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My Move to the Cloud

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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.

31 Responses to “My Move to the Cloud”

  1. Rob,

    Yes, as a single file. The local iDisk is stored as a sparsebundle file in your user directory:


    The above file will be backed up by Time Machine just like any other. If you have a problem with your iDisk that is the file you’d restore.

  2. Andy Kelsall


    I’ve been using MobileMe on and off since it was .Mac and even prior to that when it was known as iTools and I remember that I and many others decided that iDisk syncing wasn’t worth the risks. Hopefully it can be relied upon now but I’d advise against storing important documents only on the iDisk. As long as syncing works correctly it’s fine but when it goes wrong it can be messy. I’ve known people to lose files because they relied on iDisk sync.

    I found this page which has some useful info:

    I think I’ll continue to use my iDisk for backing up documents etc but will use the local copy sync feature to see how reliable it is over time.

  3. Not very smooth, haha, I thought the local iDisk copy was automatic and didn’t realize until now that you have to enable it via the system settings.

    So, the “local” iDisk I thought I was accessing this whole time was really just still in the cloud.

    I’ve turned local copy on and I’m just waiting for everything to sync up now, then I’m sure Spotlight will work like I thought it would before, and I’ll be ready to make the full time switch.

  4. Brandon,

    Spotlight works fine, with one twist: When doing a Command-F, I found my iDisk “hard drive” was not listed for searching. All I got was “This Mac” and my Home directory. I searched “This Mac” and was OK with that since Spotlight is so fast anyway. Still, I wondered if there was a better way…

    The trick was to change the Finder preference for new Windows. By default it’s set to your Home directory. I changed it to iDisk, and now a Cmd-F provides “This Mac” and my iDisk volume. (By the way, my iDisk and Home folder have the same name. If yours do too don’t let it confuse you; a quick search will convince you which is being used.)

    If you don’t want to change the above default, you can still search the iDisk:

    – After a Cmd-F click the iDisk’s icon and start typing a search.
    – In the Finder do a Cmd-Shift-I to open the iDisk and then type a search.
    – In any Finder window navigate to any iDisk folder and then type in a search.

    In all the above, you’ll see “This Mac” with whatever iDIsk folder you navigated to.

    Finally, the command-space menu search lists iDisk matches as well.

  5. I was in the process of making the permanent switch like you, until I realized I couldn’t search the local iDisk using spotlight? This seems like a major feature that should have been included somehow, so am I just missing something and is there a way to do it?

  6. Andy,

    Yes, that’s correct. If I simply used iDisk as Cloud storage, then it wouldn’t provide the comfort level I get from making the local copy. And, as pointed out, I’d also have the performance lag when reading/writing data.

    I’m not sure what advantage (except from saving local disk space, I guess) one would get from NOT creating the local copy. To me it removes one of the primary advantages of MMe’s syncing.

  7. Andy Kelsall

    It was good to read something positive about MobileMe. I don’t use iDisk that much but I am now considering using it for the storing and syncing of documents.

    What some people may not realise is that there are two main ways to use iDisk. If you use the standard method which requires a live connection to the net then you may notice delays. If you opt to store a copy of the iDisk on your computer then you’re always working with the local copy so you don’t get the delays. You can set the local copy to sync with the cloud automatically or manually.

    MobileMe help pages say this:
    “You can use iDisk syncing to create a copy of your iDisk on your computer and make changes to it at any time, even when you’re not connected to the Internet.

    Changes you make to the iDisk on your computer are synchronized with your iDisk on MobileMe while you’re connected to the Internet. If you log out, restart, or shut down your computer while your iDisk is syncing, synchronization continues when you log in again.”

  8. You’re right, now that I’ve been experimenting with it, it only does the delay the first time after a reboot, like it just needs to establish that initial connection. After that, it’s completely local and just as instantaneous as any other local folder.

    I’ve got everything set up, just one last kink to work out, which I’m assuming will need to be answered by the software creators, unless you just happen to use Mars Edit for your blogging?

    I’m trying to copy the “MarsEdit” folder which contains my “LocalDrafts” from the Library>>>Application Support in my home folder to the Library>>>Application Support on the iDisk, so I would be able to keep my drafts synced and edit them on my MacBook and iMac, but when copying, it says:

    “The item “MarsEdit” contains one or more items you do not have permission to read. Do you want to copy the items you are allowed to read?”

