Are we ready to migrate to the cloud?

July 12, 2011

There’s alot of talk these days about Cloud Computing. The idea is a move away from the traditional hard-drive based computing we all know and store all of our data on the internet. We won’t even need to spend cash on hard disk space because our data will be accessible for us anywhere on a range of devices through the cloud. But how much of a step forward is the cloud and are we ready to entrust all our data to the net?

Google thinks we are, last month unveiling the ChromeBook, the first device to really embrace the cloud. What makes Chromebooks so different to an ordinary laptop? There’s no storage space, no large hard-drive to speak of. There’s not even programmes or applications on this laptop and there’s barely an operating system. Why? Because everything you need is stored on Google’s servers, all you need is an internet connection.

There’s obviously a great deal of advantages to this. One of them being the price. With no high end hardware needed (as most of the work can be done online), cloud based computers like ChromeBooks can end up being much cheaper than their higher-end alternatives. And of course you wont have to splash out on expensive software for your cloud machine, or have to install it. Google already have several web-based apps on their servers (including everyone’s favourite game Angry Birds!). You can use office products, edit media, engage in video calls and utilise social media all for free without ever installing a single application on your machine.

Having less data stored on your system has a couple more plus points. The ChromeBook for example can start up, from completely powered-off to running websites, within 8 seconds. Compare that to how long it took you to start-up Windows 7 (or other laggy OS) earlier and that’s quite incredible! The reason for the speed, it has hardly anything to load. It also means you are almost guaranteed to never have a virus as there is nothing on your system to attack, clever!

The key factor that most companies are pushing with cloud computing is the ability to access your data anywhere using many devices. Amazon are jumping on this with their CloudDrive and CloudPlayer allowing you to access your files and music on any computer, tablet or smartphone device. Of course with the cloud, you don’t even need to own the files. Music-streaming sites like Grooveshark and Spotify allow you to listen to pretty much anything you want, wherever you want. There’s no need to actually ‘own’ this stuff anymore.

But that’s just the thing. I’m not sure I’m ready to let go of all that. I like having things that I actually own, a bit like CD’s (we all put them on our iPod’s, but I like to have a tangible souvenir when I buy an album). I know with data on a device it;s a bit different (you can;t touch it for one thing), but I like to have my own copies of my fav music, movies, pictures etc rather than relying on the web to look after all of these.

Indeed, at the moment I’m having intermittent internet problems with my laptop. This is frustrating, but not troublesome to my whole computer experience. What happens if a Chromebook can’t connect? You have no laptop. If you store everything in the cloud as we are being encouraged to, you wont be able to access any of it during a network outage, something which should never happen with a local hard drive.

And if you put all your data in the cloud, you’re also giving all your data to another company. They say they’ll do nothing but look after it, but underneath there’ll be scanners monitoring everything you upload, learning all about you, what you look like, what you do, what you like.

With all this stored online, we are putting a massive amount of trust in the online companies and we all know that these servers aren’t always the most secure, look at Sony. By putting more and more data online, we’re just making it easier not only for companies to learn about us for their market research, but for our entire lives to be hacked by the cyber criminals that lurk web-wide.

We are of course already uploading alot of personal data on services doing this with the likes of Facebook, webmail, even online shopping. At the moment that data is a small amount, negligible – and the fact that it is brings us to another issue, webspace.

I have a 500gb hard drive, considered a fairly medium size of hard disk space in 2011. Yes this is 100 times more than most cloud

providers will give you. 5gb is simply not enough to store everything you need, even if you’ll be sharing several files with others. I have more than that in photo’s alone and I don’t consider myself a very serious photographer (yet!).

Working with online apps can also be a bit of a drag. Sure you can edit video/photos audio online, but it’ll take you a while to upload and download it all. Things like this just work much better locally and until with a 1GB/s download option, it’s just not going to be feesable.

