Amazon Cloud Drive: Just a Bit too Good to Be True


I’m a committed and active Amazon customer.  I buy just about everything from Amazon, and I back up my Mac to Amazon Glacier via the powerful (and often overlooked by tech pundits) Arq.  So when I saw that Amazon has upped the ante in the cloud wars by offering unlimited cloud space for $60 a month, I was interested.  I back up many hundreds of gigabytes to Amazon Glacier, and it costs me around $8.00 a month.  $60.00 a year, even plus tax, would be a cost savings.  But the bigger advantage would (or should) be accessibility.  Glacier storage is dirt cheap, but the files are not easy accessible.

I’m not bothered by the lack of a true Mac app for Amazon Cloud.  Sure, there’s an app, but it’s mostly a front end for the web interface.  There’s no sync, selective or otherwise.  But that’s OK, because I don’t think Amazon is trying to fill the exact same need Dropbox does.  Rather, I think Amazon is positioning itself as off-site storage.  A place to put things to get them off your computer and in the cloud, not onto all your computers and the cloud.

There are four things people need to save and store.

Music: There are many good and some free options.  I use Google Play (which just greatly increased the amount of songs you can store from a too small number of 20,000 to a plenty big enough number of 50,000, which makes it feasible for long-time music buyers like me).  iTunes Match is a possibility, and there are others.  Amazon Cloud Drive does a pretty good job with music, but I tried it before, and it lost out to Google.  So there’s nothing new to make me change my plan (and the thought of re-uploading all those songs that I finally got in place and organized in Google Play gives Google a bit of a moat).

Photos: Again, there are a lot of options, but the battle for photos in the cloud is still being fought.  I’m hoping that the best thing about the new, cheap Amazon Cloud Drive will be free or cheaper iCloud space when Apple releases its forthcoming Photos app.  I’d love Apple to solve the photos in the cloud problem, because I manage my photos in iPhoto.  If it doesn’t, Amazon may be the answer.  But as a Prime member, Amazon will already store my photos for free, so I don’t need an Amazon Cloud Drive plan for that.

Miscellaneous files:  Unlike space hogging photo and video libraries, there is a benefit to syncing miscellaneous files, so you can access them and work with them everywhere.  I don’t have a lot of text files and miscellany that I need to offload to the cloud.  Some of it is of a nature that I want to store locally, via Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner.  The stuff I do want access to everywhere (Word files, Pages files, Hazel rules, etc.) is handled very well via iCloud (mostly) and Dropbox (for some stuff).  I don’t see Amazon Cloud Drive as a player in the document storage, sync and access game.

Videos:   OK, here we go.  I have hundreds of videos.  Films I made back in the day. Home movies.  Photo slide shows.  Currently, these make up the bulk of my massive Amazon Glacier repository.  It would be a little cheaper to store them in Amazon Cloud Drive, and they would be easier to access.  All I need to jump in with both feet is the ability to view them from their cloud based home.  But no.


Is this the end of the world?  No.  Do I understand why Amazon doesn’t want to bear the cost of being my private YouTube?  Sure.  Does this make me rethink my video storage and archival work-flow.  Yep.

It sounded just a little too good to be true.

If I Can’t Trust You with my Photos, How Can I Trust You with My Sensitive Data?

Yes, I am paraphrasing Zoe Muth.


I’m a big believer in the cloud.  I also know a lot of folks- I’m talking way more than half the people I know- who dabble in the cloud, but don’t trust it fully.  If someone access your vacation photos, so what.  But if someone accesses your financial records, personal information, etc., that is a much bigger problem.

I tell people all the time that it’s OK.  Your information is safe, encrypted.  Hashed, salted and secure.

But stuff like this doesn’t help.  Let me be clear.  If this is what cloud computing looks like, no one is going to trust important data to the cloud.

Evernote says in a blog post:

The investigation has shown, however, that the individual(s) responsible were able to gain access to Evernote user information, which includes usernames, email addresses associated with Evernote accounts and encrypted passwords

Headlines like this reinforce the phobias that lots of people already have about seeding the cloud with stuff that matters.  Hell, it makes me think twice (or thrice) about all the data I have in the cloud.  If Evernote can be breached.  If Dropbox is even partially vulnerable.  Then the whole cloud business, at least as it exists today, if flawed and probably dead.  Free space for photos and other non-sensitive stuff.  Sure, thanks.  But becoming a paying customer and going all in?  Nah, not so much.

I don’t know the answer.  Maybe there isn’t one.  But I know this.  If I am getting nervous about the cloud, so are 95% or so of the rest of the potential customer demographic.

Access Denied: What Good is a Cloud If You Can’t See It?

