple did not invent the concept of cloud-based file-sharing services. In fact, the company even purchased the "iCloud" trademark from another company. This technology has been around for more than a decade and is currently offered by a wide range of companies for use with PCs, Macs, corporate networks, iOS devices, and other wireless tablets and Smartphones.
What Apple has done with iCloud is seamlessly integrate the iCloud service with its Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5 operating systems, which often allows your computer and/or iOS device to automatically utilize the service without any effort on your part. Thanks to extensive advertising and promotion, Apple has also made cloud-based computing a more widely-utilize, consumer-oriented feature.
Most other cloudbased file sharing services simply act like an external hard drive for data or file storage that's accessible via the web. From the computer or device you're using, you can save a file, document, or data to an off-site, cloud-based server, and than have access to it via the web from any other device.
More recently, Amazon has introduced a cloud-based music sharing service, which offers some of the functionality available from iCloud when it comes to managing your digital music library. For business users, Google and Microsoft both currently offer cloudbased file sharing services compatible with their own online-based software.
While iCloud is designed more for consumer use, cloud-based services from Google (http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/cloud.html) and Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/cloud) cater to the business user and larger-size companies (although Microsoft also offers free cloud-based services, called Windows Live, for PC users on the consumer level). Windows Live offers very similar functionality to iCloud, but caters exclusively to PC users.
For corporate users, these cloud-based services not only focus on data encryption and security but also make it much easier for employees to collaborate and share documents from anywhere and use online-based software that is cross-platform compatible. More than three million businesses currently utilize Google online-based apps and cloud-based service, just as many more rely on similar services offered by Microsoft.
Available to both consumers and corporations, Dropbox (http://www.dropbox.com) and WebDAV (http://www.webdav.com) are two of the more popular independent cloudbased file sharing services, which are compatible with PCs and Macs, along with a handful of iPhone and iPad apps. Each offers the ability to set up a free account that has a predetermined amount of online storage space that can expanded for a fee. These cloud-based services are primarily for onlinebased file sharing and storage.
Meanwhile, many mid-to-large-sized companies have established their own cloudbased file sharing services in conjunction with their private and secure networks.
If you're a consumer who has a primary computer, along with an iPhone and/or iPad, and want to easily be able to share and synchronize your files, data, music and photos, iCloud offers the perfect, low-cost and easy-to-use solution that can also be used for maintaining a backup of your iOS device.
However, if you're needs are more work-related, and you need the ability to easily collaborate with others, share encrypted documents, and utilize online-based software from many different computers or wireless mobile devices, cloud-based services from Google or Microsoft are more suitable.
Before iOS 5 and iCloud were introduced, many individual users relied on free or low-cost cloudbased file sharing services, such as Dropbox or WebDAV, to wirelessly transfer files between their iPhone, iPad, and/or a primary computer. The functionality of iCloud, as well as its seamless integration with the IOS 5 operating system and many popular iPhone and iPad apps, have made the majority of these other cloud-based services obsolete when it comes to online-based file sharing.
Regardless of which service you use, if you want or need to easily transfer files between your primary computer and iOS device, using a cloudbased file sharing service is a lot more convenient and easier than utilizing the iTunes sync process.
As third-party app developers begin making their iPhone and iPad apps compatible with iCloud and also discover new ways to utilize them, you'll soon discover that computing in the clouds gives you access to many new features and helps keep your mobile data secure and accessible from anywhere.