It seems that with the cost of memory storage and bandwidth falling like crazy it is only a matter of time before we have all of our files on remote servers instead of/in addition to our desktops. A number of online storage services are already showing the way. I've been playing around with Streamload since Christmas, but never really being satisfied with a purely web interface for file management. Plus their new (often promised) MediaMax service never seemed to emerge. Still, 25GB of free online storage is nothing to sneeze at (even if the bandwidth limits make it rather difficult to actually use that 25GB). I was looking for a solution where I could save any file to a virtual online drive right from Windows, and it seems that I've found it. Box.net also offers free online storage (but only 1GB), and the ability to connect to your account as an online drive in Windows via WebDAV. Normally, you can't map it to a drive letter, but I'm testing a client called WebDrive that allows me to map WebDAV and FTP sites as virtual drives. Just setup a new site under WebDrive as 'https://www.box.net/dav' (tick Connect Securely), enter your email address and password, and choose a drive letter (W: for Web, of course!). Now you can save files to W: from any program under Windows. Great!
The biggest limitation to my use of Google Calendar so far has been the lack of synchronization to my mobile phone (so I can ditch the Filofax). While it is still in its infancy, there is now the promise of a solution to this problem with the release of gcalsync. I managed to actually get it to upload an event from my phone to my online calendar, but none of the online events downloaded to the phone (what's up with that?). Also, I have to give the program permission about ten times during its sync to read and write data to/from the phone and use the network interface (despite setting 'Ask First Time Only' permissions from the program's Java settings). So like the warning label says, still not ready for prime time, but let's hope this (or a similar application) offers the two-way synchronization desperately needed for Google Calendar to succeed.
I've seen regular references to Last.fm and Pandora in various blogs, online searches and the like. While they sounded interesting, they remained on my 'to explore later' list until I was prodded from an email from a friend. While Last.fm and Pandora cover a lot of the same area, they each have certain strengths (as outlined in numerous and varied comparisons). Basically Pandora is a bit better for getting exposed to new music, while Last.fm is better at cataloging your listening habits and creating a broad range of recommendations and social networking connections as a result. And thanks to a nice little online code mashup (via downloadsquad), you can have the best of both worlds: a Pandora player that submits its tracks to your Last.fm account. Last.fm ProfileRight now I have Audioscrobbler plugins reporting my listening habits from my home media pc (so far only from Windows Media Player, since the Meedio MeeCharts export plugin that should do the job doesn't seem to play nice with the current audioscrobbler API. :-(), MediaMonkey on my laptop at work, Last.fm's own player, and the abovementioned online Pandora player hack from Real-ity. So about the only parts of my listening habits that aren't being data mined are radio, CDs (played in an actual CD/DVD player), and my portable mp3 player (though if I upgraded to an iPod, this too would be covered).
Still not sure how this breaks down by scary vs. cool. You can see what I've been listening to by checking out the Recent Tracks badge in the sidebar, or my Last.fm account.
Hooray and finally. Techcrunch reports that Google Calendar, aka CL2, has gone live. I'm off to check things out, and will report back later. Hopefully this is the calendaring solution that I've been looking for, or soon will be. Update (14/04/06): So after playing around with Google Calendar for a bit yesterday here are some initial impressions. The interface, as you would expect, is user-friendly and smooth. After using 30 Boxes for a while, one thing I might change would be to have the Quick Add box directly above the calendar instead of having the search box. Google is obviously search-centric, but I think I'd be adding new calendar entries more often than searching so why the extra mouse-click?
The import feature worked a treat on getting my existing calendar entries from 30 Boxes, though it did screw up the time zone somehow and my times all ended up ten hours off. Not sure if this is a problem with 30 Boxes, Google, or the ical format. Adding additional calendars was too easy, as I didn't even need to go to a site like iCalShare to find the webcal link. I just searched in Google Calendar for 'Barcelona' and found a syndicated calendar for FC Barcelona's match schedule and added it as an overlay. Obviously, one of Google's biggest assets in rolling out a calendaring solution is its huge user base thanks to Gmail. So Google Calendar's integration with Gmail is a no-brainer. I haven't tested it yet, but the claim is that Gmail will look for things that look like events in your incoming email and give you an option to add them to your Google Calendar. This sounds like a cool feature, and I might need to set up some forwarders and filters from my work email to forward these to Gmail/Google Calendar. One issue is that I use multiple Gmail addresses for different purposes (such as listservs), and I'm wondering if it would be possible in the future to link different Gmail accounts with a single Calendar.
On the negative side, there is no SyncML support, but I didn't really expect that would be available at launch. Given Google's earlier commitment to mobile devices, I expect they'll come up with something eventually (if not SyncML, then perhaps their own Symbian mobile calendar app). Another minus is that it doesn't seem to work in Opera, which means it doesn't work on the Nokia 770.
One feature that looks interesting, but that I'm a little suspicious about is the Event Publishing feature. Being able to publish a calendar event on a website and have a user click on it to add it to their calendar was one of the early promises of calendaring standards. The Event Publisher feature looks to be an attempt at this, but it's not clear whether they are following the iCal standard, or if this is Google Calendar-specific. I would sincerely hope that Google would follow the open standard so that anyone could add the event to the calendaring solution of their choice (so long as it supports vCal/iCal). I'll play with this some more and see whether it could be made to work with other apps.
In conclusion, I'd have to say that Google's product looks like a winner, and I'm switching from 30 Boxes to make it my online calendar. Similar sentiments are being heard all over. Sorry, 30 Boxes.
