With Some Help From the Cloud, My 30-Minute PC Switch

[qi:gigaom_icon_cloud-computing] Every so often, one (or more) of our readers chastises me for being way too Apple-centric in my view of the world. Frankly, I can’t help it. Why argue with something that looks great and functions flawlessly (at least most of the time)? That is how I feel about Apple, its operating system and its devices. Many of you also have complained that since I don’t use Windows, I don’t understand a big portion of my readers. Given that on any typical day about 65 percent of our readers are using some variant of the Windows operating system to access this blog, one can’t quite argue with the numbers.

So, I have decided to use a Windows OS-based computer for at least two days a week. I plan to go on an OS X diet on Friday and Sunday — not exactly super-busy days. I typically don’t like using my computer on Saturday. (However, since I plan to take the entire day off tomorrow, I am working this evening.) In order to be better informed about the Windows world (warts and all), I have turned to Lenovo’s ThinkPad X301, a 13.3-inch ultrathin laptop that comes with a built-in broadband connection — too bad it is AT&T, which makes it utterly useless. Instead, I am using Verizon’s Novatel Wireless EVDO USB 760 modem, which works like a charm. Lenovo was kind enough to install Windows 7 (beta) on the device.

Back in the day, when I used to own a PC (a Dell desktop, no less), I remember moving data from one machine to another was quite a chore, and it would take hours to get the files sorted out. Not anymore. In fact, it took me just 30 minutes to get set up and be productive. How did this happen? Call it the power of the cloud.

x_8lGiven that I have a multi-computer life: iMac at work and Macbook for on-the-go computing, I am used to keeping my computers synced via Dropbox. I set up folders for each month and every day of the month. This allows me to keep files — photos, videos and random notes — in sync. Similarly, I keep most of my important documents in Google Docs, since we pay for a premium version of the Google Apps service. I am not a big fan of Google Mail and prefer a desktop client; Apple Mail is pretty good. I use Meebo as my IM client, and the only other desktop software I typically use every day is the Skype client.

On the new Windows machine, I downloaded Firefox 3.5 and a few of my favorite add-ons such as Cooliris, XMarks and Power Twitter. Within seconds, my bookmarks were available to me, and I was tweeting away. The Flash plug-in was next, followed by Google’s Chrome browser, Thunderbird and Skype. A little help from the Internet, and my MobileMe address book was talking to Thunderbird. Typically, I use Mars Edit for blogging on my Macs. On PCs, I prefer Windows Live Writer, which is freeware. (I hated the fact that Microsoft wanted to trick me into downloading other stuff, but that is part of the deal. Nothing really is free.) Next, I grabbed a client for Evernote, my digital library where I keep my web clippings and archives.

Since I store my music on a PogoPlug-enabled G-Mini 1TB drive, I didn’t need to do much more than download the iTunes client and, of course, the PogoPlug software. I grabbed the latest version of VLC for video playback of files. I left installing Dropbox to the very last; it’s as simple to download and use as applying butter to bread. And that’s it — I was done.

Without spending a single penny, I was ready to go to work. The only difference is in the feel of the keyboard, the rendering of the fonts, and how the desktop looks. For some odd reason, Windows-based browsers feel much faster than, say, Firefox for Mac or Safari.

More importantly, setting up this new computer took a tad over 30 minutes. I don’t need Microsoft Office: Google Docs does a good enough job. If I need to edit photos, Picasa and Windows Media Editor seem to be pretty promising. As Dropbox is syncing archives and folders in the background, I am wondering about two things: First, what should I do about security — you know, viruses, etc.? Secondly — wow, cloud computing, despite its shortcomings and challenges, makes life easier. I am off to finding my old Age of Empires (Windows version) CDs!