Some people might still not understand the concept of the “cloud” or “cloud computing” and I am probably not the best guy to explain it. But, you’ve always seen these drawings of the internet with a few “computers” all connected to a cloud shaped drawing called “the internet”. Well that is the cloud, the cloud is the internet.
Many moons ago, I had my own early concept of cloud storage, it was called a floppy diskette. Back then I had a single floppy disk that I kept several text files on. My todos, my schedule, any notes on projects I was working on, etc. This floppy followed me everywhere and when I was at a computer at home or at work, the floppy was in the the floppy drive on that computer. So I had access to my files mostly anywhere (anyplace there was a computer).
Soon after that I graduated to PDAs. I started with a Palm III and that easily kept track of my schedule and my todos. It was good for keeping notes and such, but it was awhile before I could edit/view spreadsheets and documents. Later on, as the color models came out, you could carry around pictures and later even really crappy looking videos! The iPhone and the iPad has improved all those mobile aspects tremendously, but home and office computers have been kinda left out of the loop
Enter Dropbox. I started using Dropbox just for simple file sharing between the office and home. If I had a file at the office I wanted at home, I would copy it to my Dropbox and then when I got home, the file was on my computer at home, very convenient. Then one day I was thinking about how I could use Dropbox better. What if I could put “My Documents” from my home PC in Dropbox so I could have access to those files from work, excellent idea! Wait! Then I could put my Data-Com and Pizza Hut “My Documents” in the Dropbox as well! What else could I do with it! I paid the $99.99/year for 50GB of storage and started moving stuff around. And, if I need a file when I am not at my own computer, I can use the web to get to my Dropbox and get any file I need. Oh and there is an app for the iPhone and iPad that will allow me to access my Dropbox from my mobile devices!
Currently I have all my three different “My Documents” folders in my dropbox, accessible on all my computers. I have also mapped the “My Documents” folder on each machine to it’s appropriate “My Documents” folder in my Dropbox. So if I open My Documents at home, I get my personal documents, if I open it at work I get my Pizza Hut documents. And they are all stored (and backed up!) in Dropbox.
Another use for it is to keep data files for applications stored in the Dropbox. You can edit the program settings to use the path to the Dropbox folder and your are in business. My OneNote notebooks are all “based” in my Dropbox, so all my computers access the same OneNote data files. This could be used for any program that stores data in the same area. Quicken, Quickbooks, etc.
Since I was still not near using all the space in my Dropbox, I started copying the “Shared” folders that I have on my machine at home. These folders consist of anything that is shared on our home network. Photos, music, all our church related files and media. Pretty much anything that me or Laura would want to access is in the “shared” folder. So I moved that into the Dropbox as well. Now it is still available on our home network, but i also have access to it from work, from my iPhone and from my iPad. All my MP3s, Photos, documents, notes, etc are all accessible from virtually anywhere. And if I happen to change a Word document on my iPad this afternoon, within minutes it will be updated on all my desktop machines and it will update my laptop when I turn it on and connect it to the internet.
What about my Schedule and Todos? They are still “cloud” based as well. I use the default iPhone/iPad calendar application, but it is synced up with Google Calendar where I keep multitudes of different calendars for different things. For Todo’s I use an application on the iPhone/Ipad called “Todo” (wow!) which syncs with toodledo.com so I have access to my Todo’s on the go and on my computers (web browser). As for my “notes”, I have started using Evernote to keep track of notes. Using either the web to access notes or the Evernote application on my computers, and then the Evernote app for the iPad/iPhone while I am on the go. Again, if I need to access my Calendar, Todos or notes when I am on someone else’s computer that is possible too, via the web interfaces.
What is the next step! I am trying to figure out what to do with my Photos. They are stored in my Dropbox, but there are better services for storing photos such as PicasaWeb or Flickr. Both seem to be great places to store and share your photos, but I can’t decide which one to use. I do like the fact that Picasa is Google, which I already use a lot. My idea is to upload all our photos to one of these services. This would give us even nicer access to our all photos when we are mobile and it would give us a backup of the photos as well. And both sites offer “private” folders so not all our photos would be accessible to the public, only the folders we want public.
The other “cloud” service I am debating on is for live updating of my documents and spreadsheets. Google Docs is good and I put a good amount of stuff on there. But is it ready for me to use exclusively? I am not sure on that part yet. There is some things I still like to use Office for. But what about the upcoming “Office Online“? Will it be enough to urge me totally into the cloud for my documents and spreadsheets? Only time will tell. I am slowly using Google Docs for all my basic needs. Any complicated project (document with embedded spreadsheets, etc) I still do in Office. But maybe soon that will be available online as well.
In summary, I think the best thing about using the cloud for things like this is the backup. If all my computers break and all the data is lost, I still have it in the cloud. But what about if the cloud crashes? That is another dilemma. My Dropbox, Calendars, and Todos are also stored in my other machines, so those will be recoverable. But if I put all my documents and spreadsheets online, would I lose them all if the cloud crashes? Google Docs offers a way to download all your docs, zipped up as either Open Office or MS Office file types. That is good as long as you remember to do it occasionally.
So, I hope this has maybe provided you with some insight on “the Cloud” and maybe gave you some ideas yourself on how to streamline your computing needs. I know I am loving Dropbox and it’s many uses, along with the other cloud based apps I am using. If the internet is destroyed, I would be severely crippled :)