With all of the hoopla over Dropbox, the reinvention of SkyDrive and the release of Google Drive, it would be easy to envision millions of people, all over the world, happily installing, accessing and using the cloud, in one or more forms.

Except for the unfortunate and frequently overlooked fact that millions of the people who could most benefit from the cloud can’t adequately use it.  These same people also happen to be people who you’d think would be among the most likely to pay for additional space and upgrades.  I’m talking about the big chunk of corporate America whose IT departments block access to the cloud.

People who try to visit Dropbox and end up here:

SkyDrive?  Box?  SugarSync?  Same thing.

Google Drive?  Yep, except it’s even worse.  The only way to block Google Drive is to also block Google Docs.

So not only can folks not access Google Drive, they can’t access anything they already had in Google Docs.

I don’t use any of the cloud services in connection with my day job (not because I am afraid of them or don’t think they are useful, but because my IT department tells me not to), and wouldn’t even if my IT department trusted me enough not to block them.  And while it would be nice to be able to move non-work stuff around via the cloud, it’s not that hard to do it via my laptop.

But I see this as a huge issue for the cloud providers.  No matter how badly someone may want to use one or more of the services, many people- and many potential paying customers- have that choice made for them.  I’m sure there’s money in personal and small business use, but there’s almost certainly bigger money up and down the halls of corporate America.  None of us who are old enough to read this awesome post are going to live long enough to see corporate America embrace the cloud (at least not the professional services part of corporate America), so the best chance the cloud has to penetrate that market is the iPhone route.  Corporate IT departments ignored iPhones for a while, then tolerated them and ultimately were forced by user demand to embrace them.

There is another issue for both the cloud providers and their users.  Not only is access to the cloud blocked, but media served from the cloud is often also blocked.  Take for example the photo I posted from SkyDrive in my recent post.


The cloud is looking for a way in, but, at least for now, it’s been cut off at the pass.  Or the firewall.

Google Drive: The Good, the Bad and Where is the Embed Option

DISCLAIMER:  I wrote this post over lunch, in real time, as I installed and experimented with Google Drive.  It may be that some of the good things I mention won’t work as well as they seem to at first glance, and it may be that some of the limitations I note below are either already addressed (though clearly not in an obvious manner) or will be addressed in the future.

Google Drive was finally released today.  It will clearly shake-up the cloud space, and, as I noted yesterday, has a huge built-in user base, thanks to Gmail.  My initial impressions are mixed.

The Good

1. It’s Google.  Say what you will about Google mining our data and whatnot, but if I am going to put my life in the cloud, I want a name associated with the service.  For security, backup and general reliability.  I’ve used Gmail (via Google Apps) for a long, long time and it is definitely reliable.  In sum, I just trust Google to take care of its equipment and my files.

2. It integrates well with your local file system.  My most important requirement for a cloud service is the ability to drag and drop files via Windows Explorer or Finder.  This works well with Google Drive, just like it does for Dropbox and SkyDrive.

3. It integrates well with Gmail and some (but not all- see below) other Google apps.  Emailing from Google Drive is as simple as selecting File>Email as attachment.

4. You can buy as much space as you need.  Paid plans range from 25GB for $30 a year to 100GB for $60 a year to 1TB for $600 a year all the way up to 16TB for $9600 a year.

The Bad

1. Google Drive space is usable by Google Docs (which I use a little) and Picasa Web Albums (which I don’t use at all), but not by Gmail (Google did bump Gmail storage up to 10GB today and paid Google Drive users get another bump to 25GB) and, most disappointingly for me, Google Music.  I want some place I can store and access everything.  Every.  Thing.  Not just some things.  This may be a licensing restriction, forced on Google by the obsolete, empty bag holding, cat stuffing record labels, but it still sucks.

2. There seems to be no way (so far) to play audio files from the cloud.  I tried to play an MP3 and was greeted with this joy.

This is not good, and puts Google Drive at a disadvantage compared to other services, including SkyDrive, which elegantly streamed a video in my test last night (via the iPad app; perhaps this will be a feature in Google’s forthcoming iOS app).  Sure, you can sync your computers and play audio and video from the synced folder, but I am trying to consolidate my stuff in the cloud, not put it everywhere.

If videos streamed from Google Drive, I would almost certainly buy some space, to create a private YouTube for home videos, if nothing else.

Update 1:  Happily, it appears that you can stream videos from Google Drive.  I uploaded a video this evening, clicked on it from Google Drive on the web, and it streamed (just like a YouTube video).  So a private YouTube is possible.

Where is the Embed Code?

3. You can’t embed photos, audios or (I presume, but have not tried) videos in sites other than Google+.

I think Google+ is a beautifully written and robust platform (I’m not just saying that because my friend Louis ended up in that screen cap; I really mean it).  The problem is that I don’t want my cloud service to dictate where I share things.  Even those who  actually have active Google+ circles have to share from Google+.  There should at least be a Share to Google+ option within Google Drive.

