Head in clouds: a week-long experiment with the new technology

By Eric Sisler

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 9:56 a.m. MST

It seems we can't go anywhere in the tech world without hearing something about cloud computing. Walk through any electronics superstore and you'll hear cryptic phrases like "It's all goin' to the cloud, man" and "Cloud computers forever, dude."

As is usually the case with trends in technology, the guys who sit around reading Technorati and Gizmodo are the first ones to learn the buzzwords, and they flaunt them like that kid in your high school that was the first to get the TI-58 and bring it to third period trig.

Anyway, rather than flaunt my knowledge of completely useless buzzwords, I'd prefer to spend some time telling you about my week-long cloud computing experiment.

I woke up one Monday and asked myself, "What if every time I needed a technology fix this week, I tried to find a cloud-based app and use it?" The good news is, I didn't answer myself, but I did spend a week doing just that — looking for cloud-based solutions for anything that came up during the week that required using technology.

I was quite surprised to learn that I could completely give up some of my locally run applications and find equally useful, and in some cases more useful, applications running in the cloud. What's even better, most of them are free with no strings attached, or at least have free versions available with premium features available for a price. Others fell a little short, but we'll get to those too.

The good: office productivity

At the moment, I am sitting in a shopping mall using Google Docs and my tablet to write this while my wife is shopping. If cloud computing gave me nothing more than a good reason to stay out of the shoe stores, I would be happy. My wife would also have a larger shoe collection, but that's another story.

Google Docs gives you fully functioning word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications. They also provide a free calendar application and, of course, Gmail. With a few exceptions, I can do anything in these applications that I can do in the expensive office productivity suites that take up massive amounts of your hard drive space, not to mention being cpu and memory hogs. I'll pull out one of my useless buzzwords here — "bloatware."

If you don't like Google, no problem. There are several free cloud-based office suites available. ThinkFree, Zoho even Microsoft offers its office suite in the cloud for free. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

In my opinion, there is absolutely no need to buy an expensive office productivity suite. You may have to pay for storage if you generate a lot of documents, but I find the free gigabyte of storage that is pretty standard fare for most providers to be sufficient. If you have to buy additional storage, it won't break the bank. I pay $20 a year for 20 gigabytes of space in the cloud for all my document storage.

More good: TripIt, a cool travel app

I don't have to travel that often, but it just so happens that I had to this week, so I get to include this in my experiment.

In my road warrior days, I became addicted to a cloud-based itinerary management tool called TripIt. Here's how it works.

Once you set up your free account, send an email containing your itinerary (which typically contains confirmation numbers or record locators and is generated by the travel provider) from your registered email address to "plans@tripit.com." An itinerary is generated and syncs to your smartphone. There are Android and iOS versions available.

If you give TripIt's automated service access to your email account, you don't have to send anything to TripIt as long as the travel provider notifications come to that email address. TripIt will automagically recognize the travel information and generate the itinerary and sync to your smartphone. There's no need to carry all that paper through the airport.

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