For many years, I seek the best computing environment that I can find. I used to think that it was a big, fat laptop. Next, I thought that it was a tablet PC. Then, I became convinced it was an Apple. But today, I've changed. I no longer need the latest and greatest computer. In any given day, I may use 2, 3 or more computers - a Apple laptop, a PC desktop, an iPhone, or my media center connected to a 52 HDTV. What's become my central need is easy and full access to my data no matter what device I'm using. I need applications that store data on the web and can be accessed equally well from a PC, Apple, iPhone, or a web browser. The good news is that many software developers understand this and are building applications that can live in the Cloud. As of today, I am using 5 applications that live in the Cloud that I can't live without.
The Cloud, according to Wikipedia is:
"Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure "in the cloud" that supports them.
The concept incorporates infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and software as a service as well as Web 2.0 and other recent technology trends that have the common theme of reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the users. Examples of software as a service vendors include Salesforce.com and Google Apps which provide common business applications online that are accessed from a web browser, while the software and data are stored on the servers.
The term cloud is used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on how the Internet is depicted in computer network diagrams, and is an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it conceals."
Here are my top application picks:
Microsoft Exchange. My use of the Cloud began many years ago after I left Microsoft in the late 1990's. I registered my first domain name and set up a hosted Microsoft Exchange account. With ease, I could get access to my email, calendar, contacts from multiple PCs, web browser, and Windows Mobile smartphone. Any change to my data made on any device was synchronized on the server. So, I was always working on current data no matter how I was accessing it. Since that early time, Exchange has evolved to include Apple via Entourage and iPhone, and Linux via Evolution. Using hosted Exchange was my first experience at putting my data on somebody else's server and trusting that they will manage it well. In retrospect, I made a smart decision picking Mailstreet as my hosted Exchange provider. Mailstreet is now owned by Apptix (www.apptix.com). I am still with them today.
LassPass (www.lastpass.com). I have used Roboform on my PCs and 1Password on my Apple to manage my passwords and web form filling. I used to use some local synchronization software to copy Roboform's data across my various computers. It was a clever approach and it worked, but it was a bit heavy handed and didn't work at all across platforms. Synchronization, in its early days was rather dangerous. One bad move could create data duplication or loss. I recently learned about LassPass from one of my readers, ran a trial, and quickly migrated to it on all of my computers. It's cross platform (although I'm still waiting on the iPhone client) and manages my passwords, data scraps, and form filling. Any change made on any computer is synchronized and stored on its servers. It works great and I highly recommend it.
Foxmarks (www.foxmarks.com). Foxmarks began as a tool to synchronize bookmarks across several computers as long as you use Firefox. It has evolved and is now supporting Internet Explorer, Safari, and web access. More recently it started the process of changing it's name to Xmarks as it's no longer a Firefox only utility. It is just too sweet to open up a browser on any of my computers and have access to all of my bookmarks. If I'm not at my PC, I can access my bookmarks from the web or my iPhone. If you're like me and have hundreds of bookmarks, this is a killer app. It works reliably, it's free, and comes with my personal recommendation.
Dropbox (www.mydropbox.com). Dropbox is virtual and synchronized storage for PCs, Apples, and the web. Put a file in it, change it on one computer and it's updated and available to all of your computers. Put a file in it and you can share it with others. I put a video file in it and my daughter who's away at college can have access to it. She can even play the file directly from the Dropbox via a web browser. I use Dropbox daily to make my data available across my computers - accounting data, spreadsheets, documents that I'm working on and other stuff that I just always need access too. Because it's in the Cloud, my data is safe and always backed up. You can setup a trial account for free with 2GB of storage.
Evernote (www.evernote.com). Evernote is the latest addition to my Cloud. I used to keep my client information in Microsoft Onenote. Then I move to Apple and started to use NoteTaker. In both cases, the data was not portable. So, I had to manually migrate it to my most popular platform of the month. As you can imagine - quite a pain. Enter Evernote - it's a cross platform, note creation and management program. It runs on the PC, Apple, web, and iPhone. No matter where I am, I have access to my client records. Each note is a container that can hold text, graphics, and data files. It's simple to setup and easy to use and it just works. Evernote has a free version that is quite capable. So, you can give it a try for free.
Cloud computing is here to stay. It's a significant move from PC-centric computing to data-centric computing. The idea is to not worry about your data, but to simply have flexible and easy access to it. An added benefit of the Cloud, is that a crashed hard drive doesn't need to be such a big deal anymore. Your data is safely living in the Cloud, not vulnerable to hardware failure and the sometimes doubtful success of your last backup. If my computer doesn't work, I just go to another without missing a beat. Can you do that?
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