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Cloud Computing is on the Horizon

Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

Cloud Computing is similar to how it sounds. Instead of keeping your data on hard drives inside computers at your office. It lives up in the “Cloud.” What is the Cloud? It is a generic name given to remote servers that host and maintain applications and data. And it can be a real asset to your business.

Instead of worrying about storing and backing up all your business data at your office, the cloud gives you peace of mind that comes with the benefit of backups and redundancy unlike anything you could do in-house. The hallmark of a Cloud Computing application is anything you use without having to install any software on your computer or smartphone. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and the email provided by your ISP are all examples of Cloud Computing applications.
Similarly, Netflix Instant, the video streaming service they offer is another example. You do not have to download the movie to your hard drive then watch it. The video file lives in the Cloud, managed by Netflix, and for a price, you have access to that file.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Dropbox. This service changes the way people use and manage files. The service is deceptively simple. Once installed and registered with the web site, it will place a folder on your Mac or PC. Your “dropbox” is just what it sounds like. You can place anything there you like. Only instead of living on your computer it will first be backed up to the web site, where it will be accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Second, if you install Dropbox on more than one computer and login to the software, it will keep the two folders in sync. Additionally, the service will keep backups and previous versions of all the times in the dropbox. This is especially important as it relates to mobile devices.
Enough talk about clouds, what does it mean to you and how can it help you out?

Apple is bringing Cloud printing to the masses with AirPrint. Their technology piggy backs off Bonjour, their zero-configuration printing technology for Macs and PCs. AirPrint only works with a very limited number of HP printers but more support will be expanded in the future. The idea is simple. If you’re on an iPhone or iPad and there is a printer connected to your wireless network that supports AirPrint, the iPhone/iPad will locate it, install a driver, and allow you to print, all with no effort on the user’s part. The technology is still young but once it becomes more mainstream it will make printing from Apple’s mobile devices as simple as sending an email.

Not to be left behind, Google also threw its hat into the ring with Google Cloud Print. Similar to Apple’s small offering, Google Cloud Print only works in Google Chrome browsers and only on a Windows operating system. However, the idea is equally as simple. Go to the options in a Chrome browser, sign in to your existing Google Account to use Cloud Print and suddenly you’ll have access to any printer installed on the Windows PC from Gmail for Mobiles devices, Google Docs and the Chrome OS operating system Google is currently beta testing.

Google is pushing this technology quickly because of its upcoming Chrome OS operating system because the entire thing is one big web browser. There is no underlying operating so everything must work within a browser.

Never far from the printer scene, has HP had an entire ePrint initiative going. HP has taken a slightly different route by assigning its printers with ePrint a unique email address where the applications designed to work with it, will send the file to that address and the printer will then print it. The real benefit here is the print can be used from anything that can send an email.

So far it is only the ePrint printers which Apple’s Airprint works with. HP also promises direct support for Google’s Cloud Print. In the future, the current requirement of Google to have a printer connected to a Windows PC to work will be erased. HP’s purchase of Palm and the Web OS mobile platform will be particularly exciting as HP has announced a new line of Web OS smart phones and tablets and you can bet they will all be capable of printing.

The days of a mobile phone or tablet needing a PC or Mac to print are gone. Gone are the days of worrying about print drivers and PPDs. Gone are the days of worrying about whether a manufacturer had made a drive for your particular device. In the coming days, the barrier to print will be erased on Apple, Google Chrome OS, Android and HP/Palm devices. Microsoft is lagging behind with no system in place but you can bet they’ll get on board in the coming months. Though, Google’s current system relies on a Windows PC to operate so they’re not totally out of the game.

These are exciting times for printing in the mobile world. As phones and tablets become smarter and more business travelers adopt them instead of laptops, the ability to print from them will be in increasing demand.

Instead of clients walking in with laptops, in the very near future they may walk in with an iPad or other tablet with Dropbox installed. They’ll be able to pull their presentation or contract out of the cloud and print, without using a computer.

The Cloud is not all beautiful sunsets and safety nets. Giving up control of your data to someone else can have its problems too. The latest high-profile incident was when Google lost 150,000 Gmail accounts back in February of this year. This isn’t even the first time Google has had problems with losing customer’s mail. A similar event took place in 2006 though on a much smaller scale.

I don’t mean to pick on Google, as T-Mobile and Microsoft had one of the biggest meltdowns when they lost all data from users of the T-Mobile Sidekick back in late 2009. The Sidekick is different from a normal cell phone in that it stores all of your data, contacts, photos, etc in the cloud instead of on the device itself. When a server error took down the Sidekick servers, all of the customer’s data went with it.

Similarly, there have been security issues with the cloud. With Gawker Media being hacked in Dec 2010 and their user’s passwords leaked and even Etsy.com, an online marketplace for crafters and artists recently exposed the purchases of its users. Just as with all technologies, there are trade-offs to be made. There are a ton of benefits to Cloud Computing but it is not without its risks.

Comfortable Surroundings

The environment you live in directly affects how you feel. I am not talking necessarily about the world outside your physical address but the space within. Recently, my wife and I moved from a too-small-for-us, cluttered apartment to a nearly 1,00 square foot condo unit we’re renting. The change has been a breath of fresh air.

Instead of an overflowing kitchen with a book shelf and a dresser needed to hold all our pots and pans, we now have a spacious kitchen with drawers and cabinets to spare. Instead of an apartment lacking real closets, with Target and IKEA acquired shelving units suffocating our dining area, we have a series of huge closets.

The list goes on but the point is made. The new place is much more open and as a result, there is less clutter everywhere. There are less piles. The entire place feels more open, airy and inviting. As a result, my mood has been uplifted. I no longer feel dread about coming home. I feel happiness. I look forward to it everyday.

