MacAge: iPhoto Hates the Cloud

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I’m now well into my latest Mac era, and things are generally going well.  I adore my iMac.  I like iMovie.  And I love iPhoto.  With one exception.  iPhoto does not play well with the Cloud.

Once I took my Windows computers and my Windows Home Server offline, I decided on a two-part, redundant back-up plan.  First, I replaced my wireless access points with two Airport Extremes and a Time Capsule.  This did four important things for me.  One, it allowed me to attach some external hard drives to that equipment to replace the network storage (not backup; just regular storage for raw video production files, music production files, etc.) I had on the Windows Home Server.  Two, it allowed me to create a roaming wireless network, since all of the gear is Apple.  With a roaming network, you connect at one location, and then your connection automatically switches to other access points as you move around the house.  Three, it allowed me to install a mobile Airport Express that I can use to stream my music to other places in and around the house.  And four, it allowed the Time Capsule to back up the various computers.  Time Capsules make backing up your Mac about as easy as possible.

So as far as the local network goes, I’m all set.

Then, the cloud.

I have a ton of SugarSync space (get additional free space by signing up via that link), and have used it happily for many years as my primary cloud backup service.  As I’ve noted before, it’s a pain to switch computers in SugarSync, because you have to re-upload all the stuff you’ve already uploaded.  If you have hundreds of Gigabytes, that can take a while.  So I decided to put all of my previously uploaded photos in a SugarSync storage folder, and only back up my iPhoto Library, where all of my current and future photos will reside.  In other words, all of my existing photos will stay right where they are, and only the new ones will get uploaded from my iMac.

Great plan, right?

Nope.  Because SugarSync cannot sync or adequately backup the iPhoto Library.

iPhoto imports your photos into a file bundle, which shows up as “iPhoto Library” on your computer.

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That’s fine and dandy, but it makes it impossible to sync your photos via SugarSync or another cloud-based service.  Even worse, it makes it very hard to back up your photos in the cloud.  In fact, to prevent users from corrupting their libraries by trying to sync their iPhoto Libraries, the iPhoto Library doesn’t even show up in the SugarSync file manager.

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This is what those of us in the know call a BFP.

There is a work-around that will let you back up the original photos, which iPhoto stores in a “Masters” folder within the iPhoto file bundle.  But that’s not what I want.  I want to backup my entire iPhoto Library, so I can download it and restore everything in the event of a catastrophic data loss.

Some will claim that the forthcoming iCloud will be the answer.  Maybe, but if 50 Gigabytes of space costs $100 a year and your iPhoto Library is triple Gigabytes, it looks like you’re out of luck.

There’s a newish service called Dolly Drive, that let’s you back up data to the cloud using Time Machine.  That sounds like a perfect solution, but I don’t want to pay for yet another cloud, and am not willing to trust my data to just anyone.

So…

I dig my Mac.  But I am frustrated by the inability to set up an automated, incremental, cloud based backup for my photos.

Mars Edit Update: I’m trying.  Really.  But after using Live Writer for so long, Mars Edit feels like writing in quicksand.  Or concrete. Need a small example, of many?  There is no way to set link targets, so links open in a separate page.  Really.

Christmas Comes Early: Evernote Has Folders!

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I’ve moved from an Evernote evangelist to an Evernote activist and back to a happy Evernote customer, all thanks to the inexplicable absence and now presence of folders within its desktop app.

Without rehashing the dark and bloody past, and asking what in the hell took so long and whatnot, let’s move straight to the good news.

The just released version 4.1 of everybody’s favorite information storage and retrieval app finally lets us organize notebooks in folders.  They are called Stacks in the app, but that is just semantics.  Folders are here, and I am happy!

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See the little white arrow to the left of “Work” up there?  Click on it and the Notebooks in the folder magiciliously  expand.

 

 

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Wonderful!

The process is a little kludgy.  When you create a Stack, by right clicking on a Notebook, you don’t get the opportunity to name it right away.  The selected Notebook gets added to a generically named “Notebook Stack.”  You can then select (important step), right click and rename the Stack.  It’s not elegant, but doggone it it’s folders.

The upgrade process was also a bit of an adventure.  I upgraded at work, and things went swimmingly.  After updating, I quickly made some Stacks.   When I upgraded at home, things went a little amiss.

