Tech Talk: Free software shows clouds have a silver lining

Pixlr is a free Photoshop-like app you use in your web browser

Pixlr is a free Photoshop-like app you use in your web browser

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THE move towards cloud computing – keeping your music, pictures and documents on an online server instead of your own hard disk – is hastening the demise of the kind of software you buy in a shop and bring home in a box.

Microsoft Office, Photoshop and hundreds of other programs are going the way of the typewriter and the cassette tape, at least so far as home use is concerned. Today there are web-based tools to do everything those packages did, and more besides. Some require a subscription; others are free. Very few will run you the three-figure sums Microsoft is fond of charging.

The rise of cloud-based apps has been fuelled by necessity: many of devices simply don’t have hard disks. This includes not only iPads and other tablets but also the latest generation of laptops – Chromebooks – which use a browser-based operating system from Google.

Pixlr is among the new breed of cloud apps: A Photoshop-like program which edits and enhances your pictures with impressive speed and simplicity. There’s nothing to install; just go to www.pixlr.com and start editing. Your pictures can be on a PC, camera or in an online library, and you can save them in a variety of formats.

The most startling feature of Pixlr is that it does almost everything Photoshop does yet costs nothing. Photoshop, on the other hand, is £330 or £50 for the consumer version. The only disadvantage is that you do, obviously, need internet access.

You don’t necessarily need to be online to access documents, though: all the major cloud services support downloading to your phone, tablet or computer. But keeping everything in sync is not always easy – each app behaves differently. You can install a specialist app like DropSync or FolderSync to upload and download files automatically – but even then the results can be unpredictable.

Remember, you’re not restricted to using a single cloud service. Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive and others all offer a free allocation and you can set up accounts with each of them.

It was a common worry when these services were new that uploading data to some anonymous disk in the sky was inherently insecure. In fact, the reverse is true – no one has yet left a cloud on the train. So long as your password is safe, so are your documents.

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