Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Cloud

In today’s world, the best way to be productive is to be wired to the ‘cloud’. It’s a way to be more efficient by being up to date on one’s engagements and\or activities. The problem is that one usually has more than one device. For instance, the office computer, home computer, tablet or iPad, Sony Dash and HDTV linked to an old laptop and, finally, the Smart phone.  Ideally one just needs a laptop and a smart phone but that does not work for most people. One cannot work on personal stuff in the office but now and again one does sneak in a task or two. After all that’s the work – life balance promoted everywhere. But the most difficult thing is to have a synchronized calendar and task lists that contains both office and home tasks. In real life, it’s not as easy as it could be.

The solution is the cloud where one keeps all his productivity tools and information in a central location for one’s devices to access. Perhaps the best solution is Google Calendar and tools like Spring Pad and Ever Note which are available as apps in the Android market (for tablet and Smart Phone) and has its own web site (for computer work). The problem is that one’s office tools don’t synchronize with these cloud based tools; preferring its own silo of information. Lotus Notes rarely have direct links to Google based products; preferring an intermediary such as Microsoft Outlook. Other tools do exist in the market that bridges the gap but one needs to pay for it. The best option is the free option so one just needs to re-enter the information from one application to another if one doesn’t pay the price. Hence, one needs to manually move tasks or appointments from Lotus Notes Calendar into Google Calendar.

For tasks or to do list, the best option is Spring Pad or Ever Note - a close second. One could access these applications in one’s home computer, Android tablet and office computer (via the Internet). Not an elegant solution but workable. The Google platform provides the best place to have cloud based tools such as Google Docs and Calendar. But one would need a wireless connection if one does not have a monthly data plan like most folks. The monthly plan is like an open faucet that drains one’s cash little by little. The most cost effective solution are WiFi only tablets. Spring Pad and Ever Note can work remotely and can synchronize later when one is within a WiFi zone. But these tools are not available in the Sony Dash – another interesting platform that uses a UNIX variant. But Sony Dash can link to the Internet and access Google Calendar.

As one ages, the Smart phone loses its attractiveness because of the small screen. One’s eyesight is not as good as in one’s youth. The alternative is the iPad or the other Android variants with their 7 to 10 inch screens. For the long term, Google seems to have the most promising platform although Microsoft seems to be gearing up for a battle in the cloud. The recent purchase of Skype plus the partnership with Nokia are the rumblings of a strategy poised to strive at Apple and Google. In the long run, Apple does not seem to have a long term future if focused on hardware; something that’s not cost competitive unless the aim is the high end market. Google and Amazon seem better positioned towards a cloud based future. It remains to be seen if Microsoft can make a successful transition to the cloud.

Other interesting applications are coming up that will make the cloud work. Dropbox is a free service where can store and synchronize one’s files in the cloud to one’s many devices. A similar service exists in Google and Microsoft’s Windows Live but does not have the ease that is specialized for this task. Even browsers like Firefox have a way to synchronize one’s bookmarks in all devices. Now one is gearing up one’s home computer to be able to support one’s office work – installing connectivity to the office Intranet. It’s the link between the so-called private and public cloud. Perhaps the challenge is adjusting to this new lifestyle of multiple smart devices and cloud computing. How does an aspiring writer take advantage of the cloud? Aside from the writing tools such as Google Docs, one can take advantage of the emerging self-publishing trend with the help of sites like Amazon.

Complicating all these is the Internet TV exemplified by Google TV and Boxee. Aside from the entertainment and educational value, one can also use cloud services – aided by wireless keyboard and mouse.  For example, checking one’s calendar or tasks in ones HDTV. Consequently, one can make VOIP phone calls in ones tablet, computer or HDTV. It’s a wired world with the cloud as the central platform for services, interaction and content. Of course, the cloud is just a high concept description of the Internet. We are all just returning to the old days of dumb terminal to mainframe connectivity or perhaps the more recent (1980’s) client – server model which was replaced by Microsoft and Apple’s drive into the home computer front. The early days of the Internet and dotcoms facilitated connectivity but Face book, Google and Amazon brought everything back into the cloud of centralized existence.

Google is fighting another battle with Chrome. The Chrome web browser seems to be the emergent front end for net book computers. Chrome is morphing into an operating system and one wonders if an Android replacement at hand. The Chrome marketplace (computer + HDTV) is the counterpart to the successful Android marketplace (phone + tablet) which is the counterpart to the successful Apple or iTunes marketplace (iPhone + iPad). Even Amazon is offering the Android marketplace in its site. The only missing player is Microsoft perhaps hoping for some help from Nokia. The Chrome environment will only make sense if there are apps that exist in Android to insure workability in all devices (computer + tablet + phone + HDTV). Otherwise, Chrome will prove attractive only in the HDTV and computer platforms and not in the Smart phone and tablet space. It remains to be seen how all these strategies will play out in the coming years.

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