Moving to the “Cloud”

I recently wrote a post about my favorite programs for the Mac (here).  While writing it, I realized how outdated it sounded.

The reason: a very large percentage of the programs that I now use live in the “Cloud.”  The “Cloud” as described by Walt Mossberg in today’s Wall Street Journal (here), is a combination of nebulous server farms around the world that store your information and run your programs.  The programs that I run which do not live in the cloud, either could or soon will.

When using my personal computer, I spend 95% of my time on the internet and in the “Cloud.”  That means I am running everything via a browser (in my case, I prefer Firefox).  The “programs” I run via the “Cloud” include Gmail, Gtalk/AIM, Google Reader, GoogleMaps, Bing shopping, WordPress, NYTimes, WashingtonPost, Techmeme, and Pandora.  “Programs” is in quotes because these are not really programs as much as they are websites that run programs and provide relevant information.  When I am at work, I may spend ~30% of my time in the “Cloud” because I spending the rest of it using Microsoft Office.  However, my company could easily choose Google Apps and/or Zoho Office to replace Microsoft Office.  Except for Excel, I have found Google Apps to be as good as MS Office.  When it comes to collaboration and email, Google easily beats Microsoft.  For the price (i.e. free for personal use and $50/yr for enterprises), Google Apps is a no-brainer.

Microsoft is slowly and grudgingly moving in this direction.  They are in no rush as this could destroy their business model but competition is forcing their hand.

For a company (and personal use) the metrics/ROI for moving to the “Cloud” are too hard to pass up.  The programs are just as good.  They are more robust (due to automatic updates).  They are available anywhere in the world with an internet connection (and even offline).  They are priced right — 1. cost of use is negligible (i.e. free), 2. computing resources are minimal (i.e. only a computer that can run a browser), which lowers hardware expenditures, and 3. IT costs are minimized.  A personal example of the ease of the “Cloud” is when I coaxed my mother to move to Yahoo Mail (I had my reasons but it was a mistake but that is another story).  She used to have major issues with her email.  Now, no issues and no phone calls to me. The same goes for IT Help Desks in a company. The PC, as a truly personal computer, is slowly withering away (see Forbe article here).

With 2010 only a few hours away, here are a few predictions of what the “Cloud” means for the future of computing: 1. Everything becomes easier but slightly less secure, 2. computer prices will continue to drop because you will not need to buy a powerful new computer.  One of the most power-hungry applications, gaming, is heading to the “Cloud.”  In 12 months, so long as you have a fast broadband connection, you will be able to play even the most hardcore games via the “Cloud.”  3. Content rental/streaming continues its fast growth.  Netflix streaming, movie rental via Amazon and others is quickly becoming a major force.  Its growth will only continue.  Why buy a movie for $15 when you can rent it for $3.  You can watch it again every few months for another $3.  If you watch a DVD fewer than 5 times, then renting is the way to go.  You can also watch it on anything with a screen (who will continue to need a DVD player built into their computer?).  4. Music streaming overtakes music buying.  I have many gigs worth of music in my iTunes folder.  How often do I listen to it?  Maybe once a month.  How often do I listen to Pandora/AOL Music?  Daily.  How much do I pay?  Zero.  Louise Gray had an interesting article on this topic here.  5. Mobile — this is the biggie that stands over all of the other predictions (and is not so much a prediction as a statement of fact). See below…

Mobile is one of the main driving forces / enablers of the “Cloud” (plus, of course, cheap fiber/broadband, massive and low-cost server farms).  Why is mobile a driver?  Your phone is not powerful enough to truly be smart (even if it is a “smartphone”).  However, when plugged into the Internet, a cellphone/smartphone becomes nearly as powerful as my laptop.  On my phone, I can do 99% of the things I can do on my computer such as send, receive, and write emails or documents.  I can view just about any website, read books, and listen to streaming music.  My phone is my GPS device (even though my current, terrible BlackBerry 8800 has its GPS disabled by Verizon but triangulation thanks to Google works well enough).  I can make restaurant reservations via Opentable and so forth.  My next computer purchase may only be for a screen and a keyboard with a USB cable plug for my phone.  With everything in the “Cloud,” the phone becomes just another device to connect.  It enables the “Cloud.”

I am excited for the future…welcome to 2010!

Top Mac Programs

This post goes out to my long lost Indian friend Azeem “the dream” Zainulbhai.  Come back to the US sometime soon!

When I last saw Zeemer, he had finally taken my advice and bought a Mac.  He said, “Adam, now that I have a Mac, you have to tell me your top 10 programs that I need to download.”

Side note to my application choices: I don’t like to spend a lot of money on programs.  There is too much great free choice out there.  With that said, I never steal or download illegal programs.  If it can’t be had for free, then I either pay or do without.

