By Ian Rowan
Chances are part of your head is already in the clouds: Are you on Facebook? Have you tried out Google Docs? Do you watch movies on Netflix? Then, you’ve used a cloud-based service; you just didn’t realize it. What used to be a passive visit to a static website has become an interactive immersion of remote computing showing up seamlessly in your browser.
The Data Cloud
Simply put, “the cloud” refers to data that exists remotely from your computer, but is constantly available wirelessly to all of your devices. The advantage: All of your emails, photos, presentations, books and music are constantly synced across all your devices and instantaneously available to you anywhere in the world.
iCloud vs. Amazon vs. Google
During the recent launch of Apple’s iCloud service, Steve Jobs described the thinking behind it in this way: “About 10 years ago, we had one of our most important insights. We thought the PC would be the hub for your digital life where you put your photos, videos and music. But it’s broken down in the last few years. So we’re going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device. We’re going to move your hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud.” What he meant was that all of your data, from documents and photos to movies and everything in between will be synced to their data servers and then constantly updated on all your devices.
Apple’s free iCloud service comes with 5 GB, and that doesn’t include your purchased apps, iTunes music or iBooks. Only your ripped music, documents and photos will take up space in the cloud. Apple is able to offer this service by scanning your library and populating your songs in the cloud without uploading them, since they already own them.
Competing for some time now has been Amazon’s Cloud Drive ; they now offer up to 5 GB of free storage with pricing plans starting at $20 per year for 20 GB of space and unlimited music storage. Google jumped into the game with their still-in-beta Music service, which is also free, but allows users to store up to 20,000 songs online. Some other cloud storage options to look into for free and easy data backup are LaCie’s Wuala (with redundant backup) and the free Dropbox service.
One of the prime examples of the user-friendliness of the cloud has been the advent of online document creation, storage and sharing. Google Docs has been a major player since 2007 -- this piece was written solely with it -- offering cloud-based word processing, presentation creation, Excel document manipulation and data storage so colleagues can create and edit and share relevant data in real time over vast distances.
Since the ease of sharing documents with collaborators is such a boon to workflow management, Microsoft has finally unveiled their version. Dubbed Microsoft Office 365, the service was just released this June and will challenge Google Docs through seamless integration with the original Microsoft Office. Offering the productivity suite of Microsoft Office in the cloud, the service comes with a fee: It starts at $6 per user, per month, for small businesses.
For those who like the idea of complete cloud-based computing, there is the release of two new laptops called Chromebooks. Google's Chrome Web browser was developed simultaneously as an operating system, similar to OSX or Windows. Here, the browser is actually the operating system. The recently released Acer Chromebook AC700 3G and Samsung Chromebook Series 5 Titan are basically Web-only laptops. They both start up in fewer than 10 seconds, come in either Wi-Fi or 3G versions, are ultra-thin and -light with extensive battery lives (the Samsung version lasts 8.5 hours) and are priced between $349 and $499, depending on 3G capability.
Remember that the data is actually stored somewhere out there; it’s not being taken care of by angels with harps. Cloud servers in remote locations are storing and accessing your data for you and sending it to your browser over the Internet. There are two risks associated with this: physical loss of the data and interception of the data. Look at what happened to Gmail service when their email accounts suddenly vanished back in February 2011. Although Google was able to restore many user files, some were lost in the ether forever. The second potential risk involves a hacker accessing your files due to lax security encryption. The popular Dropbox service had a security flaw that could potentially leave your data open to a relatively simple hack. If your data needs to be secure, be sure to check that the most advanced encryption methods are being employed by your cloud service. Otherwise, to be safe, only store your innocuous data online.
QUIET KEYBOARD This wireless rechargeable keyboard won’t make a sound no matter how hard you whack at the keys. Although the diNovo Edge might frustrate your attempts to show off your tireless work ethic to the boss, you can surf Internet dating sites all night without tipping off your girlfriend.
MULTILINGUAL MARVEL Expensive enough to require valet parking, the Optimus Maximus keyboard displays letters and control icons with a light-emitting OLED. It’s customizable for multitasking in multiple codes and languages -- including Cyrillic, ancient Greek, Arabic and HTML -- or for more ambitious activities like video gaming.
LASER SHOW No bigger than a cigarette lighter, the Celluon Virtual Keyboard connects to your computer using a USB dongle and emits an awesome laser-generated keyboard and mouse that allows you to work virtually -- and connect with your inner Obi Wan Kenobi.
BACK TO THE FUTURE Drawing from last century’s gilded sensibilities, this custom, retro-futuristic keyboard will make your desktop worthy of H.G. Wells’ office space. “The Marquis” keyboard has acanthus-leaf engraving on polished brass and key lettering engraved on a mirrored gold acrylic. It’ll make you the envy of any century.
LIGHT FINGER FOLLIES Every time you touch its keys, the Luxeed U7 lights up like the Las Vegas strip -- bringing a little bit of Studio 54 to your dancing fingers. Make sure they dress sharply and get their names on the list -- this is one exclusive keyboard!