The Bottom Line

If Google Drive extended at least to Google Music, and allowed easy sharing (e.g., direct link or embed code) on other services, and streamed audio and video files, I would strongly consider buying a 1TB plan and moving all my stuff there.  Sadly, it doesn’t –  at least so far.  I’ll take a wait and see approach, but based on what I see so far, I don’t think Google Drive is trying to fill the specific need I have.

This leads me back to the other horses in the cloud derby.  SkyDrive (the surprising new entry and maybe leader) and my old standby, Dropbox.

Corrections as errors are discovered and updates as they occur.


Sky Drive Just Became a Contender in the Cloud Derby


With the rumored launch of Google Drive only somewhere between days and infinity away, the other cloud services (you know, the ones that actually exist) are going into overdrive trying to give us reasons to keep (or in some cases start) using their services.  Dropbox (my long-time cloud service of choice), just added additional sharing and viewing options.  Microsoft, whose generous 25GB of space has been hindered by Microsoft’s inability to properly market its online offerings and an arbitrary file size limit, followed suit today with some new features and, most importantly, a Mac (that’s right) and Windows desktop app.

I’m determined to consolidate my cloud use into one primary service.  Dropbox is clearly an option.  SugarSync is too, though I want something less complicated.  Box is not, simply because it makes it too hard to move files to and from its cloud.  Obviously, if Google Drive actually launches, it will be a contender.  In fact, if its space is consolidated and usable across all Google services (including Google Music, which but for the 20,000 song limit, would already be my music service of choice), Google Drive is probably the odds-on favorite, which tells you a lot about the baked-in advantage Google has when it comes to,  you know, the internet.

But let’s not count Microsoft out.  SkyDrive has a lot to offer.  Here’s a real time walk-through of my installation and experimentation with the new SkyDrive.

First, if you already have an account, you need to visit the SkyDrive site and get your “free upgrade,” which preserves your 25GB of space.  SkyDrive will soon limit free users to 7GB.  It’s easy to do, so do it.


Now, let’s get the desktop app.  Without boring you with a bunch of nerd talk, desktop apps are important when it comes to integration with your current file system (i.e., Windows Explorer or Finder) and syncing between computers.  I’m installing the Mac app, but I assume the Windows experience is similar.


Once you install the app, you get a Menu Bar item (good) and a Dock icon you can’t remove from the dock (Microsoft needs to fix this, but it’s not the end of the world).

The first time you run the desktop app, you can select the location of your local SkyDrive folder (this works much the same as with Dropbox).  I wanted to put my folder on my second hard drive, as opposed to my main SSD that I try (with only some success) to reserve for the OS and other system-related stuff.


Then it’s off to the races.  Click on the Menu Bar icon to access your local SkyDrive folder.  Looks very Dropbox-ish.


I’m going to drop a jpg in there.  Very nice.

Now let’s try a big file and see if that file size thing is still a problem. Doesn’t seem to be.


No right click>get public link feature, like Dropbox.  Looks like you have to go to the web interface (accessible via the Menu Bar icon) to do that.  Here’s the picture I added a moment ago.

It’s easier with Dropbox, but again, not a huge deal.

Now, I’ll install the app on my laptop and see how syncing works.

Perfectly.  The files started downloading as soon as I installed the app.

I am very impressed with SkyDrive.  I wish there was an option to buy space in more than 100GB increments.  100GB at $50 seem like a pretty fair deal, but I have lots more than 100GB of data I need to safely store/backup.  I will be interested to see the Google Drive space options and price.  I expect Google Drive will be at least as cheap, if not cheaper, but for some (me definitely included) Google’s insistence in weaving Google Docs and, especially, Google+ into every offering is a bit of a negative.  In other words, the race is on, and there is a dark horse making its move on the outside.

SkyDrive is a well designed service that is clearly in the running to be my preferred cloud service.

Great job Microsoft!  It feels good to get to say that again.

I Love Me Some Apple, But About this iCloud Business


I can’t decide which inflated statistic is more meaningless: that Google+ has 90 million users or that 100 million people use iCloud.  What I do know is that it comes down to how you define the verb use.  Here’s how I define it:

1. To put into service or apply for a purpose; employ.

2. To avail oneself of; practice.

That implies a commitment on the user’s part and a reliable satisfactory result.  If merely having an account means using then I am a user of probably a hundred Web 2.0 apps that I can’t even remember.  If the devil isn’t in the definition of user, it’s in the definition of active user.


