Living in the Cloud: Going Google with iGoogle

I’ve been using Google for years.  Then Google gave us Gmail.  It’s not my main email client, but I use it.  Then Google gave us Picasa, Chrome, YouTube, Music, Picnik, Maps, Earth, Reader, Google+, and over time I’ve become Googlefied.

I started storing content on the net with Gopher and began developing web pages when Mosaic came out.  I’ve always kept my favorite bookmarks on a file I coded in HTML and used it as my home page in all my browsers.  I had set up iGoogle years ago but never really committed to it because I loved my own homely home page.

This morning I started playing iGoogle again and decided to make it my home page for Chrome.  Chrome is my default browser at home, but I also use IE 9, FireFox and on rare occasions Safari.

We’re all moving to the cloud.  Some people might not know it yet, but we’re all moving to the cloud.  Any device with a IP address is on the Internet.  Programs and content stored on devices you own are local.  If you store you primary copy of data off your local device you’re living in the cloud.  Most people find that scary.  I do too, although I’m willing to give it a try, so I’m moving my data to the cloud but I’m keeping backups local.  Think of me as a belt and suspenders man, at least for now.

I’m going to write a series of posts about living in the cloud and review programs and services that I find worthwhile.  My first step is exploring Google’s cloud offerings.  I’ve already put my songs in Google Music.  I can play them on my PCs, Mac and Linux boxes at work and home, and on my iPod touch and iPad.  I’ve also started uploading my photos to Picasa’s online storage.

The thing about moving to the cloud is committing to a company that hosts the servers.  The big choices now are Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.  The first three also have their own browsers.  (Maybe Amazon should align itself with FireFox.)  I have content with all four companies, and moving to the cloud implies I expect these companies to stay in business for the rest of my life.  I’m not sure which company will become my primary cloud home, but I’m going to test them all.

I’m starting with Google, and to show my commitment I’m setting iGoogle as my default home page.  It allows me to customize my home page extensively with a variety of widgets.  Here’s my first effort.

iGoogle

Because Google is pushing Google+, it’s revamped it’s many separate tools into a toolbar that Googlifies everything. 

From this home page I can search Google and Wikipedia, click on links to my favorite sites, see Gmail, RSS feeds, weather info, do math, get driving directions, search YouTube, and every thirty seconds be visually reminded of a different moment of the past.  Plus, I have a pull-down menu to a vast array of other Google features.  If I click on the photo it takes me to Picasa web, where I can click on a photo edit button that brings up the wonders of Picnik photo editing.   All the companies that Google has bought over the years is finally coming together in one command center. 

Oddly enough, there’s no widget for Google Music.  Google needs to add a Google Music Player widget.  If I kept my Chrome window opened to full-screen I could even use 4 columns of widgets.  iGoogle provides very flexible screen layout options and colorful themes. 

iGoogle is a cloud portal tool, a feature that Microsoft, Amazon and Apple don’t have, and puts them at a disadvantage.  This matters a lot if you’re using multiple computers, and too a lesser degree if you’re using smartphones and tablets.  I have a PC, HTPC and Linux workstation at home, and a PC, Mac and Linux workstation at work, plus I have two mobile devices, an iPod touch and iPad.  This provides a tremendous incentive to put my digital possessions  in the cloud.  My photos and music are available to all my devices at any location.

I have Microsoft Office on my PCs and Mac, and have a nice Outlook client on my iPod and iPad, and hope to have Office apps on my iPad soon.  I’m very Microsoft centric when it comes to productivity programs, and Microsoft offers various Live apps that are starting to compete with Google’s cloud tools, but it doesn’t have a portal like iGoogle.  I can store photos on SkyDrive but it’s not the same.  Microsoft has no cloud music like Amazon and Apple does.  But it is obvious that Microsoft is getting serious about the cloud.

Amazon and Apple are really lacking when it comes to furnishing a cloud home base.  They are more like mini-storage rental sites, where they will keep all my junk.  Amazon’s portal is it’s front page, and Apple’s portal is iCloud, but it’s home page is very limited compared to iGoogle.  (How did Apple let Google have the i-name?)  Apple assumes people live on their iPhone, iPad and iMac, and everything else doesn’t matter, but I’m not ready to ditch Windows, Linux and Android.

iGoogle isn’t slick like Apple products.  It’s not even as slick as Microsoft programming.  I’m hoping some of the technology they bought with Picnik might jazz up Google’s cloud apps in the future.  iGoogle is good for people who want to work over the widest range of platforms.  If you’re a Apple true believer, it won’t matter.  If you’re totally devoted to Amazon and Kindle, it might not matter.  But if you live in a world of PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android, then it’s well worth a look.

Not only does living in the cloud offer cross-platform sharing of data, it also backs up data.  If your house burns down, your digital belongings are in the cloud.  Eventually I want to replicate my data across two or more cloud servers to have even more protection, in case one company goes out of business or suffers a prolong outage.  Switching to iGoogle is just the start.

JWH – 1/22/12