PURE LUXURY: BENTLEY MULSANNE The new Bentley Mulsanne's unrivaled pedigree stands out from the pack with an ultra-smooth and more-than-capable 505 hp, 6.8-liter V8 engine that glides from 0 to 62 mph in 5.3 whisper-quiet seconds. As befits its luxury status, the car can be completely customized to taste with over 1 billion possible variations, according Bentley Motors.
STANDOUT CONVERTIBLE: MORGAN AERO 8 Although its production recently ceased, this classically styled roadster is still one of the most fun, head-turning vehicles to roam the highways. While completely hand-built with more than 100 years of heritage packed into the coachwork, its BMW 4.4-liter V8 pumps out 312 hp -- moving this homage to yesteryear from 0 to 62 mph in just 4.2 seconds.
Tiny Tower seems like a simple, if not silly, game. But that's how it gets you addicted. The premise, like SimCity, is to build your own world -- in this case a tower. The more floors you build, the more money you can make to spend on building more floors ... and the hook is set.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
How many passwords do you have to remember? Thanks to 1Password, you can keep all of your security codes safe and secure on your smartphone. All you have to do is remember one four-digit code and a master passcode, and the info is encrypted and backed up on your computer.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
Yes, the camera on the iPhone 4S is better than previous incarnations. But besides flash and zoom, it leaves us a little cold. Turn your 4S into a virtual DSLR with all the bells and whistles you get with said device, plus all the features you’d expect from a smartphone, such as visual filters.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
Even if you were born in the CD era, chances are you remember mixed tapes. Bring them into the digital age with the app that turns your digital music player into a virtual portable cassette deck that blasts loaded playlists and helps you create the perfect mix to play and then share on Facebook.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
Didn't you hear? The end of the world is happening on Dec. 21, 2012. Skeptical? Then check out this app, which explores all the coincidences between the Mayan prediction and what science says. At the very least you'll be prepared to handle the impending end of time.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
The premise of KaleidaCam is simple: Turn your iPhone's camera into a kaleidoscope. You can adjust the trippy-ness of the created image by choosing one of four to 10 slides. It leads to hours of mindless fun for the whole family. You can even take pictures of your creations and send them to Facebook and Twitter.Platforms: iPhone
This mobile app puts Thrillist reviews in the palm of your hand so you can be the guy who knows the coolest places to eat, drink and shop. Using your device's GPS function, it'll tell you the top places to spend your time and money in more than 19 cities. You'll never have a boring night again.Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android
'Tis the season for holiday parties, full of finger foods, drinks and treats. This app will track your weight well into the new year so you can stop the festivities from settling around your waist. Just log your bites, licks and tastes, and the food database will calculate the calories you've consumed. Then log your workouts to determine how many calories you burned.Platforms: iPhone, iPad
If you thrive on new music, this is a must-have app. Band of the Day introduces you to an artist that you need to know about every day. You get a bio, a song to listen to, a stream of Facebook/Twitter comments about the artist, videos to view and a list of albums that you can buy, right from the app.Platforms: iPhone
Think of this app as your secret weapon to achieving culinary nirvana. It puts all of the advice from the well-respected epicurean website of the same name in the palm of your hand. We love the seasonal options on the home screen that help make sure your feasts are weather-appropriate.Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, Nook, Windows Phone
Finding a new place to hang your hat just got a whole lot easier, thanks to the new Trulia mobile app. The clean design of the interface makes it a snap to search homes to rent or to buy Features include sort by price, search by location, and email real estate agents directly.Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire
The latest incarnation of the Bloons game franchise gets the smart-phone makeover, and it is still as addictive as ever. The objective remains the same: prevent balloons from getting from one part of the maze to the other using your arsenal of dart monkeys, rockets, battleships and other WMDs.Platforms: iPhone, iPad
The latest army of food carts has turned most city streets into a mobile gourmet road show. But how do you know when your favorite Korean BBQ truck will be by your office? Using Google maps and your iPhone's GPS, StreetEats lets you track your favorite carts and see which ones are in your immediate area and how long they'll be there.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
With all of the news available to us, it's hard to cut through the noise and get what you're looking for. Editions by AOL is an app that curates a custom, easy-to-navigate daily newsmagazine based on your interests, location, Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The more you use the app, the more highly customized it becomes.Platforms: iPad
Sick of the same old vodka martinis? Not sure what to do with that bottle of amaretto? InMyBar's simple interface lets you plug in all the booze you have in your liquor cabinet. Then, the app creates a list of all the cocktails you can make, or it lets you know what remaining ingredients you need in order to make a specific drink.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Music nerds, welcome to heaven. This app tracks music blogs and culls their favorite tunes from the Web, then lets you create your dream radio station. The genre section alone offers more than 100 options -- perfect for deep dives into your particular mood. You can even track what your friends are listening to.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch
Watch your favorite music videos in HD with VEVO HD, which features 45,000 videos, including intimate performances by your favorite artists; a music map showing which videos people are listening to in your area; artist tour information; and ticket-buying capabilities.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Meeting a lovely lady is now as easy as whipping out your ... cell phone. Blendr collects your favorite interests and then helps match you up with female companions who live in your area and have similar interests. Browse photos, check in to venues and even chat with folks from your own neighborhood.Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
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