    I click continue, and it looks like it copies something, but nothing new is in the Application Support folder at all.

  9. Brandon,

    When I actually open the iDIsk hard drive (it appears as a hard drive in the Finder and on the desktop), it opens immediately, then sometimes you can see it check for anything it needs to sync. I’ve never known that to cause any noticeable delay when doing my work, however.

    The only time there’s any noticeable delay for me is when I reboot, or log out and back in. I think the Mac wants to make a connection so that it’s free to sync automatically, so there’s a few seconds there.

    If I use the iDisk on my PC, there’s always a “delay”, but that’s because it’s actually reading/writing across the net (on PCs the iDisk is not local). But on my Mac I’ve honestly never noticed any delay beyond when I reboot or login.

    If an app automatically goes to my home directory, I just click the alias of the folder I want, i.e., my Words (word processing) folder, and I’m taken there directly. Keep in mind some apps remember where you saved your files, so it’s always easy to get to the iDisk directory.

    Yes, aliases are best thought of as similar to shortcuts on Windows, though in practice they’re a lot smarter.

  10. Gotcha, that makes perfect sense, using the iDisk as the primary. I guess I just couldn’t grasp the fact that the iDisk is local as well, because of that slight delay when I click on it while it’s “connecting.”

    You get that delay too for about 5 seconds, right? Or do you just leave it connected all the time?

    And last question: Being a recent Mac convert, I don’t remember ever using “aliases” or if they were even a part of Windows, but are they basically kind of like shortcut folders? So, if a program is predisposed to saving to the Home directory like you said, it would save to the alias, thereby also saving to the iDisk automatically?

  11. Mike,

    Well, “dragged” is such a, well, drag. :-)

    By the way, I started this all slowly, so I’m comfortable with it all now. But at first I moved just one text file (the one I use to write blog drafts) to the iDisk. After seeing it synced OK, using it from both machines, and was available even without a connection, I moved a few other files. Only after being comfortable with all of them on multiple machines did I finally decide to bite the bullet. And even then I copied the Doc directory and hung on to it (even though some files were getting out of date) for a month before I really let go.

    You may very well want to try this “slow” approach for yourself as well. I can only speak from my own experience.

  12. mike sanders

    excellent article and excellent support, I feel confident to have a go at this now so Tom you can expect a few questions from me soon. BTW love drug as in I drug the iDisk’s Documents folder to the Dock.

  13. Brandon,

    To answer your question, no, changing a file in the Home Doc folder will not sync it in the iDisk Doc folder. But my point is that it’s unnecessary. The iDisk Doc folder essentially becomes your home folder. And remember, it’s a LOCAL copy so there is no performance penalty in using it, and it’s fully accessible even without a network connection.

    I let the iDisk Documents folder become my “real” Documents folder, and now make little use of the one in my Home folder:

    1) I copied my Home’s Documents’ subfolders (I use separate subfolders for Word processing files, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc.) to the Documents folder on the iDisk.

    2) I drug the iDisk’s Documents folder to the Dock.

    3) I put aliases of the copied subfolders into my Home’s Documents folder.

    4) After about a month, and being completely satisfied with this approach, I deleted the (out of date) subfolders from my Home’s Documents folder.

    Bottom line is my Home Documents folder now generally contains just aliases to the corresponding folders on the iDisk. I do this for convenience in case there are some apps that are predisposed to going to the Home directory.

    In addition, a couple of apps (iChat and Microsoft Messenger come to mind), create folders in the Home Doc folder for saving certain files. I have made no attempt to move these to the iDisk as it’s not critical to me for these to sync.

  14. Excellent article, as I’ve been hesitant to take full advantage of MobileMe because it seemed a little overwhelming, but this really helps to simplify things.

    My question is this:

    I have my normal “Documents” and “Pictures” folders in my Home folder. Now, right now, I’ve simply copied those folders onto iDisk, but I’m assuming that when I change or add to those folders in the home folder, the iDisk won’t change.

    So, is there some way to keep those two folders I put on the iDisk in sync with the same two folders in my home folder?

    For example, if I edited document1.pdf in “Documents” in the home folder, it would automatically apply those edits to document1.pdf in “Documents” on the iDisk.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.