Due to the nature of TechCrunch (UK), I am forever installing and uninstalling beta software, therefore it was only a matter of time before my Media Center PC crashed. Luckily I only lost a few days worth of work which I had not backed up. i.e a few new emails, calendar entries and contacts in my Outlook 2007 PST store. So if I have not written back to you or called you that may be why. ;-)
Well sadly the problem was worse than I first thought, the good old Windows XP “System Restore” feature had corrupted and it meant I had to totally reinstall my desktop OS along with all of my applications. At first this caused me great angst; the thought of watching that progress completion bar for the next few hours was not a pleasant prospect but then I suddenly felt a wave of liberation come over me as I decided this was a good time to move my entire digital life (and data) to the web.
You’re probably thinking, it’s too soon, he’s mad, his head must be in the clouds and you would be right on all counts! Yes my head was in the clouds but the Google and Amazon clouds. Is it too early, possibly? But I have talked the Web 2.0 talk often enough (in conferences) and now it was time for me to walk the walk. My goal was to simply separate my data from the application and in turn from the operating system.
To achieve my goal, the first thing I would need to do was remove my reliance on specific OS desktop applications. To help me do so I chose to use the recently launched Google Apps for Your Domain to host my POP3 email accounts and calendars. This transition worked really well. I “simply” altered my MX domain records and CNAME details using this Google tutorial and in a matter of hours my email and calendar requests were happily coming via Google.
Feeling bold, the next desktop item removed was my desktop RSS Reader. Until then I had happily used a combination of Attensa for Outlook with the Windows RSS platform in IE7. Instead I decided to replace them both with the recently released Google Reader with its “river of news” style interface which makes it much easier to speed read my latest feeds. And clearly I’m not alone in my positive experience of moving over to the G-Reader.
The only issue I briefly had was the fact that currently the Gmail client and the G-Reader client are not integrated which meant I had to keep two tab windows in Firefox open all the time but following a quick search I found a site that had a greasemonkey script enabling me to see both readers on the same web page.
The next big challenge was to see if I could do without Microsoft’s Office on my desktop. For a decade or more, Microsoft Office has been the main stay of my computing life. Although I would consider myself a heavy user of Outlook and Powerpoint, I now consider myself a “lite” user of Excel, Word and Access. Therefore I decided to give Google Docs & Spreadsheets a go.
I was pleasantly surprised, all though it’s still very rudimentary – like moving back to Office 2002 or earlier – the product fits well with my “lite” user requirements. That said, the best thing about Docs & Spreadsheet was being able to collaborate online with other people. More often than not, that is what I find myself doing these days. e.g for the TechCrunch Party I was collaborating with several people about the attendee list. No longer did I have to email document attachments and then integrate the changes from several people. I simply invited the people to use the online file and we all collaborated on the same file. Of course had Google bought JotSpot sooner, I might have additionally used the wiki capabilities.
Using Docs & Spreadsheet has enabled me to successfully remove the need for Word, Excel and Access 2003 from my desktop and to be clear I will NOT be upgrading to Office 2007 for the princely sum of £/$400. Instead I will use the Office 2007 free viewers if I need to read Office attachments in the future or I can wait until Google provide a free converter/reader for Docs & Spreadsheet. In fact most of the documents I receive today are PDF file attachments and I have already replaced Adobe’s desktop reader with the smaller, faster and free Firefox plug-in called Foxit.
Equally having replaced the need for Outlook, the issue of synchronisation between Outlook and Google calendars and the respective inboxes quickly became a non-issue. Although if you still wish to still use Outlook’s calendar then there are third party solutions that enable you to link the two services. The last major hurdle was to replace the need for PowerPoint, so I decided to trial a combination of online services. The first I am using is SlideShare which enables me to upload my (old) existing Powerpoint presentations and make them available online. Secondly I am trying two online presentation tools , Empressr and Thumbstacks. As Google continues to build their version of Office “online”, I guess it won’t be long before Google enter the market again and buy a presentation tool, but which one?
So by this stage I had happily removed the need for the majority of my desktop applications from Windows XP (SP2) but I wanted needed to have an online storage drive so that I was truly free of the OS and that when I was out and about I could also access my files. There have been many rumours about Google Drive or G:Drive and some have even reported that “Playtpus” is the code name for this service. Whilst I wait for Google, others have been busy and created their own versions to work in conjunction with GMail, such as GSpace or the Windows Explorer Gmail “shell extension“, both of which I use.
To make matters more interesting, yesterday there were reports that Google has quietly been upgrading Gmail accounts to provide 15 GB of storage space. “There are at least two people who noticed it, so it’s hard to consider this a mistake”. Currently Gmail accounts in “Google Apps for Your Domain” provide only 2 GB of storage but 15Gb would enable me to transfer all of my local files to Google. Again to fill in the gap while waiting, I am also using the Amazon S3 service to provide further storage/backup of my data. i.e I am not putting all of my eggs in one Google basket.
So there you have it, Part 1 and all of my data is now stored online in non-proprietary formats – ODF, MP3, HTML, XML etc either in the Google or Amazon cloud(s) but more importantly I am set free from the desktop. i.e the hardware and the device are less important to me.
In Part 2 of this post, I will explain what software services I used to replace Windows OneCare (be careful how you say that) + Windows Defender as well as Internet Explorer, Messenger and Windows Media Player. This was much easier than I first thought and it cost me nothing to get a better level of service and/or functionality.
In Part 3 of this post, I will explain how I replaced my reliance on Windows XP. Now I have a dual boot PC running the latest build of Ubuntu (Linux Distro) and because Ubuntu runs the same Firefox browser, music player and application software as my current Windows XP configuration, I have no new learning curve other than that of the Linux OS’ specific tools themselves.
For the first time, this crash and restore exercise has finally enabled me to properly review the benefits and merits of both the Linux OS and the Apple (Mac) OS X against the Windows XP and Vista platforms but only because I can now run similar, familiar applications across all of these major OS’es and because I can access all of my email, calendar and documents online.
Of course there are some feature limitations about this online configuration but most of those holes are being filled in by greasemonkey scripts or Firefox extensions for now.
But I had also considered using Microsoft’s Live platform instead but their desktop & web search, gadget strategy, hosted services and application strategy was either unclear or inferior to that of Google. With regard to Yahoo they have many similar services to Google, some are certainly a lot better than Google, but where is Yahoo Office and Y: Drive? I guess they need to open the cheque book again and possibly buy companies like Zoho or ThinkFree before I would consider moving my digital life/data to them.
Of course not everyone agrees with this type of migration to the web and I must admit for many people the richness of desktop applications will remain superior. I guess what I am looking for is flexibility of choice over bloated functionality that I no longer need or can afford.
There of course is always a third way and Scrybe is a new online suite that has an offline mode. Checkout the demo video which is very impressive. Scrybe has launched into their beta today. Strangely while I have been writing this post and actuall moving my digital life around the web, someone else has had the same viewpoint. Their post takes a slightly different view of the problem but I feel we both agree that it is the freedom and importance of the data and not the OS or the application that will matter in the future.