I recently posted in Windows Forums about what I think will be the emphasis in Windows 8 development. In a nutshell, I talked about “the cloud”. For those of you not familiar with this terminology, just think about local storage; your C: drive. Now imagine all of the things you hold dear on that little hard drive platter floating around on the internet, ready for you to grab from anywhere. Photos, contacts, e-mails, notes, files, application settings; the list goes on and on. That is the concept of the cloud. Whether you’re ready to face that reality or not, it’s here. It’s the future (and the present, actually) of personal computing and I’m going to explain exactly why, how and why it works, and how you can cloudify (yes, I made up that word) your computing experience .
About a month ago I didn’t really care about the cloud. At home I checked my Live Mail through Windows Live Mail, my contacts lived in Outlook (which were synced from my home and work computers to my Windows phone) alongside my tasks and calendar, and any documents I needed were USB synced to my phone and carried with me. It suited me. “This is how computing works,” I thought. Isn’t it? I had what I needed at my fingertips, and if I didn’t have it I could wait a couple of hours and it would be within my grasp. However, this model has inherent flaws. Ask anyone who has ever re-installed Windows or switched smartphones. What happens then? Well, for starters, you waste tons of time backing up and restoring data and you get that sinking feeling in your stomach that maybe some files will be lost or you will lose all of your texts or contacts from your old phone.
Then, about 2 weeks ago, something magical came around and changed my whole perspective on personal computing. I was getting sick of my old Windows smartphone with its sluggish performance and outdated UI and decided I was going to spring for an Android handset. AT&T launched the Aria, the first decent Android phone for the carrier, and I was going to get it. It would be mine. Long story short, after arguing with AT&T reps about how I felt duped to buy my last phone and my bad experience with it, I got an early upgrade and bought the Aria. (Disclaimer here: I’m an Android fanboy now. Seriously. You should get one if you can; it changed my life.) Since then, my outlook has changed. Google has nailed this whole cloud thing, and I started changing the way I was working because of it. I became more productive at work and at home. I stopped losing little bits of information (like the grocery list). I don’t have to plug my phone into USB to sync anything anymore (sans music, they haven’t really figured that one out yet).
Let me explain how it works on Android, through a slew of different apps. You boot up your phone for the first time. It asks you for your Google ID. If you have one, you are instantly connected to your GMail, Google Contacts, and Google Calendar. Plug in your Exchange e-mail information from your work. Boom. Work e-mail, contacts, and calendar. Facebook? Credentials. Boom. Facebook contacts are synced into your address book. Twitter? Boom. The list goes on. Absolutely everything you need at your fingertips is put right in front of you; right from the internet. Read a book on your PC with the Kindle software. Pick up your iPad and start reading from the page you left off on. Write down a grocery list in a webapp on a desktop; look at it in the grocery store on your phone. Make a list of things to do that is viewable and editable from anywhere. Is it really that hard to believe? Logging into your physical desktop is basically the same thing, but your information is stored in your username’s folder instead and is not accessible to anything but that computer.
I think Windows 8 is going to be heavy on this kind of functionality. Rich already mentioned in a forum post that Microsoft is working on facial recognition: walk into the room and the computer knows who you are and logs into your account. Now imagine tying that to a Windows Live ID (they wouldn’t tie it to a Google ID or MobileMe account, would they?) and other outside providers through plugins. All of a sudden, your Live Mail is up, with Live Messenger and Live Calendar. So is Facebook with pictures. SkyDrive downloads your files from another location. I think Windows will also include some type of app store, as software in boxes from Staples is quickly going the way of the dinosaur. You log in with your Live ID and it knows what programs you’ve bought and installed. If you’re on your new laptop it will automatically download the software you’ve purchased but not installed on the laptop. It finds updates and installs them automatically for your installed software. Are you getting yet how big this is? No more carrying around a USB drive. No more manual syncs. You store all of your information in the cloud and it is automatically pushed out to any device that has that logon ID associated with it. Laptops. Desktops. Smartphones. eReaders. Tablets. Cars. Those cool sunglasses with built-in mp3 players and earphones (Okay, maybe not. And I retract my statement saying they are cool.) This is changing the way we use technology.
Now, how do you work with the cloud to become more productive? That, my friends, is where some great applications come in. The key is finding apps that work and don’t require local storage. Making the transition to the cloud will be different for everyone as well. It all depends on the syncing capabilities of your devices. Anyways, here are some great apps I’ve come across along with a short description of what they do. I still recommend keeping most documents, pictures, and videos on local storage, but other stuff belongs in the cloud.
Windows Live Suite:
Office Web Apps
SkyDrive (borderline, requires the PC where the actual files are housed to be connected to the service to sync)
Google Suite (my fave):
Google Tasks – Simple to-do list, managed on Android with GTasks and as a webapp on iOS.
Google Voice – Replaces your carrier’s voicemail with Google Voice. Access the text or audio of your voicemail from e-mail, text, or the Google voice app, delete voicemails from any of those interfaces. Also compose texts or call from the app itself.
Dropbox – Sync files across multiple platforms by simply dropping them in a special folder. Available on Android, iOS, WIndows, & Linux.
Simplenote – A rich text format (RTF) editor with client software on iOS (Simplenote) & Android (mNote) along with a web app. Evernote is also popular.
WordPress – Blogging author tool that usually is a webapp, but has client apps on iOS and Android now.