Younity for Your Files

Younity offers an unusual twist on file synchronisation/cloud computing -- the service allows you to bring all of your online file and image storage accounts under the one umbrella. While not storing files online, it means you can access any of your files on any of your devices -- mobile, PC or tablet. Great for accessing music libraries, movies, all of your documents, etc. If a particular file resides only a PC, users will need to take care that the PC in question is on, or the file will be unavailable.

Making email work for you

If you use email, you know how much spam rubbish and general clutter floods into your inbox. Some estimates place the amount of unwanted email traffic at 95% (fortunately most of it is filtered out before it afflicts you). Yet despite this white noise, email is still one of the most powerful marketing channels, social media notwithstanding. Most people still maintain an email address, and most still read their email. If you have clients and potential clients you'd like to reach, email is a very good place to start. But beside coming up with attractive, interesting content, you will want your email communications to look professional, and you will need to track the metrics of your various email campaigns. Vision6 and MailChimp offer users a low cost and easy-to-use entry to the world of email marketing. MailChimp in particular offers an absurdly generous free service to users generating less than 12,000 emails per month.  Plus they have a cute monkey avatar that dispenses cheerful backchat.

360 degree world

Google Street View gives users the chance to 'stand' on any of millions of streets and pan to see the scenery. But as every viewer knows, the average street is pretty prosaic, and the image quality is not fabulous anyway. Which brings us to 360cities. This immersive site has thousands of high resolution 360 degree images from all over the world — views of mountains, canyons, urban scenes, forest glades and massive crowds. The images are seamless, sharp and occupy your full screen with thousands of details that you can absorb at leisure. The interface is easy to navigate, piggybacking on Google maps (and also appearing as a layer in Google Earth), and once you get started, stopping is a problem. Check out some of their ultra high resolution images — the London Eye panorama is a jaw dropping 80 gigapixels.

Office finally comes to the Cloud

After conceding much ground to their competitors, especially Google with its cloud-based docs suite, Microsoft is finally coming to the party. It seems that the Office suite software will be available online later this year, which is about a thousand years in cloud development time. As is the new norm, a stripped down version will be available for free, and a fully featured priced model also offered. Whether that will be enough to staunch the bleeding of users to Open Office, Google Docs and other services such as Zoho remains to be seen.

Some Tasks with Gmail, Madam?

If you spend a lot of your working life managing emails, then a task manager that lives inside Gmail is going to sound attractive. Taskforce have come up with a very functional and minimalist task manager that is right at home within the uber email service. Users can run multiple lists for different users, link emails to tasks, add comments, deadlines and reorder tasks easily. Installation is extremely simple. Taskforce is free at the moment, but will eventually morph into one of the many excellent cloud-based services that (shock, horror) charge a little for their wares.

Museum of Me Me Me

You choose: this site embodies/showcases all that is good about social media, all that is creepy and intrusive. Intel logs in to your Facebook account, siphons up your name and all of your images and some of your friends' images as well, then displays them in a virtual museum, accompanied by soft, uplifting music. The whole exercise is technically impressive and emotionally manipulative. You are supposed to feel moved as the faces of friends and family float past and memories are triggered and massaged. In privacy terms, this site performs a useful service: reminding you how much of your personal life you have fed into a commercial service, and how much that service knows about you and your preferences. 

Google Docs, aka GDrive

In a small but significant move, Google Docs now allows users to upload folder structures as well as files. Recently they opened Docs to uploads of any kind of file. This helps Docs move a bit closer to the fabled GDrive. Still not as functional as DropBox with its efficient and seamless file synching, but an increasingly viable place to store and work with personal or business files. Google seems to be putting a lot of resources into its cloud products, so watch out for ever more fully featured iterations of Docs, Gmail and their music storage service.

Take DropBox to the Next Level

If you are a cloud power user and you have hit the 100Gb DropBox storage ceiling, then you might be looking elsewhere (such as Rackspace) for online storage/synching options. But wait — DropBox will allow you to break right through that ceiling! Unfortunately, their 350Gb Teams option seems to be oriented more towards small/medium sized businesses than individual users. At $795 per year (5 user license), $2.20 per Gb seems quite steep. Rackspace clocks in at around $1.80 per Gb per year, and their rates are calculated on the amount actually stored, not on the maximum storage amount. That said, DropBox still has the best and simplest synching and interface (and has just passed 100,000,000 users).

Cloud Storage Systems

Thinking about storing some of your files online? Perhaps you want to access certain files while travelling, or share photographs with family or colleagues, or just have an online backup. Here's a short list of online storage providers (all of them have a free account)

Other options include Google's Picasa albums and their Google Docs service. Microsoft also have a fairly generous offering. The constant reduction in the price of storage (Moore's Law, anyone?) has made possible this impressive expansion in low cost online file storage.

Currently using...

YouSendIt for sending large files

Dropbox for cloud-based file sharing

Backblaze for cloud-based backups

Chrome as my browser

Picasa Web Albums for image sharing

Twitter for brief updates of work practices for visualisation of Twitter feed

Cohuman for project and task management

Google Apps, encompassing:

  • Gmail for all business email
  • Docs for important business-wide apps, especially spreadsheets
  • Calendar for appointments and recurrent info

LinkedIn for professional contacts

Squarespace for website hosting and construction

Skype for web based video calls

Mi Casa es Picasa

These days it is easy to accumulate large quantities of digital images. Hard disks are much bigger, digital cameras are ubiquitous and attached images are emailed in industrial quantities. The image viewing and search tools supplied by Messrs Gates and Jobs are functional, but often slow and not particularly exciting. Others have tried to fill this gap. Apple has iPhoto, Extensis has Portfolio and Adobe sells Photoshop Lightroom. A program called iView Media Pro was gobbled up by Microsoft, but still exists. All are excellent programs, but in our experience, they are just  not as fast and intuitive with large volumes of files as Google's (free) Picasa. After installation, the user instructs the folder manager to watch specified folders on her hard disk. Picasa can also watch folders on networked drives and removable media. The initial index of all image files  on a given volume can take many hours. The resultant database built up by Picasa is often large. The interface is extremely clean. The default option is rows of image thumbnails, but alternatives include timeline and slideshow.  Searches are carried out 'live' -- search results appear as the user types. Individual images can be opened and edited in a number of simple ways.  Scrolling through results or the overall image library is usually fast, particularly compared to previously mentioned programs. Yet Picasa does have its flaws, or at least it can be pushed to breaking point. Image collections with more than ten thousand images may load quite happily in Picasa, but after a few searches, the program often slows dramatically. Picasa performs well in OS X, but even there, a very large image library can bring matters to a standstill.  Users are advised to watch only the folders they need, not the entire disc. It is also possible, if time consuming, to regenerate the database. Picasa doesn't just sit on your desktop. As befits a child of Google, Picasa offers access to Picasa Web Albums, where users can  store up to 1Gb of images on Google's servers. Bloggers can also upload images from Picasa to their own blogs. Useful how-tos for Picasa can be found here and here. Overall, Picasa is a worthy and capable image viewer and suitable for the vast majority of computer users.
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