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

37 Comments

[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!

37 Comments

Me

I have about 20 years in IT and am an Enterprise Architect at a very well known technology company. I know Windows quite well through all of its various version including 7. I still have to hold my nose using Widows of any sort. Everything about it is mediocre whether it is desktop or server OS. Of course I use macs at home and fortunately my company and many others are now allowing the option of Macs since so many technical people prefer them. I’m not talking about desktop support people who owe their jobs to fixing all the usual Windows problems but high level IT architects who don’t have to settle for less than the best hardware and software.

Artruro Jayson

I’ve said it before, the only cloud that will exist after any attempts to usurp and repackage personal computing, file sharing and networking will be the one floating in the sky that the cloud marketeers will be on their backs watching. Anyone who thinks that we will all be putting our files on a cloud or using the clouds software collectively is living on one. If they haven’t figured this out by now then they are seeing the cloud for something it is not, like maybe a floating penguin?

Leave the cloud to Lenovo. They can have it. Leave computing actuality to computers and their users.

Aaron deMello

Om, check out Postbox. I use it for IMAP access to our mail stored on Google Apps. Works perfectly and is far superior to the dog that is Apple’s Mail.

pwb

Postbox is cool and better than Thunderbird but I still prefer Mac Mail (200,000 emails on Gmail IMAP).

JimboJones

it’s interesting how some MAC users attack MS Vista without really using it … anyway great article. I like that at least one MAC users tries to be objective. Lenovo+Win7 is probably the best pick.

The only issue I have is Google Docs, it cannot replace MS Office, I really loose respect to anybody who says that (you either do not know what you talking about or do not use/need MS Office and thus should not mention it). It’s like saying that SumoPaint can easily replace overpriced Photoshop. Google excel is almost unusable and text editor is really bad when you try to change fonts, colors, sizes, …. I recommend to try Adobe’s online text editor – it is very simple, yet very nice.

pwb

There are a lot of Bay Area companies gong with Google Docs alone. It can be done. Except for heavy spread-sheeting, Google Docs works very well.

Eideard

I left the wonderful world of Microsoft after a couple decades plus – when I bought a debut Mini to experiment with OS X. Never looked back.

Never have the recurring problems except when Windows users are visiting and I watch them try to set their machine up on either of our wireless networks. Visitors with OS X machines log in with the password I assign and they’re good to go.

I agree with the Comment somewhere ahead of me – that I might add Ubuntu as a second boot choice just to stay in touch with another approach to user-friendly computing. Microsoft has finally learned to imitate that with Windows 7 – by copying Apple more thoroughly. Doubt very much if anyone with decision-making clout inside the company understands it, though.

Ricky Cadden

I’m actually the reverse – I personally dislike OSX for a number of reasons, but then, I’ve been a Windows user for as long as I can remember. I’m glad that they loaded up Windows 7 for you – Windows XP is nice, and Windows Vista (which I use every day on my Dell XPS M1330) is awful. Windows 7 combines the speed/stability of Windows XP, but it’s pretty, like Vista.

In any case, as someone else quipped, the OS really is a moot point for most users – aside from knowing how to get around. As long as I have Firefox, a few add-ons later and I”m good to go. 90% of my work (I am the Community Manager for a large niche blog) is done in the browser, and the other 10% *could* be done there, if need be.

I’m glad you knew about Windows Live Writer – I actually prefer it to the WordPress backend, for blogging. I’ll be interested to read more of this experience, Om.

Blah

Along these same lines (power of the cloud), I recently upgraded my iPhone from the first gen to a 3GS. Thanks to MobileMe I had email, calendar, bookmarks, and contacts on the new phone before I had gotten to my car leaving the store. It has it’s problems but It comes through as well.

Cloud Schmoud

I wouldn’t call that the Power of the Cloud, but the Power of the File Server.

RAID boxes are fairly cheap – some Big Company even makes File Server software, I believe.

pwb

Mac users who would like to try out Windows: VirtualBox + Windows 7. Free and works great.

