There’s been some discussion about the possible “dangers” or problems of Cloud computing. Some of it, though not all, stems from Richard Stallman’s recent comments about the Cloud initiative. The primary concern is that one may lose control of one’s data, or be at the mercy of (or […]

There’s been some discussion about the possible “dangers” or problems of Cloud computing. Some of it, though not all, stems from Richard Stallman’s recent comments about the Cloud initiative. The primary concern is that one may lose control of one’s data, or be at the mercy of (or “locked in” to) a single entity. 

To be sure, Mr. Stallman and others make valid points in that if you trust your data to the cloud, where is your control? Where are your options in case of failure? If the entity has a catastrophic error, you could be in a world of hurt.

I freely admit that for years my concern with the Cloud (even before it was called that) was very real. For example, I’ve had a Yahoo! email account for years, but always set my desktop client to download the messages and then delete them from the server. They were local on my primary machine only.

However, I’ve recently changed my mind and moved whole-heartedly to the Cloud, though not without some conditions that make it possible for me to feel a bit more comfortable with the move.

  • Though my primary email is no longer Yahoo! (I use MobileMe), I still have all messages downloaded to my desktop client. However, I no longer delete them from the server, so that I may also access my email from my mobile device, the web, and even other desktop applications.
  • I utilize iDisk, and have moved most of my data (see exceptions below) there. The beauty of iDisk is that it keeps a local copy on your desktop machine. I have this for my iMac and MacBook, so the data is actually in two locations as well as the Cloud. These all serve as multiple backups, but are automatically kept in sync as well. I have presentations, word processing, spreadsheet, PDFs, and other document types all stored there.
  • I have also moved some pictures to iDisk. I used to have a project in Aperture called “Blog” that contained the many screenshots, quick pics, images from the web, etc. that I’d gather to use in blogs or other activities. Keeping this in Aperture didn’t make any sense, since launching the app to get at these was the equivalent of killing a fly with a sledgehammer. I exported them all to a folder on the iDisk and now have quick access across multiple machines to those as well.
  • I use NetNewsWire for managing and reading 100+ feeds, but I use the option to store articles as HTML files locally. In this manner, I take advantage of NNW’s syncing so that I can read my feeds across multiple machines, but also don’t have to worry about losing an article I had flagged or clipped.
  • I even moved my MT-NewsWatcher preferences folder to the iDisk. Now I can use that app on both Macs and keep my subscribed groups in sync.

If these various cloud servers blew up tomorrow, I’d lose nothing in terms of data I already possess. My email and data are already stored locally on two machines (and backed up via Time Machine as well). Likewise with NNW.

So what have I not moved to the Cloud? Two things:

  • Media files. My iTunes library is 80GB, so it wouldn’t fit on my iDisk unless I shelled out extra cash for storage, and I’m not sure the payback would be worth it, even if performance considerations didn’t preclude it. 
  • Other pictures. Space is not an issue here (they’re JPEGs), however, I let Aperture manage my images. If I move the Aperture library to the iDisk, changing one picture would sync the whole thing. Ouch! I could export them all as a folder hierarchy to the iDisk and manage them as referenced images — and I haven’t totally ruled that out — but for now I just leave it like it is.

Bottom line for me is that most of my data (email, calendar, contacts, documents, PDFs, etc.) are in the Cloud. Yet, I access them via local desktop applications. Further, they’re stored locally on two machines, so I’m not subject to the vagaries, whims, or bad management of any Cloud entity. Best of all worlds, in my view.

Further, as I’ll describe in an upcoming article, syncing to the Cloud with MobileMe makes setting up a brand new Mac a breeze.

  1. Since you use Aperture to manage your pictures, i have a question. I tried it for a while until i realized that the app create JPEGs previews and uses that, not the original files, to export, preview, edit… Is that how’s supposed to work? I switched to Lightroom (which works with the files i have, not self-created files) because of this, but I really prefer Aperture’s interface.

  2. BTW, I tried the iDisk sync but everything felt so. damn. slow. Strangely, Cyberduck gave me better results than the finder.

  3. I have a question on iDisk. If I were to have my accounting software (currently Quickbooks but would like to explore Moneydance) save the data file in my iDisk, could I then manage my financial software info from both my work and home computer with any changes I make reflected on both systems? I had thought iDIsk was basically a back up of data and if you wanted to access a file it just downloaded on your Mac but from what you describe above, it sounds like there is always a local copy actually on your machine(s) that then syncs when a change is made. Hope that question is clear.

