Help File: What "the cloud" is and is not online; a judgment call on keeping Java

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 3:57 PM

Q: Can you please explain what "the cloud" is supposed to mean to home computing?

A: Vague references to "the cloud" as some sort of anthropomorphized online being can be confusing.

But "cloud computing" is nothing more than a fancy phrase for having an Internet site host your data and the programs you use instead of keeping them on your computer.

Think of how Google Docs compares with Microsoft Office: In Google's set of Web-hosted applications, you have nothing to install beyond a browser and can pick up your work from almost any computer on the Internet - or even many phones.

Microsoft's disk-bound programs, however, work even when your Internet connection doesn't.

As broadband access becomes even more widespread, cloud computing will become a more logical choice. But you'll still have to decide how you feel about such basic issues as storing your data on somebody else's computer (hint: make sure you can take your data with you easily) and the privacy you're granted by a cloud service.

Keep in mind that in some cases - such as Microsoft's "To The Cloud" ads for programs you run on your computer - "the cloud" is a meaningless buzzword that is more accurately read as "software."

Q: The Secunia Web site says I have an insecure version of Java, but I can't get an update to install.

A: Do you use Java these days? If not (its main consumer use on the Web seems to be crossword puzzles, including this newspaper's), why not ditch it? I posted directions on uninstalling it in Windows and deactivating it in Mac OS X on my blog at

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