“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Your Head in Virtual Clouds

Once upon a time several years ago, a computer-user, me, lost everything in a hard drive crash. It was a terrible lesson to have to learn. It felt like having been beaten up by some criminal. This computer-user had just enough saved on disks to get most pictures back. She had the operating system restored and some data; then she got an external backup drive that backed up automatically. She also stored some video and photos manually on this external drive.

But even with all those good intentions and actions, it happened again. She discovered that restoring from the auto back-up drive was a real pain. The files were recovered in some formats that just added to the aggravation.

But now, having gotten a new computer with Windows 7 and all the data restored, she discovered Clouds. And she lived happily ever after, so far.

So, what are Clouds?


Photo: Cubi Da Montare by Francesco Marino

Clouds are these places on the Web that are yours, where you can stash your data, including documents, pictures, and videos. Then if you travel to Katmandu or Timbuktu,  all you have to do is get to a computer or have a smart phone and you can get to your stuff. You can make some public, so that if you are having coffee at a bookstore, you can call up pictures of your children and grandchildren. If you’re having a meeting, you can access last month’s minutes or an excel spreadsheet at your accountant’s office. If you want to make announcements to club or organization or school members, you can create a public documents folder with a password for members to access with.

Big Three Plus

The major players – Microsoft, Google, and Apple – have Clouds. Adobe has a Photoshop Cloud for their photo and video editing software users, of which I am one, which holds both photos and videos; while there are limits on Photoshop.com’s storage space, you can purchase more, which is important for storing video files, which are huge.

Most sites offer free storage, usually enough, especially if, like me, you use several different Clouds for different purposes. Naturally, you have to create an account at these sites, but that should be second nature now.

If you have an iPhone, you can pick up Apple’s MobileMe, their Cloud site, for about $100 a year. It offers iCal, iDisk for storage, e-mail, photo gallery, and other services. I will likely let MobileMe go when my account date expires.

If you have a Google gmail account, you have what amounts to a Cloud. After signing in, go to the upper left corner and click on “Documents.” You upload documents to this site. Its site for stashing and showing off photos is Picasa.

Microsoft’s offerings win the prize, however, but it can be confusing. Thanks to Tom Pogue at his New York Times blog, Pogue's Post, I understand the concoction of offerings.

First, go to www.windows.live.com. There you can set up an account. Once done, go to the top bar, go right, and click on “More.” On the drop-down, you’ll see “All Services.” That will give you an overview.

Here’s the concoction: There are two categories of Windows Live stuff – first, “Essentials,” software that you download on to your computer. Some is really good stuff, like a photo gallery, Messenger, Movie Maker, and Live Writer (which I use to create the posts for “Spittin’ Grits"). Movie Maker is used for turning your video clips into coherent “movies,” and although I now use Adobe Premiere Elements, MovieMaker is a good way to start out.

The second group comprises Live’s services, essentially those Clouds located on the Web rather than on your computer and accessible from everywhere you can get on the Internet. These include Events, an invitation service; Groups, a place for organizing and communicating with your groups, whether they are writing groups or book clubs or a family reunion space. Its Skydrive is the storage space, offering a lot of free external hard drive space.

Now, there’s actually a third component, Windows Live Mesh, which is still in beta (being developed and fine-tuned), but the up-and-coming thing in syncing folders located on different computers and devices. Storage and number of folders allowable to be synced is a bit limited, but will likely grow. You add your devices to a “desktop.” It looks like this:

Figure 1 Mesh Live Desktop

You register your “devices,” like your main computer and your laptop, and your data is synced.

What a happy ending. I love technology!

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