  4. Fabio,

    The original files (the “master”) are used for editing any given version. If you like the way one version looks, and want to make further adjustments from the Master, you simply create a new version. JPEG previews are created from the various versions, and are used when dragging a file out of Aperture, or with the iLife Media Browser. (In fact, if you don’t create the previews than Aperture images are not shown in the iLife Media Browser, and desktop dragging does not work.)

    As for Exporting (via the Export commands), it’s your choice as to whether you export Masters or versions.

    Not sure what you mean by iDisk being slow. You mean when syncing or when accessing the files?

    – For syncing, I’ve never benchmarked it but when I’ve seen it in action it seems to be little different than any other upload or download to the net. In any case, since sync takes place automatically I never even think about it.

    – For accessing the files, since it’s a local copy accessing the iDisk should be no slower than accessing anything else off your hard drive. I’ve certainly never noticed any difference.

  5. Luke,

    That’s exactly what I do. Well, not with accounting software, but with other apps. For example, I have an invoice document in Pages. I pull it up and modify it on my iMac and then save it. Later, when I open that same file on the MacBook, it has all those changes.

    Another example, I capture a screenshot on my PC at work, and put it on my iDisk (NOTE: the iDisk is totally accessible from PCs, but not as a local copy, it needs an Internet connection). When I get home from work the picture is available on both my Macs.

    Once setup. it’s all transparent to me and I don’t have to think about it. That’s the beauty of sync!

  6. I’ve recently purchased the new MacBook to replace my Toshiba laptop, and to accompany my iMac. Having already purchased MobileMe with the iMac, I was impressed with how easy it was to set up my new MacBook for email, calenders, contacts, settings, etc. I still hadn’t figured out just how I would go about utilizing iDisk, but thanks to this article I am going to think about it again.

  7. well this just sounds awesome; I am not sure people really understand how this can be utilized and how the cross pc / Mac compatibility works — at least I didn’t! I look forward to your part 2 of this topic Tom!

  8. Tom, that was fast. :) But sorry, there are things I still don’t get: “versions” and “jpeg previews” are different things? Aperture will always creates a version for all the photos or just for the edited ones? Is there anyway to make it not create versions, only for the edited ones? Also, is there a way to use referenced files and sync Aperture library with my folders when i put new photos there, in the folders (something that Lightroom allows me to do easily)? Sorry about all this questions, but i deleted my Aperture trial after i got frustrated with the jpeg issues (all my PNGs showed up as JPEGS, killing the shadows).

    About iDisk, i had the following problems:

    – Without sync the Finder takes a while to open the folders and list the files. Cyberduck, in other hand, is a lot faster under the same conditions.

    – With sync, uploading feels slower, showing that “closing file” dialog on my screen for a long, long while. Uploading with Cyberduck also feels faster, although it could just be my impression.

  9. In looking at the idisk info page on the mobile me site, it says there is a 200GB monthly data transfer limit. What does this mean exactly?

  10. Fabio,

    I really don’t want to turn this into an Aperture thread, but here’s a quick rundown:

    1) The actual imported picture from your camera is always the “master”, and never modified.

    2) When you make changes to a picture (the master) a version is automatically created. That version will continue to get any changes unless you create a new one. For example, you may have one master with three versions: color, sepia, and black and white.

    3) IF you chose to create previews (which are necessary for iLife and desktop drag), they are created from each version. So in the example above you’d have a preview of the color, sepia and B/W picture.

    Getting back on topic with iDisk and sync:

    – You say that without sync the Finder takes a while to open the folder and list the files. I do not understand that because a synced iDisk is LOCAL. It opens as quickly s any other local folder.

    – And with sync you say it takes a while to close the file. But, again, it’s written locally, and immediately. The sync happens automatically, but not at the same time.

    In short, the sync is generally transparent and unnoticed. There is clearly a short amount of lag between saving a file and it being synced, but I’ve never seen it take more than maybe 5 minutes.

    Obviously, if my MacBook is sleeping, and I change a few files on my iMac, within a few minutes they’ll hit the cloud, but since my MB is sleeping they aren’t there yet. Once the MB is woken up, within a minute it’ll check the iDisk and begin to bring stuff down.


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