I should point out that I am not entirely against the cloud. It has several great advantages, I just don’t think we are ready (or possiblywill ever be ready) to fully embrace it and effectively make hard drives redundant. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I will alway like to keep the main hub of all my data as my main computer, with portions of it online/on other devices.

And this is perhaps where I see the advantage in something like iCloud, Apple’s upcoming cloud service. The idea is to keep your devices in sync as much as possible. For example, if you take a photo on your iPhone, it will be uploaded next time your in Wi-Fi range and then pushed down to all you other (Apple) devices. This idea uses the cloud as a way of copying your data everywhere quickly, but crucially doesn’t keep it stored only in the cloud. Apple will also allow you to back-up online (which is also a very handy feature of all cloud services) as well as sync your e-mails and calendars instantly without even knowing it’s happening.

This is the kind of cloud service I will use. It’s basic and it’s more of a synchronising service that a cloud storage drive, but I’m not ready to abandon my hard-drive for the cloud yet and I think with some of the limitations there still are, it will be a long while until we all are.

But I’m also aware at the speed tech moves, the hard-drive could be defunct by this time next year…


Twitinions – Product Placement arrives in the UK

February 28, 2011

It all started with a Nescafe Coffee Machine. Yes, product placement has made it to the UK and will be invading several of of our favourite shows over the coming months. Todays episode of ‘This Morning’ was the first to carry Ofcom’s new product placement logo (pictured right) and the first ever in-show advert on British TV, the aforementioned coffee machine.

Now over the past weeks, I’ve made my views on Product Placement very clear, but what does everyone else make of it?

This is a new semi-regular feature where I look at what is being said on Twitter, scouring the feeds for the most interesting, controversial and funny opinions the world has. I must stress that the text featured below are simply the opinions of the people credited and are in no way associated with me.

Many people were strongly against the introduction of ‘PP’ to the UK:

@Tsing_Taoist: Before long with #productplacement TV programs will be just adverts!

@StephenEConlan: #productplacement. Its all down hill from here
@robinince: oh dear, this is a pity, luckily I only watch TV to shout at it, so product placement should help that

Others, just against the product itself:

@CatsHurricane: #productplacement so…nescafe coffee machine on this morning…I take it this morning don’t remember the baby milk disaster then?#appalled

Whereas quite a few of you couldn’t see what the fuss was about as the ‘ad’ was so obscure:

@jotaylor9: Ok so I watched @itvthismorning today and didn’t notice the #productplacement love the idea of pp though another platform for brands to use!
@JeremySinger1: Nestle spends over £100,000 to place a coffee machine on the set of This Morning! Without brand mentions it seems futile! #ProductPlacement


They should concentrate on having their products on supermarket shelves and at a price we can afford 

But the vast majority of you just saw the funny side of things, coming up with suggestions for future PP:

@PippaRolls67: Loose women and #productplacement really gets the mind boggling! Rigby and Pellar, Tampax, Clarins, Ann Summers…flood gates open!

@Locko8668: @Weathergodess *Flashing P* I suggest Pak-A-Macs for todays weather #ProductPlacement

@ReynardCity: #productplacement Ant and Black and Decker Power Tools

@PrincePhilipDoE: Queen on the phone to ad agency – she will NOT give Xmas speech on a Stannah Stair-lift.

The general Twitinion seems to be rather firmly against Product Placement thus far and I very much agree. But love it or hate it, it will be part of our TV (well except the BBC) for the foreseeable future. Expect more and more of those “p’s” to be appearing at the bottom left-hand corner of your screen!
Thanks to everyone for great comments on Twitter and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below or tweeting @chrisbheath !

PS – I would like to apologise for the horrible formatting of this page. WordPress appears to be having some problems, I’m doing my best to sort it!

Facebook E-mail on the way… and it isn’t even E-mail!

November 16, 2010

Now that’s a confusing title for a post, surely it’s a contradiction. Yet this is the way that Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s new e-mail system.

