How can “the Cloud” help me?
  • How can “the Cloud” help me?

    Over the years, we have become increasingly dependent on digital media: word documents, presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs, pictures, videos and more.  We need access to those files wherever we are.

    Luckily with the increased use of digital media has come the advent of cloud file storage. With the cloud, we can access our files from nearly anywhere on nearly any internet capable device like Cell phones and Tablets. Take a look at the cloud options below to find what’s right for you. If you’re an Android user it might be a mix of Dropbox and Amazon Cloud, while an iOS user might find that iCloud meets their needs by itself.

    Dropbox

    Developed by MIT graduates in 2007, Dropbox is one of the longest running cloud services as well as one of the better developed ones. It has well developed applications for all of the major mobile platforms (i.e., Apple iOS, Android, and Blackberry) and computer operating systems (i.e., Windows, Mac, and Linux). If you would like to access your files on a public computer, it also has a web interface that allows you to download and upload your files from any computer or mobile device without installing any software.

    One useful feature of Dropbox is that it saves a local copy of your Dropbox files on any computer that you install the program on. It then automatically updates any changes to those files whenever it has an internet connection. What this means is that you’ll have access to your files even when you’re not connected to the internet, though any changes made on another computer since the last update will not be seen until it resynchronizes with the Dropbox server.

    Accounts are free for up to two gigabytes of space with paid options for those that need more space beyond that. Because of the near universal device compatibility, Dropbox is probably the best cloud service at this point for general file storage. One of the few features that it doesn’t have is the ability to stream music.

    iCloud – iOS devices and Computer (Mac and Windows)

    Apple’s brand new iCloud service’s main benefit is synchronizing multiple iOS devices with each other and your Mac without needing to plug them into a computer with iTunes. It also brings native music and file cloud support to Apple devices, allowing you to stream music and make document changes across all of your devices. For Apple users, it has probably already become a full, viable replacement for Dropbox.

    There are some minimum operating system requirements for setting up iCloud on your Mac, iOS devices, and Windows PC. For the Mac you will need OS X Lion (10.7.2) or later; iPhones and iPads will require iOS 5 which is a free upgrade available through iTunes; and Windows PCs will need to be running on Windows Vista SP2 or Windows 7. To set up iCloud on your devices, simply follow these instructions found on Apple’s website.

    Amazon Cloud – Android and Computer (Windows, Mac, and Linux)

    For Android and computer users, Amazon Cloud fills in the streaming music hole left by Dropbox quite nicely. For the computer, go to Amazon.com and choose the Amazon Cloud Player. For your Android device, download the Amazon MP3 app from the Android Market. Accounts are free up to five gigabytes with all paid options including unlimited music storage. Music purchased through Amazon’s attached MP3 store does not count against your storage limit, even with the free option.

    The Amazon Cloud also includes the ability to store files other than music. While this would seem to bring it close to Dropbox, the Amazon Cloud Drive can only be accessed through their web interface. Files cannot be automatically synced with your computer.

    Google Music (Beta) – Android and Computer (Windows, Mac, and Linux)

    Not willing to be left behind when it comes to trending technology or supporting their Android operating system, Google has recently come out with their own music cloud. Google Music allows you to use the native Music app on Android devices to stream your music from their server. While at first glance this seems extremely similar to Amazon Cloud, there are some differences. For one, Google Music offers space for “20,000 songs” for free. While it’s odd to offer storage space in units that vary in size, this is roughly equivalent to fifty gigabytes, ten times the free offering of Amazon Cloud. What Amazon Cloud has over Google Music is an integrated music store that automatically adds your purchases to the cloud and the ability to store files other than music.

    Google Music is currently in Beta, which for Google means that it’s by invite only. That said, Google invites aren’t nearly as hard to come by as they were when Gmail was introduced. If you have a Motorola Xoom, you’ve been invited already. If you don’t have a Xoom, the Google Music has a link that allows you to add yourself to the waiting list.

    Cloud Player – Blackberry

    Most of us are attached to our Blackberries very close to all day, every day. If at the end of the day you have some battery life left to spare, you might consider adding music streaming to your Blackberry as well. If you’re looking for a cloud music app for your Blackberry, check out Cloud Player, which offers free, unlimited music storage and streaming.

    Some Warnings

    There are a couple of warnings that should be considered before setting up your accounts and uploading your files. First, as with any amount of increased access to data, there is some loss of security of your data. You should always use strong passwords for these services and you should not store sensitive data on a public cloud server. Second, because the federal laws protecting digital files are outdated, files that have been on a third party server, including email servers such as the ones used by gmail.com, for more than six months may be considered abandoned by law enforcement and subject to search without a warrant (read more about that here). While that certainly isn’t a major concern for most people, it’s worth knowing.