Life in the Clouds

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Life in the Clouds
by Admin 6/12/2008 10:20:00 PM
Recently, I did something ouchy. I dropped my laptop on the cold, hard tile of my bathroom floor. (Don’t ask). The machine didn’t exactly break, but the hard drive died in the crash. Instantly, I got a great refresher course in “how often do you back up” and “just which apps do you use regularly, anyway? I learned something interesting: I do a LOT of my computing in the clouds. Could you do the same?

Email Client
gmailI’ve been using Gmail and the standalone version for some time now. It works exceptionally well once you get over the difference in how Gmail is laid out as compared to Outlook. The main difference is that there aren’t all kinds of folders where you can stuff all your mail. It’s all in one big view. However, Gmail lets you use “labels,” which once you get it into your head, are just another way of thinking about folders. “Everything about the Vending Machine project is labled ‘Vending Machine’ is pretty much the same as having a folder by that name.” There. Got it?

Benefits to Gmail over something like Outlook is that it’s free, that it can be used on BlackBerry devices with Internet access without needing an enterprise server account, and that it’s accessible via any web browser. The drawbacks are that you have to be connected to the web to use it UNLESS you configure a POP3 or IMAP client, and then you can compose emails on long stints at the airport. Overall, I’m a big fan of Gmail.

Other examples of apps you can use that are like this include Yahoo! Mail, Zimbra, and of course Windows Live Mail (or however they re-named Hotmail).

Google Calendar

google calendarThere are some great features in Google Calendar, including sharing of calendars, meta data, tagging, customized views, and more. I can also load and remove multiple calendars from its view, so that if I have information that’s only pertinent at certain times, I can load that up onto another calendar and not clutter my “primary” view.

The number one complaint people switching from Outlook would offer is probably related to the lack of tasking features. Our company uses these features a great deal, and while there are a few weak workarounds, like implementing Remember the Milk, it’s just not as robust in this regard. For me, personally, this isn’t a big deal. If your company is using tasking, you might consider how this might impact things.

One last benefit: I can promote others to see, edit, and/or manipulate my calendars, and it’s flexible, so if you work with cross-team or intra-extra company configurations, this is really useful.

You can also try Box.net, which is pretty useful and a cloud app as well.

Google Docs
spreadsheetGoogle Docs acts as a web-based version of a word proccessing application, a spreadsheet app, and now, even a presentation application (note: I’ve discovered that it works okay-ish, but I like making my presentations on my own machine with different software (I’m a Mac guy, so I use Keynote).

For word processing, it works really great. I enjoy the collaborative feel of working on a doc with more than one contributor. Further, they keep throwing features into the mix that add to the usefulness overall.

I also enjoy their spreadsheet application. I think it has enough features to keep the casual user happy, but probably won’t really hold up to your power users. Still, if you could replace 75% of your office’s use of this app with this free web version, would that help? NOTE: because Google Apps live outside your security firewall, you might want to consider whether you put sensitive data out there. Google has privacy info, but make your own judgment call there.

Other apps you might check out would be Writeboard by 37Signals.

Zoho
zoho suite
I have met the folks who make Zoho apps a few times now. They are dedicated, driven, and committed to making a whole mess of useful apps. I’m impressed with the variety of apps they’ve built so far.

Looking at this graphic (left), they’ve built a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, project management, CRM, invoice, meeting, HR application, and many more. They are all worth trying out, and all work at different levels of quality in my perspective. If you try one application and don’t especially like where it’s going, just try another. But be sure to leave them feedback. The Zoho team are really responsive.

This application suite alone is worth testing out what it feels like to use Internet-based applications as opposed to their desktop counterparts. Why? Because they are free, accessible wherever you can find a browser, and reduce your IT efforts and expenses. They are every bit as secure as any other web application, and work on multiple operating systems.

Why the Cloud?
There are lots of reasons why one might choose to mov