Five services that point to a bright future onlineCloud computing services, which store and process data on remote computer networks, then beam it back to a multitude of devices on command, promise to revolutionize how we work and play. A cross between online storage and streaming media, here are several ways they’re affecting our lives already:
Amazon Cloud Drive and cloud player
What It Does: A virtual storage locker that remotely and safely houses videos, documents and photos, and streams music straight to PCs, tablets and smartphones.
Best for: Casual listeners and everyday desktop users, who get 5 GB of free storage for archiving thousands of pictures, albums and files; virtual hoarders can upgrade to as much as 1,000 GB.
Killer App: Amazon MP3 purchases can be automatically added and backed up to it, then beamed down on demand via the Web, an Android device or the new Kindle Fire.
What It Does: Acts as a one-stop backup and synchronization center for apps, books, TV shows, email, contacts and calendars, plus digital singles, albums and more.
Best for: Hipsters, multitaskers and Apple disciples who want to access their multimedia, data and embarrassing snapshots from any of their iOS devices.
Killer App: For $25/year, the optional iTunes Match service can scan your digital collection for songs in its catalog, then autopopulate your cloud account without reuploading files and replace lower-quality tunes with sharper recordings.
What It Does: Provides an alternative to desktop productivity suites like Microsoft Office, offering a range of online word-processing, project management, spreadsheet and database tools.
Best for: Business travelers and virtual workforces who can seamlessly collaborate, share data and track progress over the Internet, no matter how far apart co-workers are.
Killer App: Surprisingly affordable prices. Also, added compatibility with Microsoft Office, including optional plug-ins to bridge the platforms so you can jump between computer and cloud.
What It Does: Lets gamers beam console-quality outings to PC, TV, smartphone or tablet.
Best for: Hard-core gamers with high-speed Internet connections who hate waiting for downloads and fussing with installation, or for those who want to play set-top, console-quality titles on their devices.
Killer App: Options to enjoy full-size living-room favorites — e.g., L.A. Noire — on handheld devices, and monthly unlimited-play subscription packages with more than 100 available games.
What It Does: Holds massive amounts of data of all types — videos, photos, documents, etc. — in folders that are synchronized across computers, tablets and smartphones. Update once and you update everywhere.
Best for: Frequent-fliers or business owners who need to collaborate remotely and share large files but who still want to have access to their data and content even when they’re not connected online.
Killer App: Works on dozens of devices and a multitude of platforms, including Mac, Windows, iOS gadgets, BlackBerry, Android and even Linux. So much for “accidentally” leaving work at the office.