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Cloud Must Search & Integrate Apps

Cloud services may be essential to modern computing, but the concept is hampered by a problematic name that means little to most people. Cloud service providers want you to believe that the cloud gives you total freedom, and some of those promises are undoubtedly true, but you remain limited by the capabilities and policies of your cloud provider of choice. Work in the cloud for everything, they say -- as long as it's our cloud and our rules.

I believe providers should strive to give users a more "cloudnostic" experience. I've just added another annoying buzzword to the tech lexicon, so let me explain exactly what I mean. A cloudnostic approach solves two major challenges presented by today's cloud services: files stored in different places and the range of productivity apps that people use.

Cloud service providers usually want us to store all our files on their platform, but humans simply don't work like that. Our stuff is everywhere, from our computers and phones to external hard drives -- not to mention the various accounts we have with all those combatants in the storage wars.

Today, people expect to find exactly what they need, exactly when they need it -- without effort. Let's blame Google for this generation of techno prima donnas who get answers in milliseconds to obscure questions that used to absorb entire evenings of (fun) barroom conversation.

I can find out Jack Nicklaus's third-round score at the 1986 Masters without breaking a sweat, but things aren't that simple when I'm trying to access my own cloud-based information. When I want to find a specific file quickly and do something with it, whether that's reviewing and updating the content or sharing it with others, I first have to remember where it is stored. Was that a Word doc on my computer? To which cloud service did I upload it?

The first tenet of the cloudnostic approach is to provide an effortless way of finding information. Users need to be able to search multiple repositories at once and have results delivered in a clear and intuitive way. There are some excellent dedicated search apps, but it's surprising how underdeveloped search tools are for the major cloud services and device manufacturers.

A holistic search experience needs to be an integral part of cloud services, because searching is often the user's first step before doing. This leads us to the second problem that the cloudnostic concept looks to solve: the inefficiency of constantly switching between apps.

Not only do we store our files in different places, but we also use a variety of applications to do things with them once we find them. Sometimes we are forced to use additional services in order to compensate for the limitations of our most important tools, like how file-sharing services help overcome the problem of emails with large attachments bouncing back.

Though each of these new tools promises to help us work more effectively, the simple act of constantly switching between apps breaks our flow and hampers our productivity. They're the digital equivalent of unitaskers -- those specialist kitchen utensils like avocado peelers. You waste two minutes searching for one when your regular chef's knife is right in front of you.

This is the second feature of a cloudnostic approach. A cloud service shouldn't force users to adopt its platform over other tools. It should integrate as seamlessly as possible with the most popular apps. Instead of having to leave their mailbox and log into their file sharing service, users should be able to harness its power right from popular apps like Outlook and Gmail.

Not only does this benefit user productivity, but it's also great for businesses that can efficiently extend the value of previous software investments without forcing employees to adopt cumbersome new tools -- or, worse still, have users resort to insecure consumer products.

The cloudnostic approach is not about revolutionizing how people work. It's about making sure that we give users what they want: quick access to their information wherever it is stored and the flexibility to work with that information with their preferred tools. It does add another unhelpful buzzword to the industry. But, like the cloud itself, "cloudnostic" will soon become the standard approach, so we won't have to call it anything.