I don’t wanna come back down from this cloud

Yes, I just used a Bush lyric as a title for a blog post on cloud storage. Stop shaking your head like that, you know it’s cool.

So Amazon.com just unveiled their cloud player, which is free to anyone with an Amazon account, along with 5GB of cloud drive space. They currently have a deal where if you buy an MP3 album, they’ll bump you up to 20GB for free for a year – after that it’s $20 a year if you want to keep it. Not a bad deal. And given that they have some pretty good deals on some albums I’ve been listening to lately, I’d recommend you give it a shot. The cloud player itself is easy to use, fairly well organized, and will even do things like add album art based on the nearest match it can find (which can be unintentionally hilarious if you upload stuff from smaller or local artists that Amazon doesn’t know about. Thanks, Flexstyle!) They seem to have borrowed a lot from the traditional music player layout you’d find in a program like iTunes, foobar2k, or Grooveshark, so the UI is pretty intuitive.

Now while it is good, it’s far from perfect, and there are a couple of potentially very irritating issues. For one, it doesn’t include any way to edit the ID3 tags for the MP3s you upload, so you should have that all in order before you upload or else you won’t have the easiest time finding your music – there’s no “folder view” or anything like that in the player. Additionally, the “now playing” interface is basically just that – it shows you only the current song, not the current list of songs it will play, and there doesn’t appear any way to go back to the “Now Playing” list once you’ve navigated away. This means that if you have an album playing, and you go browse your library and want to have it play another album when this one finishes… well, you can’t, at least not without creating a new playlist and adding both albums, then having it play that playlist. This seems to me to be the biggest failure with the UI; hopefully they’ll catch on and update this soon.

As for the cloud drive itself – well, it is what it says it is. It’s a place to upload files, and 5GB is a good amount of storage to start with. It’s pretty generous for a free service; compare that to Dropbox’s 2GB or Google Docs’ 1GB. I think I’d probably use this over Google Docs for storing files I don’t actually want to edit with docs; the interface is just as usable and the space is greater, so there’s no real downside. However, my current addiction for cloud storage is Dropbox, and Amazon won’t be replacing that just yet, for a few key reasons:

  1. Dropbox has an awesome client. This is where Dropbox really shines. You can install a client to your PC, Mac, or Linux machine and have it automatically sync all the contents from a given folder to your cloud storage. It’s incredibly simple and entirely hands-off – once setup, you don’t even notice it’s there. Amazon still sticks to the “upload via the browser” method for most files, though it does have a marginally better downloadable client for uploading music. Still, nothing remotely close to the ease and long-term convenience of Dropbox.
  2. Dropbox lets me share files easily. With Dropbox, I can drop some files in my public folder on the local computer, then create a public link for anyone to access that file. It’s a thousand times easier than the old method of uploading a file via FTP to my webhost and then sharing that link; Dropbox even puts a way to copy the link in the file’s context menu in your operating system. I use this particular feature almost daily and consider it one of the best lesser-known features of Dropbox.
  3. Dropbox can create linked folders. Let’s say you’re another Dropbox user and you want to be able to easily collaborate with me on some project we’re working on. I can share a folder with your account, and anything I put in that folder will also show up in your Dropbox folder as well. You can then update the file, save it back to the folder, and I’ve got the updated copy. Just like that. It’s an elegantly simple solution and it works wonderfully. I used this quite a bit when working on the radio show with my friend Tim. It’s also good for creating a “drop off point” for things that aren’t easy to email – for instance, I had a friend who would drop videos and replays from his Starcraft games into the folder so I could watch them later.

Dropbox remains the best implementation of cloud storage that I’ve found, while keeping a sane and simple interface. Don’t have one? Go get one. It’s free and easy to use, and the higher storage plans are reasonably priced, though Amazon manages to cut their price basically in half, and offers up to a terabyte where Dropbox only will go up to 100GB. However, should you need a ton of storage, Google Docs actually has the cheapest solution by a large margin – you can get a terabyte of storage for $256/year, and up to 16 terabytes of space. That’s about a quarter of what Amazon charges, or an eighth of what Dropbox does, with a much higher potential capacity.

Obviously few people will need this much space, and the free space I’ve gotten from the services has covered everything I need so far – but I may end up subscribing to the $20/year Cloud Player service when my trial is up. Fortunately, I’ve got a year to decide whether it will be worth it.

Google Wave: my initial thoughts

So I received my invite to Google Wave one week ago, and have been playing with it off and on since then.  It’s a fascinating platform, not quite what I expected, and it’s been really interesting to think about potential applications and uses of the platform.

My initial impression upon logging in was that it was a typical Google app, visually very clean, colorful, and smooth. I had some idea of how things worked from watching their tech demo video, so I began to play around with creating and joining waves. For those of you who haven’t geeked out to this as much as I have yet, “waves” are the individual threads (documents?) that the platform is built to create and share. The wave can be just yours, which would make it functionally similar to an office document, or you can collaborate on it by inviting other users to join the wave, or by making it public. Once a wave has multiple users, the users can edit the wave itself, either by changing the “base” wave or by adding comments, discussion threads, links, or other media. These individual additions each have their own privacy settings as well, so if I wanted to comment on a wave but only wanted the original author of the wave to see my comment, I could do that. The wave itself remembers each of these edits and the order in which they happened, and so all waves are able to be “replayed” so that the user can see how the document has evolved to the state it is in now. Continue reading Google Wave: my initial thoughts

Google – The OS.

They want my soul, they can have it.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010…

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Awesome. Where do I sign up?