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Friday, October 8, 2010

Hybrid Cloud

In my last post, I talked about how the loss of my internet connection rendered the cloud useless. Today I want to give you an idea of the alternative to the cloud, where a loss of internet connection does not mean total loss of data access. The alternative is a hybrid solution where your data is stored in the cloud, but with an automated and seamless local cache. This solution offers the best of both worlds; You get the benefits of cloud storage, security, and management, and you also get the benefits of a local storage such as speed and offline availability.

Such a solution does exist, I'm currently reviewing a product that does all this and some more. I have not finished reviewing and don't have enough information to share yet, but I'm working on it. The company offering the solution gives 1 year free for anyone blogging or reviewing their product, I hope they give this year before anything's written, I would like to try it for some time before writing about it.

I won't tell you which company, but I will hint that it's an Australian company.

See ya next time, when I will have some more information on a great hybrid cloud/local solution.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cloud Without Net

For the last few weeks, I've been suffering from either complete loss of net connection, or a very slow connection(64Kbs). Yes 64 Kilo bits, not bytes, per second. I wonder which is worse, complete loss or the slow net? I also wonder how life in the cloud can exist with such connectivity. Well, it can't.

In order to live in the cloud, you need to have a fast, consistent connection. Being without such a connection, you're kind of like someone who made a backup on an external hard drive, forgot it at home and went to work. He can still access the data, but he'd have to go home and get it. Very slow process. Very impractical. This is how it is in developing countries, where the net is slow, not always available, and/or has a download limit. I have a 10 gig/month limit which I finished on the 13th of the month. This is what caused the speed to drop from 2.4 Mbs to 64Kbs. Huge drop from cloud #9 to earth. Then I completely lost the connection due to an error at the ISP.

Loss of connection meant loss of everything. I became very dependent on Google Docs and Blogger. I find it very convenient to write on Google Docs, and I have a lot of things on Docs, with no local backup. So when the net was lost, I had no way to continue writing or reviewing my work. In order not to be completely out of touch with my documents, I will have to make local backups, since my ISP might throw another problem any time without notice. I consider this a slap in the face since I'm trying to promote the idea of The Cloud.

I have to admit, for the time being, the cloud is for developed countries, but for developing countries, I think in order to benefit from the cloud, it would have to be an intranet cloud. Developing countries will have to wait a few more years to benefit from the full internet cloud.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Google Chrome Sync Feature

Yesterday, while I was on the computer, I tried to open an application and the computer decided to freeze. Nothing that a reset can't fix, I thought. So I reset, and waited. And waited. And waited...but Windows would not start, I was stuck at a black screen with nothing I can do. Safe Mode did not work. Last known good configuration did not work. Nothing worked. Luckily, I had another partition with an older copy of Windows that still worked. I booted that copy and reinstalled Windows, and selected the Repair option for the affected partition. That fixed it and, thankfully, everything is back to normal.

The reason I'm telling you all this is due to the fact that the main thing I was interested in saving was the data that Chrome stores: Bookmarks, Settings, Passwords and so on. I managed to find where it saves its information in Documents and Settings, yes, but that was cumbersome and it does not allow merger with another copy of Chrome on another machine. It will only allow overwrite, and that is something I don't want.

After some clicking, it turns out that Chrome has a nice feature called Sync, found in Options under Personal Stuff. Sync is very easy, all you need is a Gmail account and you're all set. Sync stores your settings and bookmarks in the Cloud, on Google servers with access from any computer. Just log in with your Gmail account and it will Sync all the information you've selected. This is very good if you're recovering from a crash.

I have used other bookmark managers before, namely Foxmarks, but after a while, it became too heavy. It is especially noticeable when you first start your browser and it starts to sync. The browser became so slow and annoying that I decided not to drop Foxmarks and risk losing the data. It is also restricted to bookmarks and passwords, settings are not saved. I did not know of Chrome's Sync feature until today, and that is why I've been without a backup all this time. Never again!

