cloud computing

Our increasing reliance on Apps

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We are all becoming increasingly reliant upon the world of Apps – be it in the Microsoft, Apple or Google eco systems. We run our lives in the cloud on mobile devices and with total reliance upon various software, apps or similar.

I am an unashamed Apple fan, our household is now totally Apple based and my working life is only partially blighted by the world of Microsoft! The recent update by Apple to OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) and its link to iOS 8 is brilliant so I am a ‘happy chappy’ at the moment.

However, what has become very clear to me in recent months is just how reliant we can become on certain apps on our phones or tablets, and what a pain it is when one (or more) stops working! Let me explain;

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I have for years run financial software on my phone and home computer, initially on Windows mobile and then since the dawn of the iPhone on that. I had to make a move when I swapped to an iPhone and had been very happy with a program called ‘pocket money’, it had a sister app called ‘mpg’ which allowed me to record my mileage and fuel economy and link fuel purchases directly back into pocket money. Sadly the developer of