First, my app somehow ended up in an Asian language very much indecipherable to me.   So I deleted that installation and reinstalled from scratch.  I got my English back, but the Stacks I created at work did not sync over.  I am apparently not the only person having this problem.

Someone suggested deleting your local Evernote database and resyncing (IMPORTANT NOTE: copy and paste or otherwise preserve your local, non-synced Notebooks somewhere before you do that; I learned that step the hard way when I reformatted my hard drive a few months ago).  I tried that, but it didn’t work.

So I had to recreate my Stacks.  That’s a little bit of a drag, but it doesn’t change the fact that…

Evernote has folders.

Hallelujah!

Is Google’s Haphazard App Development Path a Master Plan or an Epic Fail?

image Much of the time, it seems to me like Google develops apps the way a squirrel hides nuts.  Toss as many of ‘em out there as quickly as possible, knowing that you’ll come across some of them later, even as others are forgotten or lost.  Maybe this is a brilliant master plan, or maybe it’s a sign of something else.

Like a lack of focus?  Or a waste of resources?

As we all know, I started moving into the cloud last year.  As a part of that, I attempted to abandon Microsoft Office, and set myself and my family members up with a Google Apps account.  It wasn’t really a level playing field, though, since I still had Office on my downtown office computer and my work laptop.  It took about a week for my entire family to mutiny in the name of getting Office back.  I used Google Docs for my personal word processing, which involves mostly letters and some light spreadsheet work.  Even that was pretty frustrating.

But once school started and my kids had to actually create documents, the mutiny was in full force.  So I capitulated and reinstalled Office, less Outlook.  We all agree that Gmail is an acceptable (to them) and preferable (to me, because of the cloud-based location) email client.  Though, it’s worth pointing out, only Better Gmail 2 makes it so.  Without that fantastic add-on, even the Gmail interface is needlessly cluttered and you can’t collapse your tags (which I use as folder-equivalents).

While Gmail, at least when hacked right, is great, for anything other than your great grandmother’s level of word processing, Google Docs are completely and totally unworkable.  This is really surprising to me, since Google Apps has a Premium version, and at least up to now had the very real potential to do the two things Google loves most: make some money and hurt Microsoft.  But for some utterly insane reason, Google continues to let Google Apps lie in a fallow, disjointed state, preferring to devote its resources to adding needless social networking features.  None of which will ever make Google Apps the robust Microsoft killer it could be.

No one, and I mean no one, can tell me this makes any business sense.

So why is it happening?

At the same resource wasting time, Google continues to toss more nuts into the ground: Latitude (remember all the initial hoopla about this now forgotten location sharing app?), file sharing on iGoogle and something called Orkut (where the hell is the real GDrive?), Wave (which is about as happening as FriendFeed these days), Buzz (the buzz surrounding which had the half-life of Jesse James’ relationships), Google Reader (a great app that is being ignored in favor of the momentum play du jour).  The list goes on and on.

Seriously.  Does someone at Google HQ look out the window, see someone talking on a phone and and say “Hey, that reminds me.  Don’t we have an app called Google Voice, or something like that?  Let’s spend 10 minutes on that before we get back to this Twitter clone we’re working night and day on.”

The press, as a whole, doesn’t help.  Some combination of clue deficiency, Google lust and the need to say stupid things so people like me will click over to yell at them makes the press write articles that allow Google to pretend that all of this is going swimmingly.  When it’s so clearly not.

For example, I was astounded today to see an article at C|Net speculating, yet again, that maybe we don’t need Office anymore, because we can bathe in the wonder of Google Docs.  Then I noticed that this dude is a Linux guy.  I suppose when you think Linux is preferable to Windows 7, you probably think Google Docs is the greatest thing since the keyboard.  Still, this might be the single most blatantly incorrect sentence ever strung together:

And at some point, CIOs are going to realize that the vast majority of their employees don’t spend any time mucking around with pivot tables or drafting documents. At most, people use Outlook, and buying an entire Office license to get e-mail feels like overkill.

WHAT?  Are you kidding me?  People in companies all over America spend all day and all night doing exactly that.  And then sending those documents, with tracked changes (which of course Google Docs can’t do), to other people who take their turn.  Over and over.  Even the email part is wrong, as Outlook is the most dispensable part of Office.