Note, I remember using a Firefox extension that allowed you to save your settings and data to a file, and if I remember correctly, there was a 3rd party service that would do host your data on their servers. It works the same as Chrome's Sync, but the main difference here is that Sync is not 3rd party and it's not an extension. It's a built in feature, ready to go.

Way to go Chrome!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Backup Even in the Cloud

A few weeks ago, I opened my Youtube account and wanted to have a look at one of the channels I'm subscribed to. I browsed to my subscriptions page and I was ready to click on the channel, but there was no channel name. It disappeared and so did all my other channels. I thought that I was doing something wrong, or they moved the links to somewhere else on the page or site. But a simple Google search revealed that I'm not mistaken and I'm not the only one with the problem.

Try this Google search, "youtube subscriptions gone", see what you come up with. All my channels, and everyone else's, are lost in cyberspace. The Cloud has proven itself less reliable than promised. Backup whenever possible is still crucial to preserving data. One problem with Youtube subscriptions is that there's no way to back them up. I hope they learned their lesson and will fix this in the future. And I hope you will learn from my lesson.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Glide Present II

I've been away from this blog for too long. I stumbled upon it today while looking for something, and I remembered that it was here. When I got here, I started reading the entries and thought I should continue with Glide and their offerings. This entry is about their presenter, as you can see from the title.

My first encounter with Present was not so good, I obviously was in a hurry, or was expecting it to be more like PowerPoint. Today, I had a bit more time and was expecting it to be different from PP. I created a test presentation with about five pages. The experience was smooth and straightforward. When I tried to save the presentation, it took longer than expected, but worked OK. Those were the pros. The cons are not directly related to Present, but rather to some 'logistics' surrounding it.

Glide Present provides an Export feature. The only export options are PowerPoint and PDF, which is fine. But the problem with their export is that it does not happen right away; it is queued for later export. That later export never occurred! I looked around the site to see if there's some way to know how long I have to wait in queue, or to cancel the export, but there was no indicator whatsoever. Export is a great feature, but definitely needs to be improved.

Another good feature provided by Glide is eMail. Direct from Present, you can click the eMail button, and it will pop up a window with a standard email client 'Compose' page. Your current presentation is attached to the email already, just enter the recipient's address, subject and body and you're all set. Or are you?

Your recipient will be surprised to find that there is no attachment, just a link in the mail body to the presentation on Glide website. They will get another surprise when they are prompted to enter their password. And finally, the shock, when they enter their password (assuming they are registered Glide members), they will see the password as it is being typed, there are no stars (****) to hide it. A minor bug, yes, but after the bad experience so far, it kinda adds up.

After your recipient is logged in, they are presented with a page with options to view or download the presentation. The view option worked fine, but the download option opened an empty page and it would not download. Shame that such an important feature has not been given the time it deserves.

To conclude, Glide has a good presenter, good export and sharing options (email), but they don't work as they should at this moment. I will send Glide my notes and hopefully they will get things fixed.

Seeya next time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Glide OS Present

After seeing Google's presentation software attempt, I thought to myself "this is because it's on the web, they can't really make it too sophisticated". Then I heard about Glide OS having a significantly more sophisticated presenter that can take out MS PowerPoint. I signed up for Glide and gave it a try. I will share with you my first attempt at it.

First glance will tell you it's far more advanced than Google's. A right click of the mouse will tell you that it is Flash based. I'm a fan of Flash and it's capabilities, it's a very powerful system, no doubt. The presenter is features-rich, yes, but it takes some getting used to. I had a hard time figuring out how to control the slides and the text. It differs from what I'm used in PowerPoint. I don't know why they decided to make it different, I want things to work the way I'm used to them working, I don't want to re-learn everything from scratch just to use your system. I got frustrated and decided to come write this blog instead of struggling with it and postponed creating the presentation until a later time. You will hear about that in a coming blog entry, so stay tuned.

