Into the Clouds

Dawn clouds over Monument Valley AZ

Dawn Clouds over Monument Valley

The Cloud sounds like a good idea. You put pictures and files into the cloud and others can get them back out no matter where they are: New York, Scottsdale, at a McDonalds in Illinois or the Starbucks in Bucharest.

All you need is access to the Internet and a cloud to call your own.

I can put up pictures from someone’s birthday party, my sister in Texas can see them as well as adding her own, and our distant cousins up in Canada can add theirs including family history pictures that all of us can then see.

And the cloud services make backup copies so if anyone’s computer breaks, the cloud is still there and the pictures and other files are safe.

Is it really that simple and easy?

Before putting up all our family pictures and all my work files, I need to be sure. So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be thinking about a “family cloud” and also a “work cloud”. This article is the starting point as I consider the pros and cons.

The issues I’m concerned with include:

  • Access. Does the cloud provider provide a secure login (https) or is my password flying naked across the Internet? Also, how can I ensure that a good (strong) password is used by all participants so an evil-doer doesn’t guess Uncle Willard’s login and password and show up as “Uncle Willard” on the family cloud or hack into my business cloud?
  • Security. Can Uncle Willard — who would’ve guessed he could be so good with computers in his 90s? — delete your kid’s birthday pictures on the cloud, either intentionally or by accident? Do you have a backup for the cloud in case Uncle Willard has an “oops?” Does the cloud service let someone (who in the family?) protect certain directories but enable others for anyone to use?
  • Proprietary Software: Do I have to use the cloud provider’s special “proprietary” software to get to the cloud or can I do it from a typical web browser? Web browsers get used by an enormous number of people and, if they have bugs, they tend to get fixed pretty quickly. Proprietary software with a much smaller audience may leave me stuck for an extended period if their software fails but only in a way that affects a small number of users. And if I need to use someone else’s computer, will they let me install the proprietary software? (Most computers made available by hotels will not allow you to install new programs.)
  • Convenience: Is it intuitive to use and is it used the same way across all environments (and OSes)? “Drag and drop” is the key phrase but some home users are unaware of the difference between “copying” and “moving”. With the cloud, Uncle Willard could wreak all kinds of havoc and not realize he’s doing any damage. (Lord, protect us from naivé users.)
  • Longevity: Will the company that’s providing my “cloud” go belly-up and abandon my data to Never, Never land? This recently happened with the web-hosting provider we were using for flat5.net. It took weeks to get anyone at the rapidly disappearing company to release our domain. On one phone call, the support person said, “Oh, I’m sorry you’re having trouble. They laid off that department last week. Can you explain what a ‘domain’ is so I can help you?”
  • Bandwidth: What’s your bandwidth? As more and more of what you want moves there, you’re going to want faster and faster service. Pictures are big and getting bigger. And those videos are thousands of times bigger still.

For my work, I need to access a me-only cloud from Windows XP, Windows 7, a couple of versions of Linux and from my personally-owned iPad2 as an emergency fallback. For the family cloud, MacOS would be added and Linux removed from that list.

Convenience of use across those platforms will be a significant issue for me: the user interface needs to be close to the same across the board. And for less computer-savvy family members, that convenience is going to be even more important.

I’m just getting started with “the cloud” and have just started looking at two providers, box.net and dropbox.com. The first does everything through a web browser — a plus, but there’s nothing visible on my computer called “the cloud” so it’s hard to visualize it as a place to keep things. The latter needs proprietary software installed on each computer using their service — that’s a negative, but once installed, the user-interface is the ubiquitous “drag and drop” — a very significant plus.

Comments from users, not providers, will be particularly welcome on this topic.

1 thought on “Into the Clouds

  1. Starting in second place, dropbox.com took a big leap forward in the race when a posting on their forum said that the files check-marked (by me) as “Favorite” would be downloaded and local files saved in the dropbox folder. Those not marked in this way would be downloaded only when opened. Because I am often in locations where the Internet is not available — such as a customer’s secured lab — that “local copy” option is essential to me.

    The competitor, box.net, does not have such an option — with box.net, I would need to manually copy each file of interest to a different folder to be sure and have a copy.

    With dropbox.com, I can leave everything in the dropbox folder at all times, and use the *Favorite* attribute to make sure I have a local copy to use when off the net.

    Dropbox.com is now in first place in the competition. I will try out the setup and “Favorite” status this week in a test run.
    Stay Tuned!

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