To even suggest that corporate America could use Google Docs is to demonstrate that you’ve never spent a day working in corporate America.  It’s this problem that Google should be focused on.  Because the right cloud based application could serve corporate America.  Google Docs, as it currently exists, is about as far away from being that app as possible.

Paul Thurrott, taking a page out of my sermon book, gets it right:

I don’t believe that Google’s free tools–Google Docs, part of Google Apps–represent a technical or financial challenge to Office at all….  Microsoft Office is vastly superior to every single office productivity solution there is.

As Paul points out, about the only thing Google Apps can do for corporate America is serve as a stalking horse.

Open Office is a mostly workable solution, and does make Google Apps look pitiful by comparison, but then again so does Zoho.  For that matter so does a piece of chalk lying on a sidewalk.

Microsoft could own the cloud based office productivity space if it wanted to.  It just doesn’t want to yet- while the cloud is still forming.  We’re seeing the price of Office fall over time, clearly as a result of that stalking horse.  Perhaps Microsoft will eventually take flight (or be forced) into the cloud.

Until then, we will have to search for other options.

But Google Apps is not one.  It’s just another lost nut waiting to be rediscovered.

Google: Partially Cloudy by Design

Larry Dignan at ZDNet says that Google’s cloud storage price-break is a big missed opportunity, because Google “can’t figure out a lightweight desktop client that would back up your entire computer.”  I suspect that Google could- and probably secretly has- done that.  But by making the storage Gmail and Picasa only, Google stands to steal market share from its competitors.  Market share that lands on Gmail and Picasa pages where ads can be displayed.

image No one makes money hosting files in the cloud for free or close-to-free.  But force more of the herd to the application front-end, and you can serve more ads.  That’s where the money is.  Or, at least, that’s where Google and 99% of the rest of the internet believes the money is.

As I noted months ago, I think Google’s failure to dominate the cloud storage space is by design, not by inability.

Having said that, I’d love to be proven wrong.  But I’m not holding my breath for a full featured GDrive at these prices.

Compute Easily and Cheaply With Cloudy, Free Software Alternatives

My computer was getting a little long in the tooth, so when Windows 7 was released, I decided to buy a new one.  I also decided, following my earlier move to Google Apps, to create my application toolbox with as many cloud applications and free software alternatives as reasonably possible.  Here’s what I did, for those who want to simplify their computer toolbox and put some extra money in their pockets.

The Computer

image I bought an HP Pavilion Elite e9280t.  I’ve had good luck with HP computers, both laptops and desktops, so I decided to stay with what was working.  Plus, it seems to me that you get more bang for your buck from HP than other PC makers.  I went with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, because it will give the computer a longer lifespan and I’ve only rarely had problems getting my software and hardware to work under the 64-bit versions.  I also bought 9GB of RAM, because I do a fair amount of video editing and music mixing and the extra memory will make the computer faster at that sort of resource intensive activity.

When the computer arrived, the first thing I did was to remove the bloatware.  HP has gotten a lot better about bloatware, but there is still some clean up required.  I would rather bathe in computer viruses than use anything Symantec/Norton related, so I immediately uninstalled Norton Internet Security and Norton Online Backup.  Rather, I’ll use the free Microsoft Security Essentials and my HP MediaSmart server.  I was a beta tester for Microsoft Security Essentials, and I think it works very well.  Plus, it’s free.  I deleted the screen litter for eBay (which I use, but I don’t need a shortcut on my desktop), and the various online services.  Finally, I deleted all those HP games.  It’s absurd that HP makes you manually check every one separately during the uninstall process.  I interpret that to mean that some of these game developers are paying HP to pre-install this junk.  Regardless, they’re gone.

My Data

Next, I copied over the data I need from my old computer, via an HP Personal Media Drive.  Photos, MP3s, videos, in process song mixes, and some, but not all, of decades worth of Word files I have accumulated.  My new documents are created via Google Docs, but I have some old documents I want to save, just in case.  I like the Libraries feature in Windows 7, which basically lets you use multiple folders for your music, photos, etc.

