Since the very beginning of the information age, computer users have been struggling with the concept of having access to the data they need, when they need it.
As soon as there were multiple computers in the office, people needed to be able to move data from one computer to the other. Computer networking was created to connect machines. Centralized file shares were built on top of existing networks. Access to the shared drives was dependent on physical location and proper authentication.
Both Unix Network File Shares (NFS) and Windows shares worked well, as long as your device was properly configured and physically close to the server sharing out the files. However, working from home or in a remote office required complicated network setups, and often resulted in slow access and a very poor user experience.
Two things changed the landscape of remote document access: broadband cellular Internet and the iPhone. Once the concept of having a tiny mobile computer on hand ,all the time, became a reality, people wanted to have their documents with them anywhere and at all times. The old models of document access didn’t work with the new reality. Luckily, new services have launched to fill the gap.
While remote document access in the past centered around a central server in a corporate network, today’s “central server” is the could. Services like Dropbox, Evernote, Box, iCloud, and many more provide synchronization between your devices, allowing you to work whenever, wherever, and with whatever device you choose.
This doesn’t always work out well in a corporate environment, where there are strict rules surrounding corporate information. However, software services like Box, Dropbox, and Evernote offer a service targeted at businesses which provide them more control in the who, what, and where of accessing corporate data.
Of course, the 800 lb. gorilla in the room of information management and access is Google Docs. Each of the methods of remote document access discussed above focuses on moving documents from one device to another, saving changes, and synchronizing those changes back again. In Google’s method, the cloud is not only the shared space for storing documents, it’s the one true way to access and edit those documents as well. Google’s method provides the best security over the document, since it never leaves the central point, and access to the document is tightly controlled.
Internet access is going to become even more ubiquitous than it is today. It will be more reliable, faster, and cheaper, and we will have more devices capable of accessing it than ever before. I predict that Google’s method of remote document access will prove to be the most reliable way for businesses to share information with remote and mobile workers. The most ambitious companies are likely to build their own private version of Google Docs based off of open source software.