Sunday, 2 August 2015

Living in the cloud.

Living in the cloud (for free) is possible, if clunky. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have to.

I’ve recently been given a new laptop with my new job, and a whole lot of obligations in maintaining security. So that means I can’t use my beloved MacBook any more for work, which means I have to use my work laptop for personal stuff that I can’t avoid doing during the week. And because of the security obligations, I can’t install all of the software that I’ve been used to on my work laptop. All of my music, photos, files are now out of reach.

It turns out that most of my data is already in cloud services like Yahoo! Mail, Dropbox, Google Drive, iTunes Match, even 1Password. And each of these cloud services have web apps, which means I can get to my passwords, music and files without installing anything, just by going to the right URL in my browser. My work laptop is secured because no nefarious files are installed. My privacy is assured because no personal files are copied onto my work laptop. Conceptually, it’s all good.

Practically, there are limitations. Web apps are optimised to run on the latest browsers, which currently are Chrome and Safari (Project Spartan will soon be added to this list when Windows 10 is launched). My work laptop is languishing in the lamentable past of Windows 7 and Explorer 7, so few of the web apps work with all promised functionality.

The worst limitation is with photos. Apple has integrated iPhotos with iCloud, but the cost of storing the full photo library in Apple’s cloud is prohibitively expensive. So I can only see selected photo streams, rather than the whole library.

Now that I’ve strewn my digital life in the digital heavens, I have a whole new problem of overlapping cloud services. To illustrate: I have files in Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple iCloud,, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive. How do I know where anything actually is? My MacBook knows, because all (except Amazon) are well-integrated with OSX, so spotlight search surfaces results from each of the cloud services. However, my work laptop doesn’t know, because I can’t install the sync utilities.

The answer is to apply the cardinal rule for cloud-based sanity – only one type of content per cloud service. In my case:
  • ·      Apple iTunes Match hosts all of my music.
  • ·      Amazon Kindle hosts all of my books.
  • ·      Yahoo! hosts all of my personal email.
  • ·      Google Drive hosts all of my personal files.
  • ·      Dropbox hosts all of my gubernatorial files.
  • ·      There are no work files in a public cloud at all, only on work servers.

So if I want to know where anything is, I can identify the right cloud service to search, by content type. This currently works for music and files, but not for anything else. All other file types are hosted in the Drobo, my home NAS.

But then the Drobo died. I’m still hopeful that the files can be recovered, as I think either the power supply or the chassis broke. But whilst I find a fix, I have no access to photos or movies. Which has led me to think – once my files are recovered, should I start paying for a cloud backup service?

Cloud backup is different from cloud services. Even if cloud services are cheap, they’re not free beyond the first 5GB or so, and my backup runs into more than 1TB. Most of it is in photos, music and movies. Curiously, we don’t watch ripped movies any more, as all the content we want is available in streamed services. Music is already available as an alternative. So that leaves photos.

Amazon Prime has recently provided a solution to photos storage. Along with the free next day delivery, free TV subscription, and free music subscription, Prime members can enjoy unlimited storage for photos. I’m going to look at how easy it will be to include Amazon Prime Photos into my workflow.

So with the right range of cloud services, and the right methodology in using them, it is possible to live in the cloud for free. However, with my own computer and NAS, it’s much easier not to.

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