I saved my old Outlook emails, now uploaded to Gmail, as PST files, and copied them to my new computer’s “Old Files” Library, just in case.

Software and Applications

Now for the fun part.  Here’s what I elected to use in lieu of software I used to pay for.

My first download, of course, was Firefox.  A quick install of Xmarks allowed me to import my bookmarks.  I’m trying to go relatively light on add-ons.  So far I have installed the mandatory Adblock Plus, Better Gmail 2, PhotoBucket Uploader, Read it Later and Xmarks.  All of the foregoing are free.

No more Microsoft Office.  I now use Google Apps (the “standard” or free version) for my email, calendar and documents.  The Gmail interface, with (but not without) Better Gmail 2 is an excellent email application.  Google Calendar is far superior to the Outlook calendar.  And of course, I can now access all of my data from almost anywhere.  And, again, for free.

For my task list, I use Remember the Milk.  It works flawlessly within Gmail and Google calendar via a gadget.  I have a premium account, but there is a free version.

Next, I installed my beloved Windows Live Writer, for blog posts.  Yep, free.

In lieu of the bloated Nero, I installed CDBurnerXP.  It works great, and it costs nada.

For photo management, I couldn’t decide between Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery.  So installed both.  Both are free.

Photo editing may be a challenge.  I use Picnik for basic (read easy) photo editing.  I may try Gimp as a Photoshop replacement, but I am a long-time Photoshop user, and I have a license already.  So at the end of the day the one expensive software program that finds its way only my computer may be Photoshop.  We’ll see.  If anyone has a recommendation, please send it along via a Comment.

For video editing, I installed Windows Live Movie Maker.  I’m a long-time Ulead VideoStudio fan.  Corel bought it, though, so it’s only a matter of time until it dies a painful, bloated death.  Since I have a license for the current version (VSX2), I may install it on my new computer.  I doubt, however, that I’ll buy any upgrades.  Hopefully, Windows Live Movie Maker or some other free or open source program will work for the long haul.  If anyone has a recommend
at
ion, please send it along via a Comment.

image Of course, I installed Evernote.  I am a huge Evernote fan, but the developers’ failure to add folders- or to even respond to my repeated inquiries about the possibility- are dampening my devotion.  Either they need to listen to my good advice or I need to move on.  Let me take a moment to digress.  I have written about issues with HP and Microsoft products in blog posts, and been contacted within hours with offers of help or information.  I have written to Evernote at least twice and asked about the plans, or lack thereof, for folders, and have never received a reply.  That is simply bad customer management.  For now, there are no better alternatives, but at some point there may be.   We’ll see, but for now, Evernote remains one of my most used apps.

For FTP, I use FileZilla, which is free and superior to every paid app I have ever tried.

For radio, I use Pandora and Slacker Radio.

Web site development and HTML editing proved to be a problem.  I installed the free and wonderful Notepad++, which is great for text editing.  I read good things about WYSIWYG editor KompoZer, but I hated the way it reformatted the text in my HTML files when I opened them.  I uninstalled it immediately.  I may not need a WYSIWYG editor, but if I do, I don’t know of a free and powerful option.

The Cloud

For backups and large data storage and redundancy, I use my HP MediaSmart server.  While I was immensely frustrated with my old server, the newer models have more memory and a much better GUI.  I love the media collector feature, that automatically grabs media files from the various network computers, backs them up and allows network access to them.  While I have not done it, you can easily configure your server to allow remote access over the internet.  There’s even an iPhone app.

image For general cloud cover, I use Dropbox for most of my needs.  I also have a Box.Net and a DivShare account that I use from time to time.  If today’s Google news is any indication, all of our cloud needs may eventually float over to Google.  I want GDrive and I want it bad.

For online photos, I use Flickr for my family photos, etc., PhotoBucket for other image files I want to save, and Picasa for reference-related graphics (e.g., maps, reference cards, etc.).  For online videos, I use YouTube, Qik and Vimeo.  All are free, though I pay for a Vimeo premium account so I can upload larger, HD videos.

And of course, I share certain things with friends via Facebook and Twitter.  Both free.

The Result

I have a lean, mean new computer with mostly free, web accessible, organized applications.  It feels really good- and the change in my pocket jingles when I surf.