And to be fair, it’s not just e-mail. It’s true that Facebook will be inviting their users to take up an address in the coming months, but their inbox will cope with a lot more than just e-mail.

From your single account you can link in your e-mails, facebook messages, instant messages (which is likely to include Twitter at some point methinks) and SMS messages. In fact Zuckerberg wants pretty much all of your online communication to go through your new account.

The first thing to note about this is it’s extremely ambitious. Companies are constantly trying to converge, make one thing do more (just look at the latest smartphones), but never has anyone put all of communication in one place. It’s a mammoth task, 15 programmers have spent a year working on this.

But of course if this works it will be phenomenal. Imagine how convenient it could be to have everything in one place. I can start a conversation of a Facebook message, go out and continue it by text, get my Facebook app out for a bit of instant chat and then finish off with and e-mail and it would all be part of the same convo. All in one place, accessible from anywhere… brilliant.

All in the same place, accessible anywhere… terrible.

It’s a nice idea, but in reality, I’m not sure I like it. E-mail inboxes can be tough enough to look through as it is, let alone adding in every other form of communication available. I’m sure the bigwigs at Facebook are woking on a way to make this user friendly (and to give them their fair do’s, Facebook is one of the most a very user-friendly website’s on the net), but I personally cannot see it working.

I also do not like the idea of the majority of my online communication going through Facebook, a site already having problems over user-privacy. Where are my conversations going, what other companies are benefitting and does Facebook technically own all my words. It’s too much power all to one company and that never ends well.

Having said all that, maybe they have already won, after all, I’m already finding that more and more contacts use the site and crucially they always reply to their Facebook messages, sometimes ignoring their e-mails.

Faceboook’s come a long long way from ‘the social network’ in the film of the same name…

Out with the old, in with the New Twitter!

September 29, 2010

As one bird’s song is ending a new tweet begins. Alright, enough of the imagery! Twitter’s got a brand new look and it’s here to stay!

There’s no doubt that New Twitter (or #NewTwitter as some will prefer) has caused quite a media storm. It’s the first major revision the site has ever undergone. But what’s the big difference? Surely it’s still the same idea of just 140 character messages sent between users in real-time. Last night my New Twitter account was activated and here’s what I found.

The Positives

I would say the whole move to new Twitter has been very positive. The main reason, it doesn’t feel like the clunky old web-interface we’re used to, this feels more like an app in your browser. When I say app, I of course refer to the several Twitter clients out there (Tweetdeck, Twhirl, Hootsuite etc). The site now behaves very much like one of these installed programs on your computer and I love it.

For example, when viewing pictures on the site, instead of navigating away from Twitter, the picture will be displayed in the right hand bar, in a nice size but at the same time, out of the way. The same is done with videos. So long as the website hosting (ie TwitPic, Plixi etc) has signed up with Twitter, their content will display right on the Twitter homepage, how handy is that.

New Twitter uses the right hand bar for media

A lot of other features have been moved to more conveinient places. Your different feeds for example @replies (which are now @mentions), lists and favourites, are all listed at the top of the left hand column so you can easily switch between each one. There’s a navigation bar at the top so you can always go back home, to your profile and Tweet from any page (something which really used to annoy me about the previous web Twitter). ‘Trends’ and ‘who to follow’, have also been cleared up on the right hand bar, meaning you can see everything from the top of your homepage (rather than scrolling in the past).

There’s much more information available instantly from New Twitter. From any one Tweet you can easily find out more by clicking on it. A side bar will slide out and you will have access to people who have replied to the tweet, who’s reTweeted it, recent things the poster has said. If there are HashTags you can even see what other people are saying with that tag. It gives a quick snapshot of extra information, making a Tweet, much more than just a Tweet!

I also personally like the new layout. It will take getting used to, it is a bit fat, yes that wonderful background you made has been ruined by it. But at the same time, profile pics are shown big enough to actually see, personal info is displayed in a nice professional style rather than hidden away and you can pull up profiles instantly on your home screen – brilliant!

