Ready to take the plunge and jump into cloud computing with both feet and not look back? Let’s start with a little housekeeping first. Unfortunately, there is no one system that will do everything; not yet, at least. Google is pretty close. It is best to think of your your computer as files (data), programs (software), and configurations. We’ll start with configurations since it lays the foundation and ties the first two together. Throughout this guide I’ll tell you what I use. There are many other options and the review of them is beyond the scope of this blog post. A quick Google search will yield plenty of options.
You will probably need to create a number of new accounts to live completely in the cloud. I highly recommend a secure password keeper to keep track of all of them, cloud based of course. Personally, I use LastPass because it has browser plugins, a web based interface and mobile device options. Set something up and create one ultra secure, easy to remember password. Then all of your other passwords can be secure, hard to remember passwords. Here’s a funny insight into why password reuse is actually your biggest vulnerability.
You probably already have an email account. If you are still using Outlook or some computer based client, it’s time to switch. I use Gmail. I have a Gmail address, but I rarely use it. Instead I configured Gmail to access my POP3 email server on my custom domain. Setting this up is quick and easy, but beyond today’s scope. IMAP and Microsoft Exchange setups are more tricky, but cloud based and could be a good solution for you. Some members of the younger generation have essentially disregarded email and just use text messages and Facebook to handle all of those needs. Your choice.
Ok, instant messaging. I use Skype and Google talk pretty frequently for work and personal needs. Some still use AIM or prefer the Facebook chat system. If you are looking for one cloud based solution to handle your instant messaging, Meebo is a clear stand out. Nothing to install and it handles all of the popular platforms as well as handling video and voice, all in one easy to use app.
For my calendar, again I turn to Google. It has tight integration with my Android phone, it’s free, and it synchronizes with Outlook and iCal. It also has a basic “to do” list feature that works pretty well.
Your address book is the final configuration piece of the cloud puzzle. How many times have you seen on Facebook an APB from a friend saying they lost or destroyed their phone and requesting that everyone sends their contact info to them? There are some great options for merging all of the contact info for your friends, family and business contacts. I use Gmail contacts for this. My smartphone uses Android which has a very smart merge feature. I’ve heard the iOS version is pretty good too. It took a little while to merge some duplicates, but now my Facebook friends, email addresses, and phone numbers are all merged into one cloud based address book.
All of your files can be stored in the cloud. Photos, music, videos, and documents. Some people like a folder based hierarchy like you’d have on your hard drive. Others like using different services based on the type of file. Either way, there is a solution for you.
If you like everything in one place, I recommend Dropbox or Pogoplug. It’s basically an external hard drive. A little piece of software installed on your Mac, PC or mobile device lets you access and sync things if your not ready to completely clear off personal files from your internal hard drive. More on what makes Pogoplug really unique next in Part III.
There are advantages of using different services for each file type. These become apparent when we discuss cloud based software options. I use the Google Docs suite, including Picasa and Google Music. This helps consolidate where my data lives. Google already knows me better than my wife does, so privacy issues aren’t compounded either.
I’ll admit, not every online software service is as good as its native counter part. Nor does every native program have a cloud based option. Most do though. Most people greatly under utilize the processing power of their computers. If you are a power user, you won’t be completely satisfied with going 100% cloud based. I read a study that showed 80% of the time an average person spent on the computer was surfing the internet, email, or social media. The other 20% was largely word processing, photo/video, and music. 100% of this can be done through the cloud now.
I use Google Docs for much of my word processing and spreadsheet work. I still us a spreadsheet to outline a simple budget, although I know there are better solutions out there. Google Docs allows me to share and collaborate with others very easily. Version control is a problem of the past. G Docs is not perfect or as refined as Microsoft Office, but it does 99% of what I need it to do and is completely free. I can also access my documents anywhere in the world if I have an internet connection. Microsoft came out with a cloud based Office suite that is pretty good too.
I use Picnik for basic photo manipulation. It’s free and you don’t even have to create an account to use it. You can easily crop, resize, adjust color, remove red eye, and just about anything else you want to do. It is tightly integrated with Picasa. Both are owned by Google. Picnik does not yet support a Google login, but I’m guessing it is in the pipeline. Picnik is not Photoshop. If Picnik isn’t powerful enough for you, Adobe Photoshop Express should handle just about everything else.
WeVideo is a full featured video editor with built in support for YouTube. It allows you to use your Google account to sign in. It has some nice collaborate features. It’s not going to allow you to edit Hollywood level films. It will, however, allow you to splice together the videos of your cat attacking your sleeping dog, from multiple angles, set in slow motion with the theme song to the 2001 movie in the background. Admit it, that’s all you’re looking to do anyways.
There are cloud based software solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had. As I mentioned before, I use a spreadsheet to put together a simple budget. Instead, you can try Mint.com.
I also use a basic text document to create to do lists. There are a ton of free list makers out there with really well executed phone apps and collaborative features. I haven’t figured out the one that will work best for me yet.
My work here at Fruition is based on Project Management. We use a collaborative cloud based system to manage all of our projects. It’s a proprietary system. If you are looking for something for your business or just personal use, there are a lot of great options. Rally Software (based here in Boulder) is a PM system based on the Agile method. Basecamp is basic, intuitive app for less complex projects.
Highrise and SalesForce are web based CRMs (Client Relationship Manager). SalesForce is the gold standard in this market, but overkill for most people. Highrise is from the same developer as Basecamp and is less expensive and simpler to use.
Small business bookkeeping software is plentiful. I don’t run my own business so I can’t comment. A quick search on Google will give you a plethora of options and opinions.
There are thousands if not millions of browser based video games if that is your thing.
I still recommend you use both anti-virus and (more importantly) anti-malware software. However, moving to the cloud, greatly reduces your risk. Backing up your personal data is also nearly a thing of the past when your data and software lives in the cloud. Be sure to double check, but most cloud based systems have backup systems in place for you. If anything, your backup system could be a local copy on your hard drive.
As you can see, just about any software that you would normally install on your computer is available on the cloud with no downloading or installation required. The cloud is ready, are you?
Stay Tuned: In Part III, I’m going to dive into hardware and explain why the computer you are using right now might be the last one you’ll ever need to buy.
Ben Smith is a Researcher at Fruition. Ben is a graduate of the University of Denver’s Mathematics program, and he enjoys learning about Google’s algorithm updates. He's a vital asset of the Fruition team, and he one day hopes to publish a book. In his free time, you can find Ben walking around reservoirs in Colorado.
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