Google Docs

You might remember my first introduction to cloud computing was a client who used Google Calendar.  My first business e-mail was a Gmail account and as I was looking around, I saw Google offering Docs.  So, as I was building this business, I used Google Docs as a way to share ideas and collaborate with others.  Google also offers spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms, though I’ve not used any of these yet.  All you need to use Google Docs is a Gmail account, which you can get free.

I’ll be honest; I don’t use Google Docs much these days.  When I was collaborating more, it was a great way to share ideas.  I still use it when I need to grab some text for various things – like when I post ads to Craigslist or someone wants a bio.  Part of this is that I’ve not bothered to get many of the files onto my computer and it’s simple and easy to get it from Google Docs.


Google Docs Screenshot

Google Docs Screenshot

I appreciate the simplicity of the layout – you can see that along the left side are the options for creating new documents and uploading files.  Below this are more categories and then folders that I created so my overall file list was easier to navigate.  The center shows the complete list (based on the selection – in this case, “all items”) of my files.  This includes files I’ve viewed from other’s shared collections – I was surprised to see “Heartbreaker Valentines.pdf” there.  This was something I looked at and never realized it was part of Google Docs! The right side is something relatively new – where it provides some additional information on the file that’s highlighted from the middle.

I like how they’ve set up the collaborating options – since you can create files that are public, anyone with a link to the file, or private.  Even when you decide to keep the settings as private, you can still share the file with others and controlling whether you want them to be able to edit the file or to just view it.  When you share a file, the person you’re sharing it with does not need a Gmail account – which I think is wonderful.

With how I’ve tended to use Google Docs, I’ve never needed or wanted many editing or formatting features –for my purposes, they have what I need.  I’ve heard there’s some struggles with creating and editing tables with Google Docs.  I find the editing tools easy to find and use – and without many the additional options I rarely use even with MS Word.  I also like that they frequently save your work as you go – mostly seamlessly – but include a “save now” button so you can also save it when you need.

As with all cloud computing, it’s accessible whenever you have an Internet connection.  I’ve found the accessibility to questionable with other devices – Google Docs has only recently been improving their functionality (in my opinion) for smart phones and other devices, like the iPad.  Just the other day I was using my iPad to access Google Docs and I kept getting an error message – while other applications that need the Internet were running perfectly.  I’m pleased they’ve been improving their mobile accessibility, and am hopeful it will become useful.  At this point, I avoid doing it if possible.

Google Docs is free and easy to use.  I love the idea that anywhere I am with some time on my hands and an Internet connection I could sign in and be productive.  Is this something that would benefit you and your life?

Bookmarking Websites

One of my first forays into cloud computing was most likely with Delicious, a social bookmarking site. Again, my husband encouraged me to sign-up! Part of me was resistant, and I see a pattern, don’t you? – I’ve resisted adopting new technology, repeatedly. As so often happens, once I jump on board to trying it out, I realize the value. Just because something works “fine” as it is, doesn’t mean that there’s not room for improvement. This is exactly what I found with Delicious, an improved way for bookmarking.

Delicious essentially offers you a place to collect various websites you want to bookmark. You create a free account and will have access to your bookmarks on any computer with an Internet connection. Since it’s not located on your computer, you’ll always have access to your bookmarks. If something were to happen to your computer, your bookmarks are safe and accessible.

When you add a bookmark to your Delicious account, you create tags – or keywords so you can find the bookmark again when you need it – and as many tags as you want. Also, you can create “tag bundles” so you can group similar bookmarks together by more than just tags. Of course, you need to make sure you add tags regularly – ideally as you’re bookmarking, or at least relatively soon after creating them – otherwise it can become cluttered. I wish multiple word tags would work, but you need to include punctuation to make it work – i.e. Under_Cabinet.

Yet, those features do not cover what is the strongest feature of Delicious – the ability of sharing your bookmarks with others. Just like the social media craze; you follow other users and can see their bookmarks. I’ve created a page with resources at that anyone can see (or subscribe to) – from the various local places for donating, the vendors at the last two NAPO conferences I attended, and some specific items I’ve found to help various clients.  You can check it out without even signing up – so go check out what I’ve bookmarked.

NAPO 2011 conference vendors websites

Screenshot of JenniferLinnig Delicious page - NAPO2011

I also like that I can search for what others are bookmarking on various subjects – like organizing or productivity. As long as people don’t mark it as private, you can see what others are bookmarking. Often these results are more helpful than a general search using Google or Bing.