My thoughts are that Glide provides a good presenter, but it will take a little time to master it. Google need to improve their presenter and they need to make it easier to use than Glide and PowerPoint. I look forward to finding a true replacement for PowerPoint, which I never liked, and I hope that replacement arrives soon.

4Shared Desktop

I previously wrote about some issues with 4shared Desktop application. I have downloaded it onto another computer and it seems to be working without any problems. It says it's the same release, but I doubt it. It has not given me any real errors so far. There was this one file that it would not upload using the synchronizer, but it handled it pretty well using the regular upload.

Great job 4shared folks!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Glide OS

Here's a step that seems to be in the right direction as far as Clouds are concerned. Glide OS is an ad-free platform that runs from within your browser, on almost any system. Including mobiles. Glide runs on "Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm Pre, Symbian and Windows Mobile" - Glide website. Glide provides a set of applications, such as office tools, presentation creator, image editor, and more. Included is a huge amount of free online storage to store your created files. Glide also allows you to store your files locally, unlike Google's Chromium OS, which has only an online option. They also provide a Sync app to synchronize your home and work files. With access from anywhere, especially mobile, this sounds like it could be the best offering thus far.

I just signed up for their free account, I will take it for a spin and write some more. Their free account gives you 30 GB and their premium account is 250 GB for $50 a year.

Check them out here if you're in a hurry to get started:

Til next time...

Monday, March 8, 2010

4shared Desktop Sync

I discovered that 4shared Desktop software's synchronization feature is great and can be used to sync directories and subdirectories in a really nice way. And I discovered it has some bugs as well.

For starters, one of the folder's subfolders that are in my local sync folder were "taken out" of that folder and placed in the parent directory on the server. I wish it took all of them out of that folder or the rest of the subfolders out of the folder, but no, it was just this one folder, and it even took out the subfolders within the subfolders and placed them in the parent directory. That is some twisted programming!

I was synchronizing a big folder, I think about 2GB. It took a while to analyze it and to upload the files. It did not finish in one session and it resumed after I restarted the computer. This is great, I love smart software that doesn't need to be retold everything. I was happy and relaxed that my sync operation is in good hands and that Desktop will do all the work and I will have my backup safely in the cloud. Cloud number 9, as it turns out. I come in one day, open Desktop to check on my files and operation and the upload list is empty and the sync job has been deleted. I refresh and double check and look here and there, even under the carpet, for my sync job, and it is no where to be found! Typical smart software. Now I have no idea what's uploaded and what's not and no idea how to proceed(maybe by finding a new service?)

Til next time...

Thursday, March 4, 2010's Desktop Application

4shared is an online storage and backup site, offering both a free service, and a premium, paid service. I've been using the free service for a few weeks, and I'm pretty impressed. I especially like the features of their desktop app, which acts, among other things, as a synch manager. It supports drag and drop to upload files, downloading is straightforward as well and you can set up synch jobs. 4shared desktop remembers your upload list and your synch jobs, so you don't have to worry about losing any work if you shutdown your computer (not that anyone shuts down their computer these days).

4shared desktop is light on the system, it runs silently in the background, does not interfere with your screen much, except for a little notification down in the corner, to notify you when it has finished working on a file. I've mostly used it for uploads so far, so all I see from time to time is " was uploaded". I run it on a slow computer, and I haven't noticed any slow down while it's running, so Kudos to the developers on the performance.

That said, however, I have some issues that I've found and intend to report to the 4shared team. Most notable was the issue with uploading a folder and its subfolders by drag and drop. It accepts the folder, and asks if you want to create a subfolder on the server. After answering Yes, you would expect it to create subfolders for all the subfolders. This does not happen. It will create the first subfolder and all of its children, but it will not create any of its siblings. It doesn't stop there, it continues and tries to upload the files with the siblings, but reports an error that it cannot find the parent directory and stops. I thought this was frustrating, until I tried to delete the upload list and start fresh. I selected the entire folder and all its contents and pressed Del. I kept getting an error that didn't make sense, something about not enough disk space to complete the operation and an Ok button. I had to click Ok and Del several hundred times to clear the list (about 6000 files). I'm now creating the subfolders manually and uploading.