David Robins

Although I love Mac, I think you should set aside one day a week on a Linux machine. This way you will cover the complete (almost) personal PC universe!

Pearce Smithwick

Regarding security, I recommend ESET’s NOD32 antivirus to all my clients. Their Security Suite is solid as well, especially if you are regularly on different wireless networks. Yes, these both cost money, but IMHO they are worth every penny given the usage patterns of the average windows user and the vulnerabilities of windows. If you only want free options for A/V software, then look at AVG.

Thanks for the succinct writeup of how you manage this setup.

Kiran

At home I am completely a mac user (MBP and Mac Mini) and at work I use windows (desktop, 2 laptops) and all sorts of operating systems in virtual environments. Without the cloud, life will be miserable. I have a similar set of tools dropbox, live mesh, evernote, pogoplug etc. There are enough number of tools to enable cloud file storage, data sync.

However, what is lacking is a cloud profile. What I mean is, a solution where I tell it that I use skype, yahoo messenger, dropbox, tweetdeck, firefox and what extensions I use etc and every new machine I go to do this solution can automatically determine the right os install, download it and install it automatically. Granted this will get tricky for OS specific software like iMovie etc but still the pace at which I use new machines (real and virtual), this can be incredibly useful to get started.

Om Malik

Kiran

I wouldn’t be surprised if you see something along these lines come our way in another two years — this one stop profile is just too obvious — i think it would be ideal for us to own our own profile but who knows how the market is going to evolve.

Ross

Didn’t Google already announce this, I believe it is called Chrome OS or something along the likes of it :) Of course it’ll be Google centric but if people don’t think this operating system will store everything in the cloud then I think they are missing the point. Docs will be stored in Google Docs, Pictures in Picasa, and Music in Gdrive?

Artruro Jayson

The only cloud that will exist after any attempts to usurp and repackage personal computing, file sharing and networking will be the one floating in the sky that the cloud marketeers will be on their backs watching. Anyone who thinks that we will all be putting our files on a cloud or using the clouds software collectively is living on one. If they haven’t figured this out by now then they are seeing the cloud for something it is not, like maybe a floating penguin?

Leave the cloud to Lenovo. They can have it. Leave computing actuality to computers and their users.

CCs

Cloud profile: http://www.jolicloud.com , Chrome OS and many other initiatives.

Trust: currently you trust the banks with your money, the hospitals with your life. Maybe in the future we will have trusted data banks.
Cloud providers do have backup, unlike most of the users I know of.

Dave Michels

This is the point I have made in numerous blog posts – the Mac/PC wars are over – the Internet won. The only Mac/PC war now is about personal preference and status – no longer about productivity or applications.

Personally, I stay with the PC as I seem to have some bad mojo with Mac stuff. My T-Book crashed with hardware issues years ago, and I seem to have a very tough time with iPods dying. Not to mention the price/value – I buy fairly high-end notebooks (for “resale”) for less than $1k and can’t match that on a Mac.

MS keeps fumbling – the 2007 Office migration begged folks to go to the Mac. Then there is Vista. Lots of good reasons to go Mac.

Mike Cerm

Can’t we be done with the lame Vista sniping? Vista isn’t/wasn’t that bad. It was a bit heavy, but on the same hardware, it’s not really slower or less functional than OS X. Seriously, Vista would have needed to be much worse to convince a significant number of people that the only solution was to go out there and spend $1500-$3000 on a Mac. I doubt there were too many people with $500 Windows PCs who’d wished they’d spent 3 times as much on an entry-level Mac.

If we’re going to pick winners in the Mac/PC wars, we’d have to say that PC + Windows won, not the internet. Sure, more and more people are choosing netbooks, but until you could get Windows on a netbook for under $400, no one was buying them. The OS still matters, and will continue to do so for another few years, at least. For nearly everyone, there’s still at least one thing that you can’t do in the cloud. Whether it’s Word or Excel (because Google Docs is still a decade behind each), or just syncing your iPhone, there’s something that you need native software running locally. In each of those cases, the cheapest option is a PC running Windows.

pwb

You lose credibility when you suggest that Vista is OK. In fact, is is terrible. We have had a horrendous time with very basic operations such as connecting to the internet and operating without all the unintelligible warning pop-ups.

