Answer: Not any more... thanks to the concept of cloud computing.
Cloud computing is not a new concept, but has been creating a lot of buzz lately. Basically, it's the concept of having secure access to all your applications and files from any network device (i.e. desktop PC, laptop, tablet, netbook, smartphone, etc) without being tethered to a single device.
Sidebar: Interestingly enough, netbooks were created with cloud computing in mind.
All of your personal files such as pictures, videos, music, word processing files, spreadsheets, presentations, etc can be created and/or stored in the cloud. Cloud computing eliminates the aggravation of installing and upgrading software, not to mention the need for a high power PC. It provides access to your data instantly, whenever you want it, no matter where you are.
When we Geeks say "The Cloud", we typically mean a service provided over the Internet. Although, the Cloud could also be your company's network. This provided service could be data storage and backup services such as Dropbox, Mozy, or Carbonite where you have to manually copy files over for later retrieval.... or it could be a application service, a.k.a. "software as a service" (SaaS), allowing you to create a word processing document, spreadsheet, or presentation, host an online company meeting, or even play games... all without lugging around your laptop or CD/DVD or thumb drive. It is possible that your company may be using cloud services without you even knowing it. Using a web-based email service such as Gmail or Yahoo! is an example of a cloud service because your email is stored on servers across the Internet. Even your desktop email software, such as Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, or Mozilla Thunderbird, can use servers in the cloud to store your emails.
There are many perceived advantages to Cloud computing including device and location independence, security, agility, scalability, performance, and maintenance to name a few. Cost is claimed to be another advantage, although it seems to be one of those things where "it depends on how you look at it". Regardless of whether you use a Mac, Windows, or Linux powered device or a tablet, smartphone, or netbook - If you can connect to the Internet, you can utilize cloud services. This advantage alone can make cloud computing attractive to businesses who utilize mobile workers, have telecommuting needs, and outsourcing services.
Apple & Google
Two of the more prominent players in this Cloud computing game are Apple and Google. They both already dominate the smartphone and mobile device markets. Google already has a host of applications in the cloud, whereas Apple just recently acknowledged the cloud as the new center of the digital world. However, each company has taken a different approach to cloud computing.
Like most everything Google does, their cloud computing concept is Web-based. To access most of Google's services, all you have to have is a device with a web browser and an Internet connection. Google has 60+ products and services, many offered at no charge. Some services familiar to most, include Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Chrome, and of course Google Search. Some maybe not so familiar are Google Bookmarks, Google Finance, Google Gears, YouTube, Google Analytics, Orkut, iGoogle, Google Health, and Blogger (in which this blog was created and posted). There are many more. So, to find out what these services are.... Google it! :)
Since Google designs it's services for simple web-based access, your Google hosted files and folders are not device dependent. You can access your Google Docs files from an Android device or from an iPad. You can create and update your blog from your Galaxy Tab or iPhone using Google's Blogger service. Essentially, with the Google cloud experience, you will create and update your documents in the cloud and those people you have access to your documents can see it using a web browser.
Apple has taken an app-centric approach in it's new iCloud service. Apple noticed the problem with keeping your devices, whether a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, up to date and in sync. Their solution is a series of services that syncs all your music, photos, email, contacts, apps, documents, etc and automatically pushing it out to all your devices. Unlike Google, iCloud's document syncing is not web-based. Instead, Apple created several APIs (application program interfaces) that developers can embed in their apps. These APIs will tie the documents created in an app to that app. This will allow you to use the same app you created the document with to edit it later, regardless of which device you choose to edit it from. And when you make any changes, your updated version is automatically synced to all your other devices, without having to use another app to move or upload your files.
Confused yet? Let me give you an example comparing the two approaches...
Say you created a document you plan to submit in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on how Kardon Technology swooped in and saved the day for your business in record time when your network crashed. While in a cab on your way to a meeting, far away from your PC in your office where you started creating this article, you decide you want to add to your article and give a shout out to Jason, the Kardon Tech Geek, who not only raised your crashed network from the ashes but also provided a plan to help prevent this from happening in the future.
Now if you drink the "Google approach to cloud computing" kool-aid, you realize all you need to do is access your article in the Google cloud from your iPhone and add your changes. You will use the web browser right there on your iPhone. There is no need for any special software or apps to do this.
But if you subscribe to "Apple's iCloud approach", you still are able to access your article on your iPhone as it was automatically sync'd there after you initially created it from your office PC. But, now you will use the same app to make your additions as you did to create the article. Once you finish, your updated version will be automatically sync'd to all your other devices, including the PC back at your office... you know, just in case you decide to nominate Jason for a Nobel Peace Prize or something. :)
Summary: Google provides services that allow you to access to your data, create and update documents and even share them with others. All you need is a web browser and Internet connection. Apple, on the other hand, syncs your data from say Google Docs to your Mac at home, your office PC and your Android smartphone all the while allowing the same editing experience independent of which device you created the document on to which one you are accessing it on now.
Suffice it to say, cloud computing considers your data to be the most important factor and all devices are just a means to access that data. The vision of cloud computing is evolving - I can't wait to see what they come up with next.
Sidebar: Apple's mostly free 5GB of storage iCloud approach will replace their costly MobileMe service, although you will be able to purchased more space. While Google's SaaS approach is free for those with personal accounts. Google does have a cost for some services such as Google Apps for Business.
So, which approach do you think is the best cloud computing solution? Apple's iCloud or Google's myriad of web services? After all, both companies have developed an approach that they feel is most important to users.
Check out this article Apple cloud vs. Google cloud: The philosophical differences for a look at two different approaches to cloud computing.