06.01–Cloud services: to only way to go!-2012-01/13

The purpose of this article is to describe what the “Cloud” is and how to take advantage of the Cloud. The Cloud is useful for everyone, but more so for those who have more than one device to access and update their personal data.

I encourage you to read the first article of the architecture collection in parallel with this document to see where the Cloud services fit in a personal computing environment.

So far, most everyone only had a single personal computer, so there were no problems of personal data synchronization. But with the advent of smart phones, most people now need to use the Cloud. Indeed, if they access their email and other personal data with two or more devices, how can they make sure that they’re always working with the latest version of that data? The simple solution is the Cloud.

Email, Contacts and Calendar on the Cloud

The most common Cloud applications are certainly: Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, etc., from Google. If you have a Gmail account you are on the Google Cloud because your emails are stored on Google servers (computers). This way, there is only one version of that data. If you access your email, to read and answer, your actions are logged on Google’s servers and if you access your account on another device you will get the latest version, if that device is setup properly.

Even though there are others Cloud offerings with similar services, Google is the Market Leader and I strongly encourage everyone to move their stuff to Google since it is also one of the more progressive supplier. The first thing I recommend to all my friends is to explore Google offerings and move all their other accounts to Google services. These include: Gmail for your emails, Gmail Contacts for your contacts, Calendar for your agenda. Those represent the first services to move. I will soon publish an article in this Cloud collection on how to move your accounts to Google.

Once this is done, you will be able to access the latest version of your contacts on your smart phone to directly dial whoever you want. You will receive and respond to your emails on whatever device you’re on. The same applies to your Calendar which you will be able to consult and update anywhere anytime on whatever device. By-the-way, if you need to translate a document please use Google Translate which is easy to use and produces good translations, better from English to French than the reverse. The quality of the translation results is directly related to the linguistic quality of the original document.

Your other personal data and the Cloud

For the rest of your personal information, like your Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. and, photos, videos and music files, there are other Cloud service providers that are very easy to use. They are currently either free or inexpensive.

I’ll use my own example to describe how to approach the problem and present the solutions I have adopted for now. I say “for now” because this area is thriving and it is possible to see other alternatives appear over time. The important thing for now is to know what to do with the current applications and services.

My strategy is simple: always try to identify the current “market leaders” and serious companies. These are the type of companies that I use and recommend. Since the market is in effervescence right now, there are many different services offered. Using the proposed approach you will not go wrong. You will surely hear someone, who tries anything that moves, tell you that a particular application has two or three better functions than the supplier I recommend. With all the new comers, a few will become successful. When they are, that will be the time to adopt their technology. We try to avoid being the early adventurers and use proven approaches.

Here is the first thing to do to assess your needs. You first open your personal files to assess their size. Using Windows 7, you will look at the four groups of files within your Libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. On each one, you “Right Click” and select “Properties” at the bottom. You do the same for each four items. In my case, Documents=3.5Gb, Music = 29.7Gb, Photos=10.7Gb and Videos = = 1.98Gb, for a total of 45.88Gb.

Personal files

One of the easiest Cloud service to implement, a “Market Leader” and the one I use is DropBox. DropBox offers 2Gb Cloud free,  charges $ 10 / month for 50Gb, and more for greater capacity. Since I need 45.88Gb total, I could choose the $ 10 per month DropBox service for 50Gb which would have been the simple approach. But because I want to test other alternatives as part of writing these articles, I have chosen a different approach which is also less costly for the time being.

To install DropBox, you should first use the reference offering that you may receive by email from myself or a friend since it will give you 250Mb more free space as part of a referral program from DropBox. Using this program, you will receive 2.25Gb instead of 2.0Gb and it will give 250Mb free to the person who has referenced DropBox to you. All parties benefit from this offering. If you have not received such an offer by email, please ask for it in the comments below, provide your email address  and I will email the offer to you.

DropBox is available for the following devices:

  1. Windows
  2. Mac
  3. Linux
  4. Mobiles: Android, iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry.

This will cover most everyone devices.

You first need to download and open a DropBox account on one device, your PC for example. Then you download DropBox on all other device using the same account parameters. DropBox will open a file named “Dropbox” in your “Documents” on each device. From that point on you only need to CUT each file you want to move to DropBox and PASTE it in the Dropbox file. It will take a little while initially to copy all these files to the DropBox Cloud servers. DropBox keeps an updated copy of your files on its servers in addition to synchronizing them on your computers for quick access. Once the copy job is done, you can go work on your files on any device. It’s that simple!

Currently, this is how I have stored my data on the Cloud:

  1. I use my 2+Gb of free space on DropBox for my personal documents files.
  2. I could have chosen to synchronize my archived personal documents files (rarely accessed) using my “Acronis True Image Home 2012” backup software and its new Sync function. I have tried it and it works well.
  3. I chose Google Music to store my music on the Google Cloud. It took several days to complete the copy of my music files on the Google servers.  https://music.google.com/music/listen#start_pl
  4. I have not done anything about my photos yet. DropBox offers a great feature for photos that I’ll probably use for the photos that I want to share with my family and friends on the WEB. http://www.dropbox.com/help/category/Photos
  5. In terms of my videos for now, I have few and with little interest, so I will wait until I have the need.

Cloud alternatives under study

  1. I have found a Personal Hardware Cloud using the “Network Attached Storage” (NAS) technology: PogoPlug 4. You connect this device directly to your router for internet communication and local LAN. You also need to connect a hard drive to PogoPlug 4 on which your personal data will be stored and become available on your Cloud. I ordered this new device that became available in December 2011. I already own a previous generation of this product that I have never used because the technology was not suitable for my needs at the time. I’ll evaluate PogoPlug4 later this spring and post the results in this Cloud collection.
  2. With the new version of “Acronis True Image Home 2012” backup software with the new “Sync” function, I can now keep all my archive files synchronized through the Cloud on my three computers that use “Acronis True Image Home 2012” for backup. This new “Sync” feature is promising and I am studying it now. By the way, I have been a user of the Acronis True Image Home backup software for several years and I find it far superior to anything I know for backing up your files on personal computers.
  3. For the data that I call “unstructured”, I use Evernote. For me, “unstructured data” means disparate information on anything that may be of interest at some point. Evernote offers a free basic service on the Cloud and also offers a premium paid service. Evernote allows users to collect notes and information on various topics of interest without having to classify them other than in “Notebooks”. You only name a note and apply “Tags” to facilitate ulterior searches. Thereafter, when you need to access the Note, you do a keyword search. The type of information can be varied, for example: you can take a picture of something of interest, annotate it by hand with the “Skicth” Add-on, enter an explanatory text, and dictate a verbal explanation before finally storing it on the Evernote Cloud. Subsequently, with the “Search” function you can find documents by entering keywords on the topics that have been saved. With other “Add-on” such as “Food” you can store recipes with annotated photos. With “Clearly” with the Chrome browser, you can optimize the reading of web pages, etc. When you access Evernote on a different device it updates your notes on this new device.

NOTE: The main use of Evernote is to capture on the spot ideas, notes, photos, events, items, dishes, etc., and easily store them for future references. No matter where you are, you must get used to capturing the moment in order to use it later or share with others. To do this, you must get used to taking a picture, at that time, of almost everything that may be of interest and to add a few tags to easily find it later. One has to learn to react this way on the spot.  Then, later you can beef up the subject since you have captured the moment, or get rid of notes that are no longer of interest.

The following YouTube video provides a good overview of the Cloud uses and advantages:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae_DKNwK_ms

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