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Pie In The "sky" (a.k.a. Cloud Computing) What Can the Internet Do for/to You?

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The internet dishes out one after another of tools to make your life "simpler". Someone once said that computers will make our lives easier, but how much of that is true, and what is offered?


The Philosophical Fight. Each person's brain is wired slightly different. This causes all of us to have various opinions and methodologies. While it is human nature to make our lives better and less work, it is also our tendency to always try something new, "improved" and different. The problem is when we forget that what may work for one person does not work for another, which leads to the other side of the coin where there are so many products, that what I use is a completely different set than yours, so you and I are not compatible (I suppose in more than one way by that definition).


I cite Microsoft (actually, make that a citation for internet littering). Consider how many products they use for communication and storage: Hotmail, Spaces, Windows Live Messenger, Microsoft Office Live Workspace, Microsoft Office Groove, Live Mesh, SkyDrive, Windows Live Sync--these are only some of the redundant applications they offer. Even Microsoft's website system is ridiculous: MSN, Live, Bing, Mesh, and many others. If they kept them all together, they might find where all their money is running off to.


However, the goal of this is not for me to judge Microsoft, but to make a simple point. Even within a single company, there are many products, and we know that some of them are bought for the product (Groove) or advanced services/features (Hotmail). Therefore, we can also say without much doubt some of the people use all the services all of the time, all of the people use some of the services some of the time, but not all of the people are going to use all of the services all of the time.



Now that I have mangled and broken the philosophical point in question, let's get down to some of the techie tools of the trade. I'm curious to see if you'll have read the entire post, as I will know by your comments below how much you were paying attention.


Let's talk about email, IM, social communities (media sharing), file sharing (syncing) and remote desktop applications, and other tools of the trade. For the most part, I don't plan to compare one product's features versus another in great detail, but rather to compile a summary of what the internet can do for you, and what is ahead of us in technology.


Email. Perhaps the oldest and yet the most popular form of digital communication still to this today. Even people who only know how to do a few minor functions on a computer are now, in this day and age, pretty much able to check their email. The idea is simple, and unless you've lived in a country where you don't receive mail in a physical mailbox, it's all fairly intuitive. Most email systems work the same these days...one pane to select messages, another to read/write messages. Yahoo! has incorporated into their system unlimited email storage, which is great for most people who never delete messages. Gmail, on the other hand, while it does not have free "unlimited" capacities, your storage constantly increases as Google makes room in their servers.


Speaking of Gmail, they also have a unique system to indexing emails. Unlike the conventional system when each time you send or receive a message you get an entirely new email in your inbox, Google has become smart enough to compress forwards and replies into a single page. This does take some time to adjust to, but overall it is a cleaner method.


Instant Messaging (IM). Also nothing completely new, and is a great alternative to a phone conversation and email. While you are typing over the internet, it appears instantaneously for both users. Ironically, even though technology has evolved and advanced so far that we can now format and stream media across the internet such as webcams, texting is a step back for that end. No doubt smart phones have enabled us to have almost unlimited control, but the general standard is unformatted text with a limit to the number of characters that can be sent in each message.


There are so many instant messengers out there, so I refuse to even try and name them all. Instead, I want to concentrate on the clients that bring them all together. From personal use, I recommend Digsby and Meebo. Digsby is a desktop application that will bring the commonly used IMs together (if Digsby does not offer what you need, try Pidgin after installing some add-ons). Digsby also includes email notifiers and updates to your favorite social community sites. Meebo is strictly an online client that allows you to access it from anywhere that has a browser and internet connection. The largest advantage that Meebo generates is its compatibility with almost every IM protocall out there.


Social Communities. A relatively new birth in the industry, since Web 2.0. It is common knowledge that Facebook, Twitter and MySpace "rule" the world's communications when it comes to personal networking. Facebook, by far, is the most developed website of the three, although there is much stirring whenever Facebook changes their formatting (hence my point at the beginning of this article). By a general definition, social community sites would be defined as a virtual place where people from all over the world can meet and join in on each others' activities. Most typically include a short status update or blog and may include an instant messenger, email client, games, etc. Some are more or less considered to be for specific content or uses such as blogs (Bloglines / WordPress), videos (YouTube), music/podcasts (Jango / Last.FM / MyPodcast), images (Flickr / Photobucket), alumni (Classmates.com), or dating (eHarmony).


Most of the big companies are trying to follow suit, such as Yahoo! (Yahoo! Profiles), Microsoft (Windows Live Spaces), Google (Orkut). Google has just released Google Buzz into Gmail as a media pool. It is doubtful any of these will ever become greatly successful though.


File Sharing and Remote Desktop Support. Indeed the largest topic yet. The climaxing need in this day and age is the ability to have anything and everything you need at the flick of a finger on one's phone (iPhone or Blackberry), MP3 player, laptop, desktop or work computer. Today, technology has made great leaps and bounds when appealing to this need. Speed, security, and compatibility are the three primary concerns when it comes to sharing anything. Our society has become less and less patient with slower technology, so that is a must. Privacy can be a huge issue if not addressed properly. Last, and certainly not least, compatibility is vital to various technologies (operating systems / programs).


As noted earlier, Microsoft offers several choices to both file synchronization and remote support. Before I delve into these two, there area few points to mention. First, remote desktop can mean one of two ideas: one, accessing the computer from a remote location, and two, allowing someone else from a remote location view (and not interact with) your PC. File sharing can also be split in two ways: one, private synchronization between your personal computers and phone(s) for access anywhere, and two, sharing amongst friends and coworkers. To make it easier to explain, I will divide this section by how "sharable" these free services are.


