Over the last year, I’ve been hearing more and more about “cloud-based services” – a mechanism to make use of the power of the web, alongside desktop computers and software. These day’s we’re often expressing it as “Software plus Services”, and it is about creating a new hybrid model of computing that doesn’t rely on constant Internet connectivity, but provides a more seamless online and offline experience.
But I have to admit, abstract concepts don’t click easily with me – I’m more of a ‘see it and believe it’ kind of person. So my personal journey to discover what’s going on in the world of “cloud” services was all about trying stuff.
My first experience of this was when I started to use SkyDrive, to which I am now completely addicted. SkyDrive gives you a free 5GB storage space on the web, accessible through a web interface (if you’ve downloaded any presentations from this blog, you’ll have used it already). It is much, much easier than having to FTP a file for people to download, and I can control access, with public, private and shared folders (the last type are only shared with people I choose).
I then also gave FolderShare a go – allowing me to share folders across different PCs (in my case, my home PC, my work laptop, and my old ‘test’ laptop). This was handy, but wasn’t quite a seamless to setup as I’d expected. It’s still there as a service, but I’m not going to waste your time with a web link, because what you really want is Live Mesh…
A couple of weeks ago we announced Live Mesh, which is a massive leap forward. Although it’s still a technical preview, and you have to join a sign-up queue to get an account, it is something that is definitely worth a look now, to see what is just around the corner.
Let my try and describe what it does…
- You can setup a ‘Live Desktop’ on the web with 5GB of storage, with folders that are automatically synchronised to any of your connected devices (today, Windows PCs, but shortly your Windows Mobile phone/PDA and Apple Macs).
- Synchronised folders appear on both your Live Desktop, and on the desktop of each of your devices.
- You can remotely access any of your connected devices from another (forgotten to put a file you want from your home machine in your synched folder? No problem, just take control of the machine remotely and copy it over!).
- You can then choose to share folders with others. And all of this no cost – zero – zippo – free.
I installed it a week ago, and my jaw keeps dropping at what it can do. I keep all of my photos on my home machine, but if I want one I can just ‘pop over’ and pick it up from the office on my work laptop. I can put my working presentations in one of my Live Desktop synchronised folders, and carry on working on it on any of my computers.
With students all wandering around campus, rarely taking their laptops out of their rooms, and carrying all of their data on USB Memory Sticks, it is easy to see how this could change their way of working. And it will also offer a way for staff to effectively use multiple computers, and the masses of data that we all seem to be building up across multiple devices - write lecture notes on your home PC on Sunday evening, and it’s there on your work laptop on Monday morning without having to do anything extra.
(My) Words simply cannot do it justice…instead, take a look at one of these videos below.
- A quick intro video, from the Live Mesh “Learn More” pages.
- Or a longer, more detailed walk through video with some of the development team, from Channel 10.
- Or a slightly offbeat video look at it, with the Channel8 guys (the people who spend their lives talking to US technical students).
You can sign up for the waiting list to use the technical preview, and find out a lot more at, www.mesh.com
It’s new, and today it’s a technology preview, but it’s not going to be long before it is a service anybody can use.
So back to my original question – What’s with all this “Cloud” stuff?
To be honest, I think we’re in the foothills of the journey. What we are seeing today, with things like SkyDrive and Live Mesh, are clever technology ideas that give an insight into what may be around the corner. The idea that as a user I can start to disconnect my data from my device – that it is stored on multiple devices, and synchronised to multiple places, which I can access on any of those devices whether connected or not, or simply from the web. Up until now, I have been used to the fact that my device is where the data is. Now that appears to be changing quickly, and the implications for students, institutions, and IT teams is astonishing!