How to use personal computing data clouds?

I’d been meaning to ask this question this week, and getting an invite to drop-box today was the final push.

I want to set up most of my important files, my favorites, photos, videos, multitudes of files, and maybe even my music, where it’s always accessible for me-by my phone, tablet, NB, or PC. I want things to by synched. I haven’t decided whether to go with apple, android, or nokia’s meego in the coming months when the next generation of phones/tablets is released (would prefer a larger tablet that can do phone calls).

An article about apple that I posted a while back showed that apple is making a big push toward cloud data. What is the shape of things to come, and what content storer would be the best to go with?

Should I use something like dropbox, which seems to suit the needs I mentioned above, and I assume would synch for all phone operating systems? Or is it better to just create my own server?

Or is using google for everything the best idea?

Thanks Maoman. Thanks mabagal for any input you can make, and others too.

Sugarsync’s worth a look. More sophisticated than Dropbox. I’ve been using it for a couple of years. The way I’ve set it up, it syncs nearly all my “My Documents” folders across two computers, keeping the folder structure intact. All that stuff is also available on any computer via a browser interface. (That also works on modern smartphones/tablets, plus there are some native mobile client apps available though I don’t use them.)

Photos are handled nicely. As well as being synced as part of the overall folder structure, the same photos are also automatically viewable and shareable on the web via a kind of albums view, with thumbnails, slideshows, etc.

Apple may go in this direction one day, but for now their MobileMe cloud service is moderately useful for e-mail and address book, less useful for calendar (too many compatability issues), and utterly useless for data - their iDisk seems OK for backup and nothing else.

Dropbox and SugarSync seem to be the two big programs out there. I’ve got them both on my iPhone, my Mac, and my Windows work computer, although I’m still figuring out how to use them; I’m pretty sure they’re useful across multiple platforms, i.e. Android… Both are free for low data amounts - 2GB or so? - but you can pay more for more data. Dropbox syncs everything you put in Dropbox, which effectively becomes another folder on your computer. SugarSync synchronizes any folders that you indicate, so in that sense it interferes less with however your computer is already set up. For now I’m only comfortable using those for projects, not for all my data.

Your own music files don’t easily work in the cloud yet. iPhone apps like ZumoCast make this possible, but it’s still a bit kludgy; people also use Dropbox for this. There are rumours that Apple is going to do more with cloud music, but not much has happened yet. On the one hand, it’d be great if I could access my iTunes library anywhere; on the other hand, iTunes is already a bloated monstrosity.

I suspect things are going towards cloud computing across a number of platforms: for example, Amazon is handling this very well with their e-books. Any Kindle book I buy is available to me on my iPhone, my Kindle, my Mac desktop at home, my Windows desktop at work, and through any internet browser (but, due to Amazon’s DRM, unfortunately not on any other e-reader). It will sync notes and underlining, and always take me to the most recently read page in the book.

Apple is doing a pretty good job of keeping my address book and mail synchronized; Picasa/ Google seems good for photos. If I ever had to do group projects, I’d probably use Google Docs.

This New York Times article, “10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Technology”…
… talks a fair bit about cloud computing - they recommend Picasa to store all your photos, for example. I haven’t gone that far yet, and Delicious’s uncertain fate has me skeptical about storing things in the cloud, rather than just using cloud services for backup or for “currently operational” projects.

Prompted by your question, I finally had a look at Picasa’s rates: 1GB free; 20GB for $5USD/year; 80GB for $20/year; 200GB for $50/year. My own photos folder is currently at 70GB. $20 seems OK.

You’ll need to do some exploration to find what works best for you, but I found less is more here. There are a cornucopia of apps out there to do specific scenarios (eg: Evernote) if you need specific things, but I found it easier to simply avoid the clutter, go deep with a smaller set of apps and overload them as needed. Another thing to keep in mind is what your end-point devices are and what are your specific uses.

I try to keep it simple. My stack is:

  • Dropbox for files
  • GMail for Contacts, Calendars, Mail, Notes
  • YouTube and Facebook for most photos and videos (simply choose privacy settings per picture/video). YouTube does native H.264 now at up to 1080P, and Facebook does HiRes and ability to set privacy per album, so there you go.

That’s pretty much it.

Here’s a good Dropbox Tips & Tricks to do pretty much anything you might want to do: … kit-guide/

I still need some native editors and annotators for docx/xlsx/pptx, pdf & images at my “terminals” but with those I get everything I need. There are some corner-cases that require workarounds (eg: e-mail file to self, open doc in mail, save to Dropbox) but it’s really close to just working.

For the work I do, we also use several “cloud” based tools for project management, issue tracking and collaboration.

How well this “cloud” approach will work for you depends on your use patterns. For example:

  • I use my phone to generate probably 99% of videos and photos I take
  • I make it a point to have 3G when traveling if possible
  • I spend a lot of time away from my main machine
  • I carry a connected iPad much of that time

The stack will likely change at some point as things evolve, but for now, this simple stack has been very good.

Thanks guys for those useful posts, clarified things more for me. I’ve got some planning to do-pruning and moving a heap of data/files, and choosing what platforms and operating systems I’ll use.