Overall I think it's a create service, great tool, 15GB free space, with a large file size limit, 200 MB per file. I think it's 500 MB for the paid service. Give it a try and let me know what you think. They offer an affiliate program, but I didn't sign up. I want to write to bring benefit, there are already far too many affiliated writers on the web.

Visit their site:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Revolution in the Making

Single computers are slow, have very little storage and cannot be considered truly reliable when compared to the monster machines available in the "Cloud". Compare your 2 GB RAM to the hundreds of terabytes available at, say Google. Compare a single copy of your files on a single hard disk (which is how big? One tera?) to the space available at data centers and to the backup available at these centers with their expensive hardware, qualified staff and standard procedures for backup and preservation of data. Did I forget your single CPU (OK, so you have 2 processors)? Compare that to hundreds of thousands of CPUs available to you online. There's no comparison. If you can do a lot on your tiny, single computer at home or office, imagine what you can do with the thousands of computers available to you online. And a lot of the features provided are FREE.

The features are provided to you through the concept of "Cloud Computing". The cloud refers to all the computers, their storage, and CPUs which are available online. Some of the features provided are backup and storage, simple apps, complex apps, and last but not least, sharing.

Online backup is provided by many companies free of charge for a basic service and a paid premium service. Some companies offer unlimited free storage. Other companies offer less storage, but more features. While it sounds a bit strange to store your information online, it also makes sense. There will be sensitive information that you will not want to put online, this is understandable. But there are many many more items which can be stored online, and even shared with the world without any privacy concerns. Most people already share photos and videos that are not considered private, yet their private collection is kept locally, and away from the rest of the world. The great thing about storing in the Cloud is that you can access it from anywhere, any time. From your home PC, office PC, mobile, or from a web cafe or friend's home. This comes in very handy in case of a hard disk failure, and who hasn't gone through that? I recently lost 3 disk totaling about 300 GB. True, I had a back up of the most vital of data, but I still lost some good stuff that I really wanted to keep. The Cloud could've saved me, but I had not known about these sites at the time. All I had known was that used to offer 50MB a few years ago, and I remember that they stopped this service a long time ago.

Another use of the Cloud is simple online applications, such as an online office. Zoho and Google Docs are good examples of this. I personally use Google Docs. It's free. Easy to use. Easy to start. It allows import and conversion of your current documents, spreadsheets and powerpoints. It provides export features as well. My most needed export feature is PDF. It also allows you to "Convert to PDF and email". And the best feature they provide is sharing and collaboration. For me, this is a great advantage over the traditional "Edit locally, attach in email, wait for reply" method. The online method allows your colleagues to see the changes almost in real time, point you to errors, or they can just fix the errors immediately. After finishing the document, a simple click of "Convert to PDF and email" will send the document to your customer, boss, or whoever it is intended for. All this for free, all you need is a browser. This is a huge plus compared to having an office suite and PDF converter which will cost you plenty and take up your already limited resources from disk space, to memory to CPU. This is not to mention the bugs often found in such software, or the inefficient use of memory. Try opening a small file, 1 MB, document in MS Word and view memory usage in task manager. Sometimes you will see 40 MB being used. For what? Try the same with Adobe Acrobat. I can't understand or justify the use of so much memory for such a small file. Let Google or Zoho worry about memory, not me.

More sophisticated features are available, such as distributed processing, where thousands of CPUs are used to make complex calculations. One such application is Google's Voice Search. Voice search requires voice recognition, which has not been really practical, even though it has been here for quite some time. Google has included Voice Search on mobile devices, where processing power and memory are very limited. Voice Search utilizes the Cloud for matching spoken words to a database of existing patterns, allowing it to give very accurate results in both recognizing the spoken words, and in delivering the most relevant results. This is done by comparing the search query to the most recent queries and providing the result based on what the many computers in Google's grid suggest.