Cloud computing is being pushed heavily by today's software vendors. However, cloud computing and Internet-based services really aren't new. In fact, there are many different cloud services and web applications available today that are completely free. In this column, I'll tell you about 10 free cloud services that you can begin using right away. (See also, "Why Quality of Service Matters in the Cloud" and "LevelCloud intros new cloud services for SMBs").

10. Hotmail and Gmail—Who doesn't take advantage of one of these super useful services? Both Microsoft's Hotmail and Google's Gmail accomplish essentially the same thing: They provide free web-based email. Hotmail allows up to 10GB attachments; Gmail allows up to 20GB attachments. You can sign up for Hotmail at www.hotmail.com, or you can pick Gmail at www.gmail.com.

9. Windows Live Messenger—A part of Microsoft's Windows Live suite, Windows Live Messenger lets you perform both text-based chatting through IM as well as one-to-one video chats if your computer has an attached webcam. You can get it at from the Microsoft Download Center. Windows Live Messenger requires a Windows Live account.

8.YouSendIt—YouSendIt is a website that lets you send files that are too big to send as email attachments. The free Lite version lets you send files as large as 100MB. The recipient gets an email notification with a link when the file is available for download. If you need to send larger files, there's a Pro edition that allows files up to 2GB. You can find YouSendIt at www.yousendit.com.

7. LastPass—Trying to keep track of all your online passwords is a daunting task. LastPass is a web application that securely stores your various Internet passwords and can automatically enter them on website logon forms. You can find LastPass at lastpass.com.

6. Windows Live Sync—Windows Live Sync enables you to synchronize directories between multiple computer systems. This service is especially useful for syncing your desktop and laptop when you travel. Unlike most of the other services mentioned in this column, Windows Live Sync requires you to install a component on your desktop. You can take advantage of Windows Live Sync by going to www.foldershare.com.

5. icloud—icloud is a different type of cloud service than any of the other products mentioned here. It essentially offers a free online computer with a virtual desktop. The desktop gives you online storage and a variety of utility applications, including a word processor, calendar, web browser, and an application development environment. You can learn more about icloud at www.icloud.com.

4. Sysinternals—It seems I can't write a guide to free tools without mentioning Sysinternals. Sysinternals is well-known for its locally installed administrative tools. However, the majority of the Sysinternals tools can be run directly off the Sysinternals website as cloud services: There's no need to install them locally. These tools provide all sorts of useful file, disk, networking, and system process utilities. You can find the cloud-based versions of the Sysinternals suite at live.sysinternals.com.

3. Windows Live SkyDrive—Without a doubt, the cloud service I use most often is Microsoft's SkyDrive. SkyDrive is a super handy cloud-based storage service that lets you store up to 25GB of data for free. SkyDrive provides an easy-to-use web interface that lets you create folders for storage as well as providing drag-and-drop file uploading. The only requirement for using SkyDrive is that you have a Windows Live account. You can find SkyDrive at www.skydrive.com. I should note that there are other free web storage sites, but I've been perfectly happy with SkyDrive

2. Google Apps—One of the most well-known set of cloud-based applications is Google Apps. The free version of Google Apps includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites, and Google Docs. As its name suggests, Google Calendar is a shared online calendar that lets you schedule and share appointments. Google Docs is a Microsoft Office competitor that lets you create documents, spreadsheets, drawings, and presentations, and Google Sites lets you build websites and wikis. You can find Google Apps at www.google.com/apps.

1. Amazon Web Services—To prompt you to get started using its web services, Amazon offers a free version of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) web service, which is good for one year. This free service is the EC2 Micro Instance, which includes 750 hours of EC2, 10GB of Amazon Elastic Block Storage, 5GB of Amazon S3 storage, 30GB of Internet data transfer, and 25 Amazon SimpleDB hours. You can find out more about Amazon's free web services usage tier at aws.amazon.com/free.