Without further ado:

1. Firefox – I go back and forth on this.  My previous posts showed a newfound love of Safari.  Safari never saved my open webpages, didnt work well with Feedly, had an annoying bookmark manager, didnt work with all the sites I tried, and does not have many ad-0ns (come on, Apple, get with the program — isnt the iPhone App store one of the strongest points about the iPhone?  Couldn’t the same be true for Safari?).  With Firefox 3.0, the processor overuse extra heat (and subsequent) fan annoyances are drastically reduced.  Firefox 3.0 seems to be nearly on par with Safari for processor/memory use.  I dont care about speed so much as I care about heat and noisy fans (no desk means very hot legs with a computer on them).

2. 1Password – for a person who lives much of his computer life online (and cares about security), remembering all my passwords becomes a challenge.  1Password remembers my passwords and is secure.  A lot of other people have recommended this program.  I held back.  I finally “bought” it when there was a one week special to receive a copy for free (legit deal, don’t worry).  I jumped at the chance.  For anyone reading this (and who uses more than two passwords/log in names online), get this program.  If you are lucky, 1Pw will offer the program for free again sometime this holiday season.  If not, buy it.  Worth every penny.

3. AppDelete – this used to be free but then an upgrade forced me to choose — do I pay or do I do without.  I paid.  It is worth $5.  What it does: it really deletes programs.  In a Mac, you can drag an app to the trash and most of its associated files are deleted.  However, a few lingering pieces stick around.  Over time, your computer will become filled with old random programs.  On a Mac, this is not nearly as bad as on a windows PC.  However, it does happen.  AppDelete stops it from happening (mostly).  I want to keep my computer feeling fresh and ready to go.

4. iStatpro – great way to keep track of what is going on inside your Mac.  I personally enjoy a detailed view of what is going on with various programs (and why they are overheating my computer).

5. Perian – this is the “Swiss Army Knife” of Quicktime components.  It allows Quicktime to play just about any format out there.  Until I started this Snow Leopard cleaning, I forgot that it was installed.  Then again, I have not run into any video issues for a very long time so I guess this is working.

6. Mint.com – great way to track finances.

7. Feedly.com – Makes every webpage into something you can tag, track, and share.

8. Google Reader/Gmail/Google Maps/Bing – I use these more than anything else on this list.  If you don’t know what they are, then I can’t even begin to imagine how you find this page.

9. Desktoptopia – way to keep your desktop background fresh and interesting.  This program automatically switches between hundreds of different photos they keep in their system.

10. Rapidweaver – This is a super easy way to create great looking websites.  I have minimal html skills (or none…) but I needed to create a site for my charity (www.adoptacoral.org).  I tried iWeb but quickly ran into its limitations.  I received Rapidweaver via one of those package deals (can’t remember the name now).  It took a little bit of time to learn but once I did, I was up and running pretty well.  Of course, the powers that be at my charity decided to turn over the web design duties to a pro who has time (my main job plus my life things in the past year sort of got in the way).  However, while the site was up, it was awesome (in my mind).  If you aren’t a pro web designer but don’t want to pay someone, this is a good program to use.

11. BOINC Manager – this is a program that allows you to donate your idle computer time to charity.  It essentially cuts up major jobs that need supercomputers into small pieces that can be handled by your computer.  I sometimes let it run but I also have a thing about excess heat and fan noise so this is run much less often than it should be.  Donating computer power is one of the easiest things I could do.

Random ones that are great but that I rarely use:

1. Sitesucker – great for the road warriors out there and any programs that don’t run Google gears. explain…

2. Dropbox (and its cousin my Microsoft – Sync)

3. TimesRead – Okay, I never use this one but I saw it when I was cleaning out my computer.  It is actually good.  I may start using it.

Red Rings of Death

A few weeks ago, after a little over three years, my Xbox 360 received the notorious (and well documented) three red rings of death.

Microsoft has put in place an expensive but necessary program with a three year warranty for all Xboxes with the three red rings of death problem.  For those unaware, the problem stems for an undiagnosed issue with the hardware and relates somehow to overheating.  Newer xboxes do not have the problem.  However, my Xbox was purchased within the first year of the machine being on the market.  For a long time, I worried about the issue but nothing occurred.  My friends had multiple Xboxes die on them.  I never did.  And then, in the middle of a level, boom, machine was done.

I called up Microsoft on ~December 12 and they said that my three year warranty expired on November 26, 2009.  I missed the deadline by only a few weeks.

However, to Microsoft’s credit, I asked to speak with a supervisor who promptly said that he could approve a repair despite the end of the warranty period.  The supervisor sent me a pre-paid box and my fixed Xbox returned to me a few weeks later.

Microsoft, thank you!  I was thoroughly impressed with your service.  Obviously, I would have preferred to avoid this issue but you did the right thing and kept me as a happy customer.  The customer service was top notch.