I’ve been waiting to write about Delicious; there were rumors of the demise of Delicious until last week – when it was announced that the founders of YouTube have acquired Delicious and are planning on support and improvements. One of their goals is to make it compatible again with Firefox, where you have direct access to your Delicious bookmarks and toolbar buttons for quick bookmarking options.

There are a few problems with Delicious – though I find them minor in the grand scheme of things. You have the potential for bookmarking the same site without a warning from Delicious, though some of this can be avoided by paying attention when you’re bookmarking – since if you’ve already bookmarked it, the tags and notes will be in the window. There is also no way to know if your links become broken – and as I’ve bookmarked specific product pages, those often stop working. This isn’t a Delicious problem really since it’s the website that removes a product or moves the page somewhere else on their website. It certainly would be convenient to know when those links stop working though.

Overall, Delicious is a great social bookmarking tool. You can share your bookmarks and keep them safe. I’m thrilled that the founders of YouTube have adopted them, and all of us Delicious users will continue to have access to this resource. I love how much more organized my bookmarks can be by using Delicious and therefore that much easier to find and share.

Note Taking for Virtually Everything

If you’ve been following me for a little while, you might have noticed a recurring mention of elephants.  Yes, I like elephants.  Now what does that have to do with anything I would share with you? Well, when I was browsing various smart phone apps, I saw an elephant.  When I decided to find out more, I discovered Evernote and started using it.

Evernote logo

I’m a slightly skeptical consumer, so after creating an account (free) with Evernote, I only used it on my phone and via the Internet.  I put off downloading the desktop version and used Evernote for only limited things.  Yet, I loved how I could use my phone to make notes, copy webpages, and bookmark sites, while waiting for my appointment to start.  I also had the grocery list and other task lists always accessible – since my phone is always with me.

Of course, I asked my husband if he’d heard of it – and he hadn’t, but he checked it out and uses it regularly.  More than me of late.  He even decided on the premium service, quite reasonable at $45 a year (or $5 a month) with some nice additional benefits.  I’m considering upgrading eventually too.  One of the features he uses and appreciates is how Evernote gives you an e-mail address so that you can just e-mail notes into your account.

They also offer the ability to share your notebooks or just notes with others.  This is one of the first things I read about – a parent of a special needs child using Evernote to coordinate information between the doctor’s office and school, by having an account where certain people were given permission to access and modify (when appropriate) all the notes related to the care of her child.  I might need to start sharing Evernote notebooks with clients on the various research I do for them!

I appreciate the layers of potential organization with Evernote, as you can create notebooks to gather like items together and that you can create tags as well for each item you add.  Although I’ve not needed to try it out, Evernote says that everything is searchable, so if you’re struggling to find something you could probably find it even if you only remembered some obscure word.

I’ve been a bit frustrated, as one of my shopping lists has become problematic – in that it doesn’t want to load properly – on any of the devices.  I just need to delete and make a new note.  I’ve heard of problems with formatting issues between devices.  Yet, I believe that Evernote will work to resolve any issues.  The range of how to access Evernote is quite impressive; just about any device now has a platform to access it – and it syncs once you have an Internet connection again.  There are some limitations with some devices – like my smart phone and Evernote don’t always work well without Internet or modifying notes on the iPad, again without Internet can be problematic.

I’m excited to explore Evernote even more, and especially since I’ve finally downloaded the desktop version for my computer.  From what I’ve seen the benefits far outweigh the few struggles they have and the improvements come regularly.  There are so many possibilities and ways to have Evernote work to benefit you – as an individual, to fit your needs.  This is the ultimate goal for anything you use.

Simplifying Electronic Back Ups

Two years ago my husband’s computer crashed.  Needless to say, he lost many files.  Yet, this is not to say that he wasn’t backing up his files regularly.  That’s the calamity of a computer crashing, you can be “good” and back-up regularly, yet if the computer crashes between those times, you’ll lose files –maybe not a lot, but it can still be an important one.  This happens with any computer, since at the time, his computer was relatively new.  This continues to stay with me, even fueling my concern about protecting my own data.

