(+) My New Windows PC in the Cloud

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

There are dozens of reasons why someone might need a second computer, perhaps for a short period of time or maybe forever. Perhaps all you need is an upgrade to your present computer: a more powerful processor or perhaps a larger hard drive. Other reasons might include a short-time requirement for a second or “loaner” computer for a business trip or perhaps a test box to be used for a new project you are working on. Maybe you normally use a Macintosh but occasionally need to use a Windows program for some reason.

Thanks to today’s technologies, there are multiple solutions to choose from. Some solutions are cheaper and/or more convenient than others. This article describes a solution that many people will find cheaper, less hassle, more convenient, or all of these: meet the virtual computer!

Unlike regular computers that are clunky pieces of hardware, a virtual computer lives in the cloud. It’s a powerful computer available for a low monthly fee. From now on, I no longer have to buy new, expensive hardware when I want to access a computer with more speed and storage space. My new virtual PC is fast, always updated, and constantly backed up.

It’s sort of like Dropbox file storage, only it’s not just for files. It’s an entire computer that I can use to access applications, process information, or do any other task I might do on a computer in my home. It also uses military-grade encryption to keep all my personal information away from hackers and government spies. In fact, my information probably is safer on this “virtual PC” than it is when sitting in my own computer at home where it could be accessed by hackers on the Internet or by visitors to my home. This encrypted “virtual PC” keeps my information locked up and visible only to me.

For many people, a cloud-based Windows computer is cheaper than buying a new desktop or laptop Windows computer, assuming you already have some sort of device to access it. There can be exceptions to that rule, however.

The idea of connecting a basic computer to a more powerful one over a network isn’t new. The first modern computer networks began as dumb terminals that accessed smart mainframes. Today’s improvements in hardware technology, internet speeds, and online software are making the concept genuinely viable for consumers.

I normally use a Macintosh for most of my day-to-day computer tasks. However, I do occasionally need to test Windows genealogy software so that I can write reviews of the Windows products. I already own a Windows laptop computer; however, it is aging, and I find that computers don’t age gracefully. My Windows laptop was considered high-powered when I purchased it a few years ago, but by today’s standards it isn’t powerful enough to do everything that I want. When multi-tasking, it slows down a lot.

The aging Windows laptop also is bulky by today’s standards at about 5 pounds. Since I travel a lot, I also have realized that this laptop plus its power supply add up to about 8 pounds of gear to pack in my luggage. That makes it tough to carry my lightweight primary Mac laptop AND the 8-pound Windows laptop and power supply in my carry-on luggage. I also like to take an iPad with me on all travels for other reasons. If I take all of that gear, there’s no room left for clothing! (I normally travel with only one carry-on bag; I try to never check luggage when traveling by airlines.)

Even worse, my aging Windows laptop seems to have a failing battery. When new, the laptop would run for 4 hours without recharging. Today, however, the battery usually lasts an hour or so and then powers off. That doesn’t work well on cross-country flights.

I have found multiple solutions to these issues:

1. I could go out and buy a new, lightweight, higher-powered Windows laptop. I hesitate to do that because it is an expensive solution.

2. I could purchase a new battery for my current laptop. The problem is that the laptop has been out of production for several years, and its batteries are no longer manufactured. I have found rebuilt batteries on eBay, however. Besides, this laptop’s battery can only be replaced by using screwdrivers to open the case and expose the internal battery. Even if I do this, I am still stuck with an out-of-date laptop of modest computing power that weighs about 8 pounds with its power supply. That’s not a true solution; it is a short-term workaround with too much weight and insufficient power to do everything I want.

3. I could purchase virtual computing software to run Windows on my current Macintosh laptop. Options include VirtualBox, Parallels, and VMware Fusion. These virtual computing products are excellent; I have used them on a desktop iMac. However, my current Macintosh laptop doesn’t have enough disk space and processing power to run the virtual computing software plus a copy of Windows. To do so, I would need to purchase a new, state-of-the-art MacBook. That brings me back to spending money, something I wish to avoid or at least minimize.

4. I could use a virtual Windows PC in the cloud.

I elected to use option #4.

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