Mike Cerm

@pwb: If you can’t figure out how to perform very basic operations, I hardly think that you can blame Vista for that. Perhaps you shouldn’t be assessing the “credibility” of others. Networking in Windows is a lot more beginner-friendly than Linux, and I’ve also found things like file-sharing to be easier in Windows than Mac (though possibly because I’ve got more experience with Windows).

Those pop-ups are part of UAC. It’s a security feature which you can easily turn off if you don’t want the added security. Though slightly more frequent, they’re very similar to password-prompts you get when install software or change settings on a Mac. Linux is also, by default, similarly bothersome. However, regular users who don’t install and uninstall software constantly, and who aren’t always making changes in the Control Panel, they’ll almost never see those prompts. They’re also the most likely to benefit from the enhanced security.

Also, keep in mind: I never said Vista was good. I just said that it wasn’t that bad. It improved upon XP in a lot of areas and implemented a lot of new features, but it also required better hardware as a result. Once you get used to the new features, like the improved start menu, favorites in Explorer, and integrated search, XP seems really dated. Is it as fast on the same hardware? No, but that’s because Vista does a lot more.

Dale Dietrich

I too straddle the MAC & PC worlds and found your post interesting. I use an iMac, a Dell XPS desktop and a Lenovo tablet. I use most of the same apps/services you do, but as a lawyer I can’t get by without Word and Outlook.

As for security, you have Windows Defender built in. Going the free route, at least for now I suggest AVG Free:

http://free.avg.com/download?prd=afe

The pending free Windows Security Essentials (replacing OneCare) should be a no-brainer when it is released later this year:

http://www.winsupersite.com/win7/mse_beta.asp

I went through a similar app install/cloud integration process – clean installing all my apps on Windows 7 and wrote about it here:

http://www.daleisphere.com/the-windows-apps-i-use-and-how-i-configure-them/

I want to make the EverNote plunge, but have yet to do so. I used it on my tablet for some time but want to explore the newer cloud-based EverNote – especially with iPhone integration

Good luck, with Windows 7, the world of Windows computing has come a long way, and is much closer to the Mac world then ever.

And, hey, good luck with your new health/workout regime. As an aging geek, I’ve renewed my focus on health and working out. It’s a big deal!

…Dale

Om Malik

Thanks for the tips on security — i appreciate those. I have to admit, it is very different to use Windows despite the cloud. I think it is what your brain is most comfortable with. Much less a religious decision, but hopefully I will be able to have a pretty straight up perspective.

Krish

Om,

I suggest that you install Zonealarm Free edition (zonelabs.com). I don’t trust Windows firewall for two reasons.

1) I have the least faith in Microsoft when it comes to security issues
2) We can’t really say if Windows firewall allows any process from Windows machine to contact Microsoft servers without our knowledge. With Zonealarm, you will get a pop up warning.

Aditya

There’s nothing wrong with Windows Firewall. If one’s just gonna approach this whole exercise keeping a Fanboi level angst at anything MS related than it’ll be pointless.

Even though I’m a VLC fan I think you should give WMP12 a whirl. .Checkout Windows Media Center especially if you’ve got a tuner or an extender like the 360 .

As far A/V goes I find Avast and Avira to be the best free solutions on Windows 7. They hardly effect boot time and aren’t as notification prone.

CCs

Likely you will need two security applications: anti-spyware and anti-virus.

1. Spyware: Now Windows Defender is better than Ad-Aware
2. Virus: Avast is a bit better than AVG

Because of company policy I did use for years Symantec anti-virus (slow) and McAfee (awful), but I would go with Avast if I have the choice.

Disclaimer: none. I’m average Windows user Joe.

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