Saturday, January 21, 2012
This is truly where cloud-based computing is going. Take a look at this screenshot;
Looks like a computer desktop, right? Believe it or not, it's running in my browser window.
Now, before you go gettin' all excited, Cloudo has some pretty limited functionality right now. There are only a couple of beta apps for word processing, calendar, and a couple of widgets for weather and slideshows. It has been opened to developers and I'm sure there are nerds everywhere banging away at code right now.
I write about this, not because services like Cloudo are ready for mainstream, but because it truly represents the power of cloud-based computing. This has huge applications in remote/virtual workforce and would save companies millions of dollars in expensive hardware once apps like Cloudo (and there will be others) are ready for prime-time.
This is similar to what Google is doing with its Chromebooks, the main difference being, of course, you could run Cloudo from any computer.
Heck, you could probably run it from your Chromebook. :-)
In my road warrior days, I became addicted to a cloud based itinerary management tool called TripIt. Here's how it works.
Once you set up your free account, send an email containing your itinerary (typically contains confirmation numbers or record locators and is generated by the travel provider) from your registered email address to "email@example.com". An itinerary is generated and syncs to your smartphone. There are Android and iOS versions available.
If you give TripIt's automated service access to your email account, you don't have to send anything to TripIt as long as the travel provider notifications come to that email address. TripIt will automagically recognize the travel information and generate the itinerary and sync to your smartphone. There's no need to carry all that paper through the airport.
I wasn't able to find any alternatives to TripIt. If you're a road warrior, give TripIt a shot. You really can't appreciate how useful this is until you try it.
Monday, January 16, 2012
I'm an audiophile and spent many years as a sound engineer. I'm very picky about how my music sounds. If I could use a spectrum analyzer for every room I set up shop in, I would.
Not very practical.
Neither are the cloud storage/player combinations I tried. The players are lacking in features (especially equalizer options) and playback quality is poor at best. There are equalizers you can run that control all of the sound coming from your device (one called "Equalizer" and another called "Equalizer" on the Android market and, no, that's not a typo) but they're lukewarm at best and it's clumsy trying to run a second app just to get close to the EQ you're looking for.
Some of the players had constant jitter and skipping even when I wasn't streaming from the cloud. I'm trying not to name names here (cough, cough, amazon, cough, google, cough) but it was pretty sad. I was all but sitting on top of my router when streaming and I have plenty of bandwidth so that wasn't the issue. The issue persisted even when I wasn't streaming on the Amazon player.
I'm a PowerAmp user and have been since I started using Android devices. The features are robust and it comes with a 10 band EQ built in. I have to download from my Amazon cloud drive and set PowerAmp up to scan those folders, so while it's not the most elegant solution, it works. That's the best I could come up with, a hybrid cloud and locally run app.
I think music in the cloud for serious audiophiles is not quite there yet, but as soon as Amazon (or others) expose their API to allow third party development, I think we will see big leaps forward in this area. I really wanted this to be successful, but I'm sorry to say, it was less than savory.
If anyone has heard of a serious solution for this (no, it's not iCloud) please let me know.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
You don't need (insert bloated word processor name here), period. I know, seems too good to be true, but save yourself the $$. I can do anything in cloud based word processors that I can do with the bloatware. I have been a user of Google Docs for a while and occasionally have tried a few other things (Think Free Office and a couple others) and I think this is one place where you won't miss your locally running application and storage.
I will say using a tablet with these apps still feels a bit clumsy, but only marginally so. That may be due to the fact that I'm trying to use a tablet with these apps for the first time. More on that topic as the week progresses.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
I have decided to completely move my life to the cloud. This week I will be doing all my computing tasks through cloud applications. Maybe this is no big deal for anyone except me, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most people probably still have a few favorite locally run applications that they just can't quite bring themselves to give up.
I will be doing this using my Android tablet with a bluetooth keyboard and dragging it around with me everywhere. I will post frequent updates to the blog here as the week progresses and celebrate my victories as well as bemoan my epic failures.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
If Norwegian-based FXI Technologies gets its way, its "cloud on a stick" Android device, appropriately named "Cotton Candy," will be in everybody's hands by the end of this year. The best part? This cotton candy doesn't cause tooth decay.
According to the company's press release on Nov. 17, 2011, "The vision for Cotton Candy is to allow users a single, secure point of access to all personal Cloud services and apps through their favorite operating system, while delivering a consistent experience on any screen. The device will serve as a companion to smartphones, tablets, notebook PC and Macs, as well as add smart capabilities to existing displays, TVs, set top boxes and game consoles."
So what exactly is Cotton Candy? Let's talk about the stick part first.