I use multiple tools for backing up my electronic data, at varying intervals – from the external hard drive that lives in the safe and I end up pulling it out a few times a year to the DVD+RW disks I aim to use once a month.  Notice I said “aim” – I’m not always as consistent as I want to be since it’s time consuming.  I talked about Dropbox last month and I do use that, but it only holds so much and I’m too frugal to pay for more!

That’s where Mozy comes in.  Mozy is designed as a file back-up service where you can choose the specific files you want backed up as well as the frequency at which you want it to back those files up.  I appreciate that there’s a free version for 2GB, though I do find their prices to be quite reasonable for more space.  They work with Mac or PC and their website says they’ve got high-grade encryption.

I’ve been using Mozy long enough that I’m using the second version.  I’m grateful that there’s been some improvements as I’d had some trouble with parts of Mozy before this.  Despite how inevitable change is, I still sometimes resist that very change.  There’s features I miss from the old version though too.

Choosing the files to have Mozy back up is easy.  For me, the files I choose are the ones that change most frequently.  Remember how if the computer crashes between back-ups, you’ve lost that information, well, I selected files that I would hate to lose and those I am modifying.  One of those things is my e-mail.

Speaking of e-mail, last week I talked about dealing with e-mail and one of the first things that Mozy lists is how many e-mails it can back up: 250,000 text e-mails with the 2GB version and 6,250,000 with the regular MozyHome version.

It’s simple to choose when you want Mozy to back everything up.  It’s also a fast process.  In the first version, the speed could be a huge issue, but I’ve been thrilled with the speed now.  I like that I set the interval, once a day, and can choose a time of day that it does the back up.  It’s so automatic that I don’t need to think about it or set aside time to do something with.

I miss the ability to open a little window and see how much time is left before the back up is complete, though this is hardly ever long enough to warrant that feature.  They still struggle with warnings.  It was bad in the last version – to the extent that I had several days when it didn’t back up, and I didn’t know until I was looking into something else.  I’ve only had one day with the latest version where I had a warning.  It was obvious; I saw it on the day that it happened.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the warning was for, though I think it was for the computer not backing up.

Although I’ve never had to use the feature, Mozy says that it’s easy to get the information from one computer to another.  As I looked around to see what other people were saying, certainly some dissatisfied customers had problems with Mozy’s service and getting their lost files.

Mozy is also not the typical cloud computing that I talk about, although the information is not stored on your computer, it’s not accessible from all the devices that can access the Internet.  Nevertheless it’s useful to have back ups in more than one place, and to have files automatically backed up so that you can reduce the amount you might lose in case calamity strikes and your computer crashes.  I do appreciate having another set of back ups for my electronic information, especially one that I don’t need to think about much.

Drop Files You Use – Here

A little less than a year ago, my husband found this file sharing service and persistently talked to me about it, as ‘we need this.’  Have I mentioned how resistant I can be about new technology?  I didn’t mind the old school way of e-mailing each other attachments.  Or worse case, I’d paste the information into Google Docs where he could log in and see it (minus formatting, of course).  Yet, did you notice the phrase “didn’t mind”?  If I were working with someone, that phrase alone would make me pause and ask some follow-up questions.  Is it worth settling for a “don’t mind”?  I’m on the lookout for ways that it can be simple and maybe even enjoyable.

Dropbox, this file sharing service my husband was so excited about is just that – simple and enjoyable to use.  It’s also free, at least for anything under 2GB, which works for us without problems.  You can also “earn” additional free space by having friends join.

One of the reasons it’s easy is that is puts a folder, appropriately called Dropbox, on your desktop if you use Windows, or under Places in the Finder on a Mac.  You take any files you want and put them into the Dropbox folder.

What’s so special about that?

Well, first you can install Dropbox on any computer and it connects your files with each computer.  This is not all though – it also works on most smart phones.  There’s also the ability to access it on the web if you want.  This also means that you can work on a file even when you don’t have an Internet connection, and it will sync when there’s a connection again and your work is then available everywhere again.

Second, you can share folders with anyone.  If you’re going to be working with a group, you can create a folder that you all have access to.  What this means, is that each person can work on any given file; you won’t need to track which version is the most recent.  This was the important aspect for my husband so that we could coordinate various files.  Although I’ve not tried to use it, Dropbox provides access to old versions of a file for 30 days with the free version, and longer for the paid versions.  It also apparently will create two files if there is a conflict, like two people making modifications at the same time, so it works hard to protect the data.