The Negatives

Inevitably there are some negatives, the first – coming back to what I said earlier – there’s much more information on New Twitter. Although great, it can become a bit overwhelming and hard to take in. It’s not always brilliant spaced out in the new right-hand bar and the use of both Times New Roman and Arial confuses and annoys me! People are also bound to complain that the increase of info is going to keep them on Twitter for even longer. Not brilliant for a site which is already notorious for sapping up people’s time!

New look profiles

Another problem is that New Twitter doesn’t seem finished. It doesn’t crash, well, not yet. But it does feel like something’s missing. There are weird mixes between the old and the new which don’t work. Profile pages look far to spaced out with the new larger right bar. It’s almost as of they didn’t know what to do with it. Of course, Twitter are still billing the new site as a preview and no doubt things like this are being looked into a hopefully changed for the final release!

I’m also a bit annoyed that new Twitter hasn’t brought me the one thing I wanted from it, live tweet updates. The apps can do it, why not the site? By live I of course mean I want my tweets to appear in real time at the top of the page when they arrive. It would be so much easier and I’m sure it’s possible (after all, Facebook can do something similar). Please, please, please Twitter give us live updating, I don’t want to click to see 23 waiting Tweets…

The Verdict

The verdict is I like new Twitter. I think it’s a vast improvement over it’s predecessor and shows people who use only the web version how much more there is to Twitter. If you’ve ever used Twitter for iPhone, you’ll be right at home with it, the layout is very similar, but others will find it a challenge to get to grips with at first. Stick with it though, I genuinely believe this site can offer a much better experience than before.

But I suppose the true fact of the matter is this. I never used to use web Twitter because I preferred the apps and although I will no doubt use the site for a few weeks now (It’s new and shiny!!), I’ll inevitably return to my apps… they’re just better!

New Twitter is being rolled out to users right now, if you don’t have it yet, you probably will very soon!

App-tastic! Browsing the net with apps

August 22, 2010

Something has happened in the last few years. We’ve slowly started to abandon the world wide web as we know it and latch on to a different way of navigating the internet… the world of apps.

Apps are of course small applications for you computer which use the internet to access information for you. It could be a twitter client like Tweetdeck, or maybe maps like Google Earth. Perhaps a phone call through Skype or maybe just a plain old e-mail client like Outlook.

But app usage is on the increase and a big reason for this is smartphones. I’ve recently taken the plunge and brought an iPhone. I use this online all the time, but not very often for web browsing, more often it’s for apps. I still connect with Facebook, twitter, google, amazon, WordPress, IMDB, last fm etc. But it’s not through the iPhone’s web browser, it’s through apps.

And why not? The Facebook app for iPhone works like a dream with the touchscreen, unlike the clunky web version which is hard to see on a small display. Likewise I can browse and buy products on Amazon a lot easier through the iPhone native app rather than trying to use their website which is clearly designed for a mouse.

So is our new-found love of apps driven solely towards the ease of use they give us on mobile devices? It may well have started the trend, but I think it’s no-where near the end.

Just yesterday I was browsing the web and came across many ‘apps’ which I’m now a member

of.Some of them were extremely useful like Instapaper. With this app, whenever I find an article I’m interested in, but don’t have the time to read, I can click a button in my browser and save it for later on my instapaper site. I can also archive these so I can keep the links for future reference, rather than clutter up my desktop with them

Another helpful ‘newspaper-esque’ app if Twitter and Facebook have seen us sharing links like never before on the net, so many in fact that it’s easy to lose track of them. What does, is look at all the links shared on your Twitter/Facebook feed and organise them into a daily news sheet for you to read, including any video’s and pictures in their own sections. It’ll even organise the links into sections such as politics/arts/lifestyle etc. It’s a really simple way to catch up on your days social networking!