At first glance, the device looks like a USB thumb drive that was handed out as X-Men merchandise at a movie premier. At a mere 2.5 cm by 8 cm, you would probably be surprised to learn that it's not just a thumb drive. You'd be even more surprised to learn that it contains a Dual Cortex A9, 1.2 GHz processor, 1080p capable HDMI output with a quad core GPU, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth v2.1, USB 2.0, and a Micro SD slot giving you 64 GB of onboard storage. So, where's the screen?
"Today’s device functionality is often limited by the size of the screen it inhabits," said Borgar Ljosland, founder and CEO of FXI Technologies. "We’ve turned things upside down, eliminating the screen and delivering the power of a PC and the Web to any screen."
FXI's "Any Screen Connected Computing" concept means just that. Connect your Cotton Candy device to any screen using the HDMI output. If your screen doesn't support HDMI, buy an adapter — wait, maybe you need to buy a new screen.
Next, grab your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, find the nearest wireless router and you're now connected to any screen and you're computing! You can now play Angry Birds on your 102-inch high-def plasma screen home theater with the Bose sound system and you will undoubtedly be the coolest dad in the neighborhood. You're welcome.
To say that is what Cotton Candy is all about would be to grossly understate its capabilities. Admit it though, 102-inch high-definition Angry Birds is a pretty darn cool start.
"With the broad acceptance of cloud computing and the advancement in processor technologies, the concept of a "screenless PC" is a natural evolution in the form factor of computing devices," said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie and Associates. "The connectivity, flexibility and multi-screen compatibility of FXI’s Cotton Candy makes it like a computer built specifically for the cloud."
This seems like a good time to talk about the cloud part.
Why do you care about cloud computing? Chances are, you don't, at least right now. You've heard the term kicked around, probably had some weird visuals of fluffy, cloud-shaped computers floating freely through the air, who knows what else. You have probably used cloud computing already and maybe you didn't even know it.
If you have used a webmail service, you have used cloud computing in one of its simplest forms. If you have used Google Calendar, Google Docs, Amazon cloud storage for your music files, Apple's iCloud, the list goes on, you already know something of the oncoming avalanche that is cloud computing. Simply put, cloud computing means all the powerful computing resources are somewhere out there in this nebulous "cloud" and you are accessing them through what is known as a "thin client," in most cases, a web browser.
Believe me when I tell you, 10 years from now, cloud computing is what we will all be doing when we take to the keyboard or whatever input device we happen to be using at the time. Funny thing, seems like that old mainframe concept has come full circle, but that's another story.
Is the "cloud on a stick" phrase starting to make sense now?
To add to all of this cool functionality, plug Cotton Candy into the USB port and your computer takes on a whole new personality. The device gains access to all of the resources on your computer — disk, cpu, screen, keyboard, mouse, etc. — and basically becomes your computer if you run it in full screen mode.
Run it in windowed mode, and your computer gets to keep its identity while you run your Android device in a separate window. You can also run Ubuntu if you like. It's only a matter of time before someone, perhaps FXI, designs a portable screen so you can turn your Cotton Candy into a tablet.
Let's take a quick break and do some free word association. I say "cloud," you say "open." I say "Android," you say "open." I say "cotton candy," you say "yum." I say "Apple," you say "closely held, proprietary, exclusive, won't run Flash, but makes some really cool tech. Also goes well with peanut butter." OK, that's cheating.
Is Cotton Candy the dreaded iPad slayer? Let me say this about that.
Steve Jobs was one of the most brilliant minds our planet has ever known. So brilliant, in fact, that Apple was able to overcome the challenges that are inherent to proprietary, exclusive products. Proprietary and exclusive only work if they are so cool that nobody wants to use anything else.
The problem is that Jobs is gone, and in spite of the reassurances we hear from Apple, that type of genius only comes along every few hundred years. It doesn't matter that Jobs hand-picked his replacement because his replacement isn't Steve Jobs (even Jobs couldn't pull that off). History has shown that Steve Jobs was Apple and when he wasn't there, things turned sour.
My point is, the cloud computing revolution is coming. Will Cotton Candy be the next big thing? It's hard to say, but cloud computing is the next big thing, and whoever devises the coolest way to interact with it will ride that wave.
As for me, Cotton Candy looks pretty sweet.
Androids, Apples and the open source community
With all the buzz about a “horseless carriage,” the application is obvious. Selden applies for a patent in 1879, which is granted in 1895 after several amendments that included the use of the engine in an automobile.
Some guy named Henry Ford comes along and, in 1911, wins a 10-year legal battle against Selden that essentially renders his patent invalid. The Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association is born and begins the open sharing of patents among members. The Detroit auto industry goes gangbusters and thus begins the era of U.S. auto manufacturing. Selden decides to go with a much improved idea, the Selden Truck Sales Corp. Oh yeah, everyone remembers that one (eyes rolling).
