Cloud based services are the future but in the here and now they're still pretty good. Set them up, have a play, and sit back and watch them evolve into indispensable services...
In previous blog posts I've mentioned cloud services including Mobile Me, Evernote and Dropbox. The big idea is to make it possible to get at my emails and data from anywhere with an internet connection but it has taken me years to figure out the advantages, limitations and feasibility of working with my data in the clouds.
Cloud Based Calendar and Contact Sharing
Apple's MobileMe service has this covered and can keep your contacts and calendar appointments up to date and synchronised across all your machines, including Windows, Mac and iPhones.
Cloud Based File Sharing
iDisk is part of MobileMe and gets you 10Gb online storage where you can store files and share them via a public folder with other users but what I really want to do is share folders with other MobileMe users, friends and collaborators and I don't think that's possible at the moment. Until then it's most useful feature is to share files between my Macs, virtual PC and iPhone.
Unlike MobileMe Dropbox makes it really easy to share files and collaborate with other people. Dropbox offers you 2Gb of FREE storage to get started with extra free storage if your friends sign up via your referral link and there's a paid Pro upgrade option if you need 50Gb or more storage.
There are other online file storage services floating around but Dropbox is free and easy to set up and use so I haven't had any reason to try the alternatives.
Sharing Notes & Documents
I use EverNote which is an awesome FREE cloud based service, with paid upgrade options, that's perfect for sharing searchable notes across all my machines and with my iPhone. Visit the Evernote website and watch the video tutorials which will blow your mind.
Moving my huge archive of Outlook email has been my biggest headache. Fate intervened and I lost years of old emails when my PC hard drive failed as I was porting them across to the Mac!
I'm using Mozilla's Thunderbird on the Mac and to port the email across from the PC I used a nifty utility called Email Alchemy with memory booster active which works well - unless a hard drive fails on you.
In a blog posted titled Only Send Me Junk Mail From Now On! I explain why it's better if you don't email me with anything important. I'm still trying to arrive at a workable solution and the current state of play is to use Mailwasher Pro to look at all the emails sitting in my mailboxes across various accounts and services and delete and reply to anything urgent from there.
I think the way forward is to use google mail. When setting up new projects, especially where I'm collaborating with other people, we've been using Google Apps and the free google email services looks like the most workable solution for large volumes of email so far.
Project Sharing & Project Management
Google Apps is where it's at. It's another awesome free service which makes it possible to share spreadsheets and documents between collaborators online and in real-time and access them from anywhere using a web browser on any machine, PC, Mac or PDA.
Using a shared Google spreadsheet you can see other people editing cells in real time and chat with them at the same time. I hardly ever need to use Excel anymore, another MS application consigned to the scrapheap with no tears goodbye.
I'm not sure if chatting in real-time is strictly a cloud service or not but it remains a crucial part of the way I work in the clouds. The real-time chat mode in Google Apps and MSN make it easy to keep up to date with any project.
Cloud Based Multimedia Sharing
My son lugs around a heavy case stuffed with DVDs and music CDs, he thinks he owns them. I'm past that. Being in possession of shiny silver disc means nothing. You can't own music, TV programs or movies - they belong to the original creators and all you ever have is permission to listen or watch them so I've been content to have my music delivered to my ears via iTunes and more recently Spotify which only stores files locally on your iPhone for offline listening.
iTunes now offers Home Sharing which allows your to share your media between up to five machines which reminds me of my Apple Inspired Vision Of The Future posted back in 2007 - it's all coming together nicely.
Conclusion - Was Mac-Switching Worthwhile?
Unsurprisingly, given I started writing this on my PC and I'm finishing it on my Mac, the short answer is YES.
My Mac setup is an excellent affiliate marketing environment which means I can work from my office desk or get away from my desk by removing four cables and I'm good to go with my entire working environment without rebooting - it's an almost perfect fusion of desktop PC and portable laptop.
The biggest remaining challenge is figuring out the best way to organise local file storage and sharing. Although cloud services are the future they're still slow and need an internet connection so I still need to store some data, music and pictures locally.
Everything is backed up to a Mac Time Capsule so if the machine breaks or gets stolen I can, in theory, restore everything from the last backup at the click of a button.
So that's my Mac Life, how's yours?
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