Update (17/04/06): I just found a very nice review of Google Calendar on Charlene Li's Forrester report. In addition to some insightful commentary on Google Calendar's existing features, she has some inside info on future developments (like sync for Outlook and mobile devices), and what an open and extensible Google Calendar API might means for the world of 'time'. Give it a read.
So is the competition in online calendars heating up, or is it now over? After months of rumour and spied links to the fabled Google Calendar (CL2) is reveled by Techcrunch in a series of new screenshots and beta details. For me the sheer weight of Google's popularity will drive membership and development of Google Calendar (it integrates with Gmail), and leave competitors like 30 Boxes, Airset, and CalendarHub in the dust. The power of online calendars is only fully realized through social networks-- your friends, family and coworkers that you are sharing events with -- and Google has one of the biggest networks going thanks to Gmail. Many of the "innovative" features of Google Calendar CL2 appear to be taken directly from upstarts like 30 Boxes, such as the 'QuickAdd' function, which looks like a clone of 30 Boxes' best feature, the 'One Box.'
For me, I'll be happy to share my most intimate scheduling details with Google, provided they support SyncML to sync my online calendar with my SymbianOS phone.
Among my recent exploration into new tools for personal organization, and calendars I also came across a nifty online 'space' called Backpack. While a fairly simple idea, Backpack lets you easily store and organize all kinds of information on a simple web interface. Some of the killer features are being able to email content to your page, and access it via a mobile device. Despite its myriad of practical uses, the thing I find myself using it most for to keep a list of wines I want to try, which I check with my mobile phone when I'm in the wine store. I also keep all my flight itineraries on a 'travel' page so I have them accessible from anywhere. Among the critical comments about Backpack have been 'you could just use a wiki to do that.' Now I figured setting up my own wiki would involve a lot of work, but the folks at PBwiki claim â€œPBwiki makes creating a wiki as easy as making a peanut butter sandwichâ€. So I signed up. The fact that I've been signed up with PBwiki for three months and haven't yet created any content there might tell you that Backpack is far easier, but PBwiki does come with much more free storage space.
So, I'm seeking advice from the experts. What content should I be using my wiki for, and what should I be using Backpack for? For staters, I think I'll keep my wine list on Backpack. Let me know your thoughts.
I fly back to Vancouver on Tuesday, so I'm getting myself ready to go this weekend. Lifehacker has a bunch of great travel tips that I'll try to put to use this time to smooth things along. Packing used to mean remembering things like rain gear and comfortable walking shoes, but with our ultra-modern lifestyles, trip preparation increasingly means making sure your media is travelling with you as well. Since I haven't broken down and bought a portable video player yet, I'll be putting a few tv shows and movies on my laptop and a bunch of tunes, podcasts and Teach Yourself Catalan on my mp3 player. One of the reader tips on Lifehacker was to use Slogger to store some web articles offline to read. While this is a a great application and idea, I think I'll save my laptop battery for video enjoyment and do my reading in traditional book and magazine form. Thankfully, I don't have to worry about copying any more media for the trip than what I'll need in transit, since I can now use either FTP or Orb to access my whole collection online.
As for all that 'traditional' packing, I'm using the Universal Packing List to make sure I don't forget rain gear or comfortable walking shoes because I was too distracted with gadgets and media. Not only does it create a great custom packing list, it includes loads of other practical tips like:
- Wash the dishes
- Make a lunch
- Empty all trash cans
- Confirm airline tickets
- Memorize PIN codes to credit cards
Now I have to stop blogging and start packing!
Gmail is weird. I read yesterday about several new features like contact groups, vacation auto-reply, and mobile browsing, but when I went to check them out, I couldn't access any of them on my account. Then this morning, when I was making some changes in another account I have (I use several for various archiving and filtering tasks), the features were there! Back to main Gmail account, refresh... still not there. So it seems Gmail staggers the release of new features across its accounts instead of rolling them out universally. I'm not sure if this is aggravating or really smart (or both?).
Almost everything I do at work involves taking information from disparate sources, and going through various thought processes to generate finished written pieces, whether they be reports, course outlines, research articles (or even blog entries). Recently, I've been looking for software that can help me with this process. The needs are essentially twofold: storing and collecting the raw material (notes, ideas, emails, information from articles and the web, etc), and developing a structure in which to fit this information. At first I thought that the Google Desktop Scratch Pad might be a good place to start. I've become used to always having a spot on the right side of my desktop to note down random bits of information. Unfortunately, the Scratch Pad is just too limited for what I need. I'm now testing out two products that aim to address these needs. OneNote is a Microsoft product (but I'm trying not to let that prejudice me) originally developed for Tablet PCs as a kind of virtual notepad. It works with both keyboard and pen input, and you can drop pretty much anything onto a page and rearrange and organize these notes any way you want. It has a broad range of uses, and I'm really starting to like it. To get an idea of what OneNote is all about, check out Chris Pratley's OneNote Blog and his entry on how he uses it.
For brainstorming and developing outlines, MindJet's MindManager is absolutely brilliant. It has a simple but powerful user interface that makes it a snap to create relationships between ideas. It uses the mind map approach, and I'm finding it really useful for creating the structure for my next research article. Like OneNote, you can attach various snippets of information or link whole documents to the structure that you develop.
I'll continue testing these programs as I write reports, take notes in meetings, and do my thesis research. Hopefully, I'll be able to give a more in-depth review of their strengths and weaknesses after using them more.