Then there’s the more fun apps I’ve been playing with, the most prominent one being GetGlue.This is basically Foursquare for what you are doing. Players ‘check-in’ with what they are watching/playing/reading and can therefore start a conversation with others who are doing similar things. As with Foursquare you collect points and stickers for achieving certain things in the game. As well as this, GetGlue has a recommendation system for other movies/books/games/music you might enjoy based on what you do most. And of course Facebook and twitter integration is included.

All of these apps also include mobile versions so you can connect wherever you are.

And this is why the web is changing. We are able to do new things, in a safe and clean environment. We can do everything we need to do on just a few sites or no sites at all. There’s no need to search the web any more.

In fact this article in the Observer goes as far as to say that we are destroying the web with the use of apps.

I personally don’t agree. There’ll always be a place for the web (for example, ‘The Rich, Harsh Poet’ isn’t getting its own app anytime soon), but it will be used less often. Why shouldn’t it be? If I can access the data I want in a quicker, safer and easier environment, why shouldn’t I?

Long live apps, the future of the internet!

Wave goodbye to Google’s Wave

August 5, 2010

Yesterday Google announced it was discontinuing it’s largely misunderstood ‘Google Wave’ service.

It’s been a rocky year for the service which was tipped to be an e-mail killer and a facebook rival. Wave let you do everything you could with e-mail and social networks (apart from the EVIL Farmville) as well as some groundbreaking technology. You could share maps with people, write on things in real-time with them, drag and drop files from your computer straight onto the net. It was everything Google offered in one massive package. So why didn’t it succeed.

As far as I’m concerned, it was too much too soon. I consider myself to be quite good with technology, yet it took me a bit of time to work out exactly what to do with Google Wave. When I did get to grips with it I thought it was fantastic, but then comes Wave’s other, bigger problem.

Awareness. Simply not enough people used the service. As with most new Google technologies, it was invite only for a long time. Although this got the cyber-nerds like myself interested in the site, it missed the general public who were satisfied with their Facebook’s and Twitter’s. They didn’t need Google Wave and Google didn’t do enough to make them want it.

I liked the site, but hardly ever used it as I simply didn’t have enough other friends who used it.

It is a shame to see Google give up on it. Perhaps they need to spend a bit of time re-thinking the idea because the service could one day work, it just takes a bit of getting used to.

Google have said they will use the technology from wave elsewhere and people using the site, will be able to until the end of the year, but for now, it’s time to start waving goodbye to one of Google’s only failures.

SeeSaw – What’s The Point?

February 7, 2010

Recently I was invited to the beta testing of SeeSaw.

Just in case you don’t know, SeeSaw is an online Video-On-Demand service. It was born out of the remnants of Kangaroo (a service the BBC, ITV, C4 and Five were looking to launch jointly a few years ago). It will launch fully in a few weeks, but I have to be honest, I don’t get the point of it.

The service has lots of content from BBC, C4 and Five, all online and ready to watch with no limits. And the play quality is good also. It loads very quickly and after a few ads, you’re in to one of your favourite shows.

But it’s the actual content, surprisingly, which lets SeeSaw down. It’s not that the programmes aren’t good, it’s that you can already get them (legally I might add) elsewhere on the web.

SeeSaw does not show up-to-date/recent shows, making it pointless for catchup. Instead it has archive shows from all the channels. Now this would be great, but it’s already been done.

4od from Channel 4 has nearly every Channel 4 show ever ready to play whenever you want, including whatever was on yesterday. The BBC is also starting to extend it’s iPlayer service to keep content for much longer. And if these, more popular, services are already doing it, then where exactly does SeeSaw fit in?

SeeSaw have said that the service is still in it’s infancy and there’ll be much more to come including a subscription service later this year. But I just feel everything on the site has been done before and to be honest, it’s been done better.

SeeSaw has no unique selling point and for that I feel it will fail. I hope I’m wrong as I never like to see new, creative ventures like this one go under,  but I’ll watch with interest when it’s released to the public in a couple of weeks time.