Tales from the Cloud

March 29, 2011

Posted in Technology.

Last week, the hard drive on my laptop stopped spinning.

I knew it was coming, after hearing the dreaded clicks and very luckily getting the machine to boot and function again for a few days before the next round of clicks. When the drive finally met its end, I found myself with a fresh install of Mac OS X (with Microsoft Office, Firefox, Chrome, and Adobe CS4 pre-installed by IT) on a loaner laptop from the office. Oh my.

In the past, I would have spent a full day reinstalling everything, restoring files from a none-too-recent backup, and configuring everything just the way I like it. But this time, I didn’t do that. In about an hour, I was up and running again.

What I Don’t Need

In fact, none of my files are on my laptop. And other than my music (for which I haven’t found a suitable and affordable solution) I don’t miss any of them.

All of my key working files are on Dropbox. We have a shared, networked server for the office where project files reside. I make heavy use of Google Docs. And I made a backup the night before the drive failed, so anything else I need I could go back and get.

What I Do Need

While the digital assets themselves live out in the ether and I can access them quite easily, I still found the fresh install lacking. For me, the client-side tools help with access, workflow, and editing. Yes, I can do most of these in a web interface – but it’s painful. Here’s my list of tools I had to install:

  • Skitch – screenshots, quick resizing
  • Tweetdeck – no better way for me to manage the flood of tweets
  • Dropbox – constant connectivity, it’s like working locally
  • Transmit – I don’t have any suitable web-based FTP client
  • Textmate – it’s Textedit on steroids
  • MarsEdit – for blogging on multiple blogs in a nicer interface than the Wordpress admin
  • Wallet – Password management, syncs with Dropbox
  • Quicksilver – App launcher, I find it’s faster and cooperates more nicely than Spotlight

Once these were in place, I found myself close to full speed again. There are little quirks of customizations, and many of them are the old remembered passwords (none of which are for sensitive or critical security) in my browser. I’m sure I’ll have a few of those to reset, but since I got Wallet about a year ago that should be minimal.

What Does It Mean?

A friend of mine likes to compare the explosion of software-as-a-service/hosting applications/cloud computing to the reliance on thin clients and mainframes of the past. But mainframes were single central services, and thin clients were wired to connect only to the mainframe. Now, web clients combine with wireless technologies to free us of those bindings. But like social media, the technology isn’t the interesting part – it’s the human element. Not only are we always connected, we can always get the information we need, and we can do anything from anywhere. Though the effects have been widely discussed and predicted, I wonder if the truth won’t be far more dramatic than we expect.

What Else Do I Need?

One of the best things about technology is the discovery of cool things that you wished you knew about earlier. One day, you’re living your life and the next there’s an explosion of discovery – DVR, iPhone, Dropbox, Twitter – I remember when these clicked for me and something changed. So now that you’ve seen what I have in my toolbox, what other tools do you recommend I check out?