Let’s get Google+ out of the way first.  It is a beautifully designed platform.    With no one in it.  It’s like this mansion some cat built in my hometown, where there are no mansions, right before he went to jail.  It’s pretty, but it’s empty.  Sure, Scoble can get a zillion followers.  But Scoble would have a zillion followers if he jumped off a cliff.  Which he will only do if some nitwit builds a cliff jumping app and convinces Scoble that it’s the new big thing.  For the rest of us, there’s simply nothing to be had at Google+.  I’m pretty active on the internets, and I have been added to exactly 21 circles.  And at least some of those are spammers.  I had four times that many friend requests a day or two after I signed up for Facebook.  Why?  Because the non-geeks are on Facebook.   And, I suspect, because the desire for two-way communication on Facebook is geometrically higher than on Google+.  It doesn’t matter that Google+ is designed better.  Unless you are a celebrity (of one sort or another) or happy to be merely a one-way consumer of content, Google+ is an empty experience.

So while there may be 90 million people with Google+ accounts, if you net out those who signed up but aren’t truly active, the broadcasters who only want another billboard to self-promote with, those who are there only to try to sell you something and the spammers/scammers, I bet the number is a small fraction of that.

Then today, the newly crowned King of my beloved says 100 million people are using iCloud.  Maybe, if by use you mean signed up.   But upgrading your iOS and clicking Yes on the iCloud button that gets tossed in your face does not make you a user.  I guess I use iCloud to update my apps automatically and without that scourge that is iTunes.  But do I really use it?  Nope.  For one thing, it doesn’t do what I need it to do.  Apple should have nutted up and bought Dropbox, which does.  For another, no sync program is going to be truly useful until and unless it supports Word documents.  Even if you’re one of the two people in Enterprise lucky enough to have a Mac, literally every corporate document is created in Word.  Pages? Ha!  That’s funny.  I love my iMac, but I still slog away on a bloated 5 year old XP box at work. With Word.  Oh yeah, and Outlook.  Sucks, but that’s life.

I could go on and talk about how iCloud doesn’t work (easily) with Google Calendar or Contacts, but you get the point.

So keep tossing those numbers out there guys.  But those of us in the non-geek, real world know better.

And don’t even get me started on Match.  It is a honking mess.  The only thing keeping Match in the game is Google’s boneheaded decision to limit Google Music to 20,000 songs.

Hopefully there is a silver lining somewhere in this Cloud business.  But right now, it’s so unfinished people have to inflate the numbers to make us believe it’s as good as it should be.

You Don’t Need a Weatherman: The State of the Cloud

Let’s talk about the cloud.



Old people (like Bob Dylan?) and decision-adverse corporate IT departments are still scared of the cloud.  But it doesn’t matter.  It’s not up to them, any more than it was up to their forefathers and mothers who were horrified by the prospects of giving up their safe, reliable horses for cars.

We are all moving to the cloud.

You can embrace it, and make it work for you.  Or you can elect, as many do, to make no decision and get left behind.  The same mentality that results in so many large companies using 10 year old software will probably result in many large companies protesting the cloud while their data continues to rise into it.

The cloud is inevitable.  And mostly wonderful.

I was going to spend the first part of this post comparing iCloud and Google Sync, concluding that if you spend at least 60 seconds a day on a Windows computer, Google Sync is by far the best bet for email, contacts and calendaring.  Thankfully, Lifehacker did it for me, in a must-read post.  Even the most devoted Apple fans are often forced to use Windows computers at work.  And since sync today is almost as fragmented as IM was a few years ago, there is no universal solution.  I’ll use iCloud to push apps and photos to my devices, but my email, calendar and address book will stay on Google.

Back-ups are another matter.  I use a Time Capsule to back up my iMac and MacBook Air locally, and, despite a horrible customer support experience, SugarSync (you and I each get free storage if you sign up for a free or paid account via that link)  to back up most of my data to the cloud.  The initial upload can take a long, long time, but once you get your stuff in the cloud, the incremental backups are largely unnoticed.


For music in the cloud, I have tried both Amazon and Google Music, and settled for now on Google Music as my primary cloud player.  Apple’s iTunes Match will generate a lot of buzz when it comes out, but I don’t think my old, eclectic and significantly out of print music library is particularly likely to get matched.  Amazon has a lot to offer, particularly if you buy your music from Amazon, as I do.  But I like Google Music’s interface a lot better.

For general cloud storage, I use both Dropbox (you and I each get free storage if you sign up for a free or paid account via that link) and  I have been a more active Dropbox user over the years, but’s recent 50GB promotions make it a very attractive option.  I think when corporate America gets drug to the cloud, is best positioned to be the destination.

So, here’s the deal.  You and your data are going to the cloud, one way or the other.  So why not get in front of the curve and take advantage of all the cloud has to offer.

Because it offers a lot.  Almost everything you want.  Except a choice.