Now let’s move forward a few years, past Edison’s light bulb, to 1997. Eric Raymond, a hacker, releases his now legendary paper “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” at the Linux Kongress (OK, legendary among hackers and nerds), which is credited with prompting Netscape to do something that was unheard of among the increasingly proprietary, profit-driven software companies at the time: release its source code to the open source community, essentially, the public. The open source movement, founded in 1983 by Richard Stallman, comes out of the fringes and the Open Source Initiative is born.
Open source has contributed to almost every major operating system used in corporate America (and hacker basements), with the exception of Microsoft Windows, since 1983. Even the Mac OS is based on open source components.
Open source also produced two very popular mobile device platforms, iOS and Android, while one of the pioneers in the mobile device world, Research In Motion, failed to adopt the open source mindset and has dropped from a 15.4 percent market share in the third quarter of 2010 to 11 percent in the same quarter in 2011, according to a study by the Gartner Group. Shoulda read your history, guys. That little outage in October didn’t help.
Anyway, why the history spiel?
If I have done my job, you have probably drawn some parallels between the early days of the automobile manufacturers and our two favorite mobile operating systems. It seems to be crystal clear that an open community of contributors just comes up with better stuff than someone trying to hold all the cards like Selden or RIM. Even Steve Jobs saw the benefits of having the open source community on his side.
Part of the open source agreement says that you have to “give back” by sharing any improvements you make to an open source project with the community. That had to be a hard one for Steve, but Apple and the open source community are better for it.
Apple, the road less traveled
Smartphones have been around since 1993. I’m sure you all remember the IBM Simon, right? Well, as cool as that was, Apple completely redefined what a smartphone was on June 29, 2007, when it released the iPhone.
I remember that day, it was like Neal Armstrong had uttered that timeless phrase, “one giant step for mankind” all over again. “Oneness” had been achieved, not only with the single button — I could now have my phone, iPod, apps both useless and valuable, GPS, you name it, on a single device.
Apple stock soared to an unprecedented $200 a share and there was rejoicing among Apple enthusiasts. A whole new wave of Apple enthusiasts was created. What many people didn’t realize was that this was a huge success for the open source movement. One could argue that an open source project had never gotten this much attention in mainstream consumer electronics.
So, going back to the Gartner study referenced earlier in this article, why the 15 percent market share? Shouldn’t Apple have taken over the world?
Apple wants to sell you its hardware too. Remember the early days of the Mac versus Microsoft battle? The short version is that Apple wanted to sell you the OS and the hardware (how very “un” open source). Microsoft wanted to sell you the OS and let the hardware vendors sell the hardware. The result was Microsoft Windows having a huge chunk of the market and Apple having a small market share with an extremely zealous user base. Sound familiar?
So, is Apple nuts? Only if you consider market share to be everything. I think the stock prices and cash reserves speak for themselves. It’s just its way, and Apple has been hugely successful with it. It’s just one way open source enables success. Only time will tell if Apple can keep it going in the post Steve Jobs era.
Android, resistance is futile
Yes, I know it’s a mixed metaphor and has nothing to do with Robert Frost. Technically, the Borg weren’t androids, they were cybernetic drones, or some would call them a consciousness. Now that’s more in line with Android.
Three years after Google purchased the company responsible for the Android OS, the first smartphone to run Android, the HTC Dream, hit the shelves. Obviously, Apple had already stolen the smartphone thunder so all the hoopla was much reduced. That’s not to say the impact wasn’t huge.
Since 2008, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Nokia and plenty of others have released several pieces of pretty sweet hardware running the Android OS, which Google gives away. If you bothered to read that Gartner study I referenced, the little green Android has doubled its market share from the third quarter of 2010 to the third quarter of 2011 and dominates the mobile device market. And yes, I said Google gives it away.
How does Google make any money from something it gives away for free? Another thing about open source projects is that you can let someone else write the cool software (as long as you observe that little “give back” rule) and you can focus on your business strategy. The $5 billion Google made last year in advertising revenue as a result of releasing the Android OS is nothing to sneeze at. Not only that, the hardware manufacturers aren’t doing too bad either. Everybody is making money, and that’s good for all involved.
So there you have it — another win for open source. The common thread is that the tech companies can focus less on the tech and more on the business approach. The tech becomes a means to an end, rather than the end. Both approaches are successful, one is probably a little more selfish than the other.
Yeah, I’m talking to you, Apple.
As we go through the next several years and development standards become even more open, tech companies everywhere will need to reassess their business models. If open source is not part of their strategy, they may run the risk of becoming the next Selden Truck Sales Corp.
Hey, that plaid jacket looks good on you.