It’s funny to me that many reviews of Dropbox group it with online back-up services like Mozy or Carbonite.  Although it certainly offers that service, it functions uniquely as it offers a free file sharing service.  Certainly at the free 2GB option, it’s not going to be superior for backing up most files on your computer.

Also, since you’re likely to put files in it that are in progress or important to you, it offers the security that they will be there when you need them.  This is exactly where Dropbox excels in my opinion.  I don’t want access to all my files from every device, yet there are many files I’m working with or want access to, and Dropbox gives me that access easily and simply.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not backing up all my files each time I modify them, so Dropbox keeps them safe until I’m ready to back them up elsewhere.  It also means that when I’m on the go, but have some time, I can open Dropbox and get things done.  It allows my husband and I to make lists for shopping or financial things.

There are additional services that I’ve not used or explored much.  You can e-mail a link to a file or folder to someone so they can access the files you want to share.  The photo folder apparently creates a public gallery for slideshow sharing of your pictures.

I mentioned earlier that it would sync your files across devices.  Sometimes this takes time.  My mom was frustrated at one point when I uploaded a video we’d taken because it took a long time before it was available in our shared folder.  It was a big file though and cannot imagine how long it would have taken to attach and mail only to need to be downloaded later.  You need to be aware of the fact that it can take time for files to get synced to the cloud, and then synced to the various locations.  I’ve found this to rarely be an issue, and I’ve been quite pleased with the speed of syncing.

This is a must have service if you use multiple devices or work with other people on files.  Since my only minor struggle has been an occasional delay in syncing, I’ve found no other drawbacks to Dropbox.  That alone seems extraordinary!  Consider how you might improve your productivity by getting this.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

Several years ago, I had a client who used her computer to schedule our appointments.  Ok, that wasn’t too exciting – I’ve looked at the calendar apps on computers, but they weren’t really for me.  Then she told me that she was using something different: Google calendar.  What she loved about it was that her son also used Google calendar – it came with each of their gmail accounts – and they had linked their calendars together.  He could see when she was on a business trip and needed his help taking care of her dog, and she could see when her grandson’s birthday party was and not forget the date. I wasn’t sure what I made of this at the time – I was still lugging around my large planner and using a pencil to mark appointments!

Then I got a smart phone where I had a calendar and could put my appointments in that.  My shoulder certainly appreciated not lugging that planner around, yet accessing the calendar on the phone was not always convenient.   If I was talking to someone and needed to consult my schedule, I either needed to put on the headset or use the speaker and hope that as I navigated this new device I would not inadvertently hang-up on the person.

This is when I started using Google calendar for myself.  I could still use my phone to put appointments in, but I could also open up my computer, take the same information, and put in what I needed. Truthfully using the computer for Google calendar is easier – I have access to a full keyboard and scheduling repeating events is simpler.  My husband started using Google calendar at the same time, and it provides an easy way for he and I to share our schedules with each other.  If one of us wants to make plans for the night, we can check the other’s schedule to see if they’re available or not.

Google calendar was my first foray into cloud computing.  The calendar is stored out on the Internet on a secure server, where it is backed up regularly.  This is what is called the cloud.  To access it, all I need is access to the Internet.  All I need to do is log into Google with my e-mail user name and password, go to the calendar, and all my information is there. This is great because if I was visiting my mom and didn’t want to boot up my computer, I could just use hers.  It is also wonderfully free and I’m actually saving money since I no longer need to buy a paper calendar for my purse.

It does not matter whether you use a PC or a Mac, Droid or iPhone, Google calendar will function with whatever you use it with.  Some devices – like my phone – will even access it with their own calendar app.  I helped a client learn about Google calendar recently – it will sync with her new smart phone and we set up her schedules, with a reminder beep to keep her on track. That ability to set an alarm, at the time you want, is another feature I really appreciate.

Too often, I’m a little paranoid about losing data.  That is another reason I appreciate cloud computing, although there is always a risk of losing information – the information “living” out in the cloud means that it’s more likely to be accessible.  In this case, if something were to happen to my phone, my appointments are available by using another device to access the Internet.

In my blog, I’ll be exploring a different cloud computing app each month.  Here are a couple of the ones I’ll talk about fairly soon:


Soon, hopefully you, too, will learn to stop worrying (about your data) and love the cloud (computing). 🙂