Pogo-plugging into a Private Cloud

My Pogoplug came today.  I opened it about 15 minutes ago.  Here’s the skinny.

imageSetup was almost as simple as advertised.  I plugged the Pogoplug in, connected it to a network switch in my study, and got an immediate green light (that’s good).  I connected a new Seagate Free Agent hard drive, and activated my Pogoplug via the Pogoplug web site.  With a couple of minor exceptions, it was as easy as could be:

1. It was hard to read the tiny Pogoplug identification number on the attached sticker.  A quick look with a lighted magnifying glass revealed that what I thought was a letter was in fact a number (no big deal- it took maybe a minute longer to reenter the number); and

2. I had to right click and “safely remove” the hard drive from my computer after I formatted it before attaching it to my Pogoplug.  I never, ever do the safely remove thing, but the help box in the Pogoplug activation window suggested I do so (also no big deal, though it cost me an extra 10 minutes or so).

Once you get everything connected, you can log in to your private cloud via the Pogoplug web page.

The interface is perfectly acceptable, even if not perfect.

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The only semi-bummer is that you can’t drag items into a new folder via the web interface.  If you download the Pogoplug software (see the link at the top), your Pogoplug drive will appear in Windows Explorer, just like any other drive.

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There is software for Windows and OS X and a beta version for the four people who actually use Linux for this sort of thing.  From there, you can presumably drag and drop uploads and drag items into folders.  Very nice idea, but I couldn’t get it to work.  It could be another router problem.  If so, this is getting old fast.

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Sharing via your Pogoplug is a mixed bag.  You can share entire folders with selected people via an email authorization procedure.  A neat feature is the ability to share the contents of a folder via an RSS feed.  Here’s mine.  You can’t share items individually (only via sharing an entire folder), and you can’t generate direct links to serve media in blog posts and web pages.  At a minimum, Pogoplug needs an embeddable media player, like the elegant one at divShare.

There is a free iPhone app, which installed quickly and allowed instant views of the files on my Pogoplug, over wi-fi and 3G.  I could easily access my photos and MP3s.  Uploading a photo from my iPhone to my Pogoplug was easy and fast.  I didn’t see an option for uploading anything other than a photo.

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Overall, I am pretty impressed with Pogoplug, and it will definitely replace my current private cloud setup.

Another Horse in the Online Storage Race: divShare

While working on tonight’s Evening Reading post, I came across a story about the recently deceased Eddie Bo.  The story mentioned his song, Check Mr. Popeye and had the song queued up in an embedded player.  From divShare.  The player was compact, with volume control, and seemed reliable and stable.  I was surprised that divShare hadn’t previously come across my radar.

So being a web scientist and all, I felt compelled to take a look at divShare.

The front page says free account users get 5GB of storage and 10GB of monthly bandwidth.  That’s not bad at all.  The sign up form is right there on the front page.

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That’s pretty easy.  Once you sign up, you’re presented with your “dashboard,” from which you can upload and manage your files.

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It’s not the cleanest interface I’ve ever seen, but compared to Photobucket, which I use all the time, it is a work of sheer, unmitigated beauty.  Let’s see if it passes my two-part online storage test.

Test one: does it have a drag and drop uploader?  Why, yes it does.

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Test two: does it allow direct links to files, to make it easier to share them on social networks sites, like Blip.fm, etc.?  No, the free accounts don’t.  But otherwise it has pretty flexible sharing options that almost make up for this deficiency.  As noted above, I particularly like the compact embeddable player.

If you need more storage or bandwidth, divShare’s paid accounts look reasonable and generous.

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And paid accounts have no ads, branded flash players, and direct file links (yeah baby).

All of this looks pretty doggone good.  I’m still going steady with Dropbox (you and I get extra free space if you sign up for Dropbox via that handy link), but I have to admit, divShare is making my eyes wander a little.

I’m going to use divShare a little over the next few weeks and see how it goes, but on first impression- I’m impressed.

Related posts at Newsome.Org:
The State of Online Storage
ZumoDrive vs Dropbox
Bringing the Cloud to the People: What Does Google Know that Yahoo Doesn’t?
Tech for Grownups: My Online Toolbox (Part 1)
Creating a Private Cloud
Choosing Dropbox