I feel freer. I feel more alike and awake. I am inspired to wind down on our couch and write late into the night about whatever comes to my mind. I feel as a gust of fresh air was blown into my life and into my new home.

I am excited for the change and the creative opportunities this new space will hold.

I don’t take the New Year as my opportunity to rethink my habits and resolutions. I take the moving to a new place as the start of a new page of my life. The year is just a number on a calendar. But a new place to live offers up such a bounty of exciting and endless possibilities. The layout and decoration of the space. How the space will be utilized.

The simple fact that we now have freedom to devote portions of our living area to projects where before we never had the space to devote anything to any one task.

SimpleNote is textual nirvana

You need to back up. Everyone says it but most people don’t. There is no excuse not to back up your data. If it is important enough to write down and save, it is important enough to back up.

Here’s an example. The head of a large media company is composing the eulogy for a friend of over two decades. He has written four pages of heartfelt prose. He pours out his thought sand feelings to be read to a crowded room of friends and family about his dearly departed friend. Upon completing his missive, he presses send on his mail client and sends the important document to his assistant for proofreading and editing before it becomes the final document to be practiced and delivered.

Or so he thought. Upon arriving at the office to meet with his assistant and go over the eulogy, she had nothing. She has never received the document. He went to look for it in via sent items. Nothing. He checked the deleted items. Nil. He checked the drafts folder. Perhaps he had forgotten to send the document and there it was!

Out of his four written pages, less than one remained. Sitting in the Drafts folder mockingly offering him a copy. A poor copy for sure. His words were lost.

Does this sound familiar?

How many times have you written a brilliant blog post, long, well-reasoned comment, or essay for class in a browser window or email client? How many times have you lost an important note? Did you take it down in a text file but never saved and your computer rebooted or crashed? I did not ask if you lost data because I know you have.

Enter Simplenote. The idea is so simple you’d wish you have thought of it first. In Simplenote for each note you start, it not only lives right then and there in the moment you wrote it. It will also push a copy to the “cloud” for safe keeping. So now your information lives in two places. Congratulations! You have now backed up. Wasn’t that hard? But what if you delete your note you ask? Well first off, you did something to delete it. It wasn’t a computer error or something out of your control. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes.

Enter versioning. This big scary looking word just means “more than one copy” of your document. What if you make a change to your document, delete a large portion without meaning to, or at the very worst delete the entire thing? Click a button or drag a slider and your hard work is restored just like that.

Simplenote is perfection of textual nirvana. Write words and don’t press save. Write more words and they’re all safe. Write your words and never worry about whether they’ll be there when you need them. It’s something we all take for granted, until it fails us.

Things I love: Windows Edition

Greenshot

I’m about to save you $50, the going price for Snag-It. Welcome my friend called Greenshot. With Greenshot, you can capture single windows, selected areas, or the entire screen. It even includes a simple image editor for annotation and minor edits. You can choose whether you want to save, print, or copy your screenshot to the clipboard or a combination of the three. If you need to take screenshots, you need Greenshot.

Paint.Net

Now that you’re taking screenshots like a pro, you need something to edit them in. Enter Paint.net. No, this is not the same bitmap-loving Paint program that’s shipped with Windows since the dawn of time. Paint.net is all grown up. It allows for history, layers, a plethora of effects and best of all, has a weightless price tag. Don’t think of it as a more robust Paint but rather a slimmed down Photoshop.

ResophNotes

From pixels to prose, if you write anything worth saving, you need simplenote. Now take 2 minutes and read why. Now that I’ve gotten you hooked on simplenote, you need a Windows client. ResophNotes is that client. ResophNotes offers you a simple interface to simplenote. One pane is the list of notes, the other is the note itself. It offers all the same syncing as simplenote and will export Markdown and HTML. You can save your notes in an, optionally encrypted, database or as plain text files. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing in ResophNotes.

Soluto

You’re running Windows. It’s taking forever to startup. But why? Soluto will tell you. Once installed, Soluto will keep a running clock when you boot up and analyze exactly which applications are starting when you login. In addition, it will group the applications by levels of importance and offer suggestions based on what other users have chosen to remove, disable or delay running at login. Never again wonder why things are taking so long. Take control with Soluto.

F.Lux

You’re a nerd. You compute at night. The bright lights of glaring LCDs strain your eyes. You need F.Lux. As the sun goes down, F.Lux will dim your screen and give it a warm glow making it much easier on the eyes. If you need to do image work it has a “Disable for one hour” check box for color-sensitive work. Ever since I started using it, I could not imagine using a computer without it. Give it a try. I know you’ll feel the same way. As my college roommate used to say, “It’s like tasty roast chicken for the eyes.”

Xooming Thunderbolts

Motorola XOOM

The Motorola XOOM is a terrible name. When I hear it, the last thing I think of is an Android tablet. It’s just another entry in the long parade of Android tablets.

Xoom will always be a free web hosting service I used to use back in the mid-90s. My first web site was hosted at members.xoom.com/peroty. This was until NBC bought them out and turned it into nbci.com and eventually killed off the hosting side of the business in 1999 and NBCi folded in mid-2001. The domain now redirects to NBC.com. Xoom as a web host still lives on in an Italian version at xoom.it. Xoom.com is now a money transfer site, which looks like a PayPal clone.

Thunderbolt

The HTC Thunderbolt is a 4G Android phone coming soon to Verizon. The phone has been delayed according to Best Buy and in the meantime, Apple has used the name Thunderbolt as their name for the new Intel LightPeek technology.

Unlike the XOOM that had about a decade between usages, the competing Thunderbolts seem like more of a coincidence than anything else. I find it interesting that the two Thunderbolts are being used and released so close together.