Entering the Cloud (on Netbook wings…)
So, okay, I had to be catapulted into the cloud on the winds of disaster, but I am beginning, I think, to get it.
And it is the fault of these Netbooks!
My original Linux netbook (Asus EEE PC 701) had to be restored often enough so that I got in the habit of moving my Firefox and Thunderbird data folders to a memory card. I suppose that was the first step. Then my first XP Netbook (Asus EEE PC 900XP 16G) died an unnatural death. Of course, that meant I lost all my email contacts, my calendar, my browser bookmarks, etc. and had to start over. The only thing worse would have been loosing my cell phone. Fortunately my pictures were all on external devices.
After two failed attempts to import the calendar from my work Lotus Notes into the new netbook’s (Acer Aspire One 150XP) version of Thunderbird with Lightning (a trick I had managed to do once on the old netbook) I began to wonder if there were alternatives. Google Calendar seemed worth a try. First victory: GCal imported my appointments from Notes!
Too bad, I thought, along about then, there was no easy way to sync my new GCal with Lightning, so that 1) I would not have to duplicate my Notes/GCal calendar on my netbook one entry at a time, and 2) I could enter appointments on the netbook while off-line. A little googling around turned up a Lifehacker blog post about just that: syncing GCal with almost any desktop calendar program. I installed the Thunderbird extension, and presto, GCal and my Lightening calendar auto sync. Entries to either are reflected in the other.
The following day I had to send a bulk email to a group of contacts. Of course I had to email a mutual friend for the email addresses which were lost with the 2nd netbook. So now I am thinking. What if I set up a GMail account and, possibly, synced my contacts from Thunderbird. Then if my netbook goes south again, I can retrieve my contacts from the GMail account. Besides, I read in a PC World article that I could have GMail pick up mail from all my addresses so that I could check it quickly from anywhere I have computer and internet access. So I did that. It took two tries, but second Thunderbird extension I tried (Zindus) worked. GMail and Thunderbird now seamlessly exchange contacts.
I read a little tip in the December PC World: you can use GMail to collect mail from all you email address. Good idea! GMail now gets and displays all my email. I have it set to automatically forward email to the actual GMail address to one of my other accounts, so, if or when I give out the GMail address, the mail will appear in Thunderbird. Even though I still use Thunderbird as my main email client, it is really easy to just click the GMail link while browsing. I don’t have to open Thunderbird. Abd GMail is intelligent enough to respond to email from the address it came to, so no one will know I am working from a GMail account on the web.
Okay, so if all that is possible, why can’t I sync my last calendar, the one on my Blackberry which is already synced to my Lotus Notes work calendar through an Enterprise sever, with the already synced GCal and Lightning calendars? Turns out Google has a dandy little ap for Blackberry that actually, and relatively painlessly, handles that magic (it required some permission tweaking on the Blackberry but nothing out of the norm). Now, I can enter an appointment on any of my devices: work laptop, Blackberry, or netbook, and it will be added to all my calendars, and, of course, be accessible from any computer with internet access on by Google account. Honestly, I never would have gone to the bother if I were not working three devices: laptop, Blackberry, and netbook. It is all the netbook’s fault.
That’s when it hit me. I am in the cloud. The cloud. I am cloud computing. I am living the cloud life.
So now I have RSSed my Twitter feed into Google Reader (by way of FriendFeed, since Google Reader still doesn’t handle authenticated feeds). I already have Twitterberry on my Blackberry and Twhrl on my desktop. Twitter friends follow where ever I go.
Oh, and Evernote! Snap a picture of that business card with my Blackberry, email it to Evernote and I can retrieve it from any connected computer or from my Evernote desktop on the netbook. Sales receipts? Email confirmations with serial numbers and activation codes? One click on the Evernote menu item and the email enters my Evernote repository. Web pages? Web addresses I might want again? Just click the Evernote icon in the browser bar and forget about it until I need it. Offline? The desktop Evernote ap syncs with the online version. With Evernote Mobile and my Blackberry, I can get at my Evernotes from anywhere, on any connected device (or from my synced account on my desktop). How did I remember anything without it?
That’s what we are talking about. My memory in the cloud.
And actually, with a SmugMug plugin for Lightroom (from Jeffrey Friedl), I now directly upload my full sized edited images to a gallery on SmugMug. I don’t even export them to my hard drive (I still have the originals, and the Lightroom Catalog with all the edits recorded). And from SmugMug, I can order prints, mounted canvases, mugs (go figure), or build Blurb books from galleries without uploading the images again. And an RSS feed to GReader and Thunderbird automatically lets me track comments on my SmugMug galleries. All in the cloud.
And Flickr? A virtual community of photographers, millions of photographers, sharing images and interests across the world. I have contacts on every continent. I have contacts in countries I will never get to visit. I see their most recent work, and they see mine, automatically, all but instantly. We share our passion for capturing the world. We inspire and instruct each other in ways no one dreamed possible just a few short years ago. All in the cloud. Again, a RSS feed from my Contacts page lets me comment on friends work from GReader, which turns out to be a better way of doing it, as the images are displayed at a size you can see, and you don’t have to keep navigating back to page 3 or whatever of your Flickr Contacts.
And we have not even talked about Skype or GoogleTalk. How back-to-the-futurish is it to be able to call a friend in England (from here in Maine) with live video, anytime I catch him on Skype? The netbook, with built in camera and mic, make it easy and natural. It’s the cloud, opening his living room to me, and mine to him.
So, what is next? I am on a roll here. Google Notes now has all my bookmarks so I will never lose them again (never say never, but you know what I mean). They are up there in the cloud. (And if the good folks at Google do their work (and rumors are true), I should be able to directly access them from Chrome soon. Actually, Chrome’s New Tab, with its automatic collection of most viewed pages, sort of already fulfills that function in maybe an even more cloud-like way ???).
And, of course, I am writing this on ThinkFree Office Mobile edition. I have not really even begun to explore ThinkFree’s cloud workspace collaboration yet but I am sure it is coming.
I have a feeling that my head is just barely in the cloud. There is much more to come. The cloud is creeping up on me, on us. We will all be living the cloud life soon. Google and Microsoft and a thousand Web 2 startups are banking on it.
What’s over the next horizon? Can’t tell. It’s still out there, ahead of us, somewhere in the cloud.