For personal use, Microsoft offers SkyDrive, which benefits users with 25 GB of free storage. Windows Live Mesh is both a great syncing tool between computers (with 5 GB of online storage) and remote desktop for your personal computers. For very secure remote desktop experience, try LogMeIn. Although most of their features are not free, what is free and the ability to operate completely in a browser setting from the remote computer is fantastic. You can implement up to at least four security checkpoints before access to a particular computer is granted.


Although SkyDrive does offer a public folder, and LogMeIn allows you to send a link via email to other users, these are not great or secure sharing practices beyond personal use. Microsoft Office Live Workspace also offers a program to "share" your desktop with other users by sending an invitation via an email, but I would only recommend this under last resort if you are demonstrating remotely and you cannot install anything on the remote PC (or iPhone / iPod Touch). If you have the option to run and/or install TeamViewer, this is a fantastic program.


TeamViewer almost rivals LogMeIn, except that you are limited to basic remote desktop features in the browser, or you must download and run (or install) the program on the client side. However, its free features far outweigh LogMeIn. In addition to remote support, it offers presentation (non-interaction) mode, and a couple of file sharing tools (FTP and VPN); nevertheless, this is will not sync files. However, to counter that, LogMeIn also offers Hamachi (a VPN service). The other fairly unique advantage that TeamViewer offers is the ability to share the computer with more than one user. All the other users need are the two sets of digits / passwords, and it can be securely accessed.


If you have Microsoft Office Groove (and you're friends are "fortunate" to own the program or you have it on multiple computers), I would recommend Microsoft Groove for file sharing. The program acts more like an instant messenger, however. Advantages include sharing as many separate folders as you please, to whom you please, and as large as you please. You change a file at one location, it syncs, and your other PCs or friends' PCs are notified.


However, this is only a dream for most, and it does not offer online storage. Similar to the 5 GB of online storage offered by Microsoft Live Mesh, and sharing options and notifications of updates of Microsoft Office Groove, I offer you DropBox. For free, you start off with 2 GB, but as you invite friends this is a nifty file sharing website will add 250 MB for each friend you add (to a total limit of 5 GB). Start by signing up, installing the program and sharing a folder. There's nothing real "fancy" about it, which is great because it is practically seamless. When a friend updates a file, a pop-up will notify you on your desktop, and the website's notification "wall" is very much like Facebook's news feed. Dropbox also offers the chance to undelete files and find previous versions of the original file.


Other Tools of the Trade. Never thought I'd stop on that, did you? Well, I promise if you managed to read all of it thus far, you're doing well. As technology advances, we have more and more flexibilities. Web browsing is a must for the internet, and therefore the browser you use is just as important. Talking about sharing desktops and files means that you also want your bookmarks and passwords synced too. First and foremost, use Mozilla Firefox as your default browser. Bookmarks are very important, but it is very difficult to keep them maintained, especially if you often use two or more computers. For this I recommend the Xmarks add-on (formerly Foxmarks). It can be installed for most browsers and, just like DropBox, will allow access to them online as well.


Passwords are by far important to remember and keep stored in a secure location. Think storing your passwords in a text file is safe? Not a chance! And when you really need to access a password quickly, will you always have your flash drive on you with a portable program when you need it most? Probably not! However, they are important too. I will forewarn you that it is imperative to keepi your secret phrases in multiple, secure files/locations. This means both on and offline. KeePass is a fantastic program to use offline and I would recommend it to anyone who needs a program that will store anything you want (websites, keypads, security codes, etc.). However, sometimes that's just not enough.


Browsers have built-in password managers, but these are lousy, to put it bluntly. I myself have used them, but they aren't very secure (even with a *ahem* SINGLE master password), and you can't easily sync (although I will note that Xmarks does let you do this). LastPass is a great online alternative to KeePass (and no, I do not believe that they are related in any way). LastPass replaces the browser's password manager and stores your keys online, so while you may cringe at the though, don't...it's very encrypted (certainly more than your built-in password manager), and you can access it remotely as well! The only disadvantage I found was that it is not easy to store browser information like you can in KeePass.



So there we have it! End of story? Nope! As technology advances, diversity and unity will both continue to increase. I may not be one who would normally punch someone in the nose, but if ever I meet the fellow who said that the computer would make our lives easier (and not different or more complicated)...well, I'll let you fill in the blank.

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What about Google Wave? or Firefox Weave? or Linux Ubuntu One?These are also 'cloud-based' applications for communication, file backups and file sharing?Are you familiar with them?

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What about Google Wave? or Firefox Weave? or Linux Ubuntu One?These are also 'cloud-based' applications for communication, file backups and file sharing?
Are you familiar with them?

I know you read my previous article on Google Wave, so yes, I know that one. The other two escape me though, (Linux Ubuntu One because I'm not as much of a Linux guy as I can tell you are).

There's only so much that I can mention in an article, and it seemed like I would be repeating too many things if I did. The article was long enough (to write) today as is...what more do you want? Ha, ha.

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TeamviewerPie In The "sky" (a.k.a. Cloud Computing)

We call a long text like this un ladrillo (a brick) but it's informative and I've read it through. I reached it by searching information on Teamviewer or Logmein now I have to work at home and at the office and in the short future I'll be on the road. So my question goes at do any of this application work on iPhone/Touch?. BTW, Dropbox is very useful.

-reply by PacoA.

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