First, a little lesson in computer jargon. When people refer to “the Cloud” they should be (but unfortunately aren’t always as demonstrated by Microsoft’s daft commercials) referring to computers (aka servers) set up to provide access to/from anywhere there’s Internet access.
You may think of Google Docs for storage/retrieval of files, flickr for photos, YouTube for video, etc. These all could be considered to be in “the Cloud.” The reference comes from computer network diagrams that would represent connections to the Internet as connections to a cloud. Over time, the term has stuck and is now being used to refer to cloud computing and cloud storage, both occuring on Internet-connected servers.
Alright, with that lesson behind us and with the media getting excited over Apple’s recent attempt (their second play) at cloud storage solutions, I thought I’d explain how inexpensive (free in most cases) and easy it is to make use of various cloud storage solutions to protect your digital assets and make it easy to access from any device with Internet access.
We have always had two options regarding our digital music.
1) Buying each track/album and then having to safeguard them because if they’re lost, they’re lost.
2) Subscribing to a music service for a monthly fee and downloading anything you want and having being able to play those tracks as long as you maintain your subscription and connect your player to the service at least once every couple weeks.
I have never been able to justify the cost of owning music since my taste changes weekly and I love being able to flush my current playlists and replace with something entirely different when the urge hits. So I’m going to talk about subscription service here. If you have sunk $$s into owning your music, you should consider Amazon’s Cloud Player service or Apple’s new iCloud (so I’m told but I don’t have much info on that).
I’ve look at many subscription services and hands down the best option for my family is Rhapsody’s Premium Plus service. We have multiple music players and computers at home and for $15 a month we all can connect our devices at any computer in our home and select any songs (I’ve yet to discover something not available that I’ve wanted). Rhapsody’s software and site also enables easy playlist creation and management.
So if a device or computer goes south, there’s nothing lost. We simply connect it’s replacement to the Rhapsody service and voila! All songs and playlists are restored.
The one downside is that Rhapsody’s software for Windows is cludgy and undependable. Still, we find it worth that hassle. Rhapsody’s Android software is the bomb. It sounds better than any other music app on my Android (which lacks an equalizer) and downloads playlists for playing offline. There’s an iPhone Rhapsody app as well.
Someone recently asked about Google’s new Music service (in beta)
Photos / Movies
There has really only one option for me regarding photos, flickr. That’s primarily because I invested in their solution years ago and it would be difficult to move to another. I have thousands of photos stored with flickr. They are also stored across multiple computers in our home.
But recently Microsoft’s Windows Live Skydrive got a big face lift that is making me consider using it more for photos and videos. It’s downside is it doesn’t offer unlimited storage … only 25 gigs (that’s a lot of storage until you start adding videos) for now.
Microsoft’s Windows Live Essentials (along the same lines as Mac’s iHome and/or MobileMe but more functional and less frilly) comes with a tool called Windows Live Mesh. It’s a painfully easy way to automatically store recent versions of files to cloud storage. It uses part of the aforementioned Skydrive service so all your cloud storage, including these synchronized files can be in one place.
Most of us now use smartphones and that usually means you can link your phone’s address book with your email platform’s. If you own an Android phone, it’s amazingly easy to link to a Gmail address book. If you have a Windows Phone 7, a Hotmail (aka Windows Live Mail) account is easily synced. However you do it, the end result is two or more copies of your address book including cloud storage.
Windows Live Mail for the desktop is a great way to back up your address book to your computer for those times when there’s no Internet access or, heaven forbid, your email service decides to delete your account or lose your information (it’s happened, many times).
Most email services combine mail, address book and calendar functionality. So all the same means of backing up and storing your address book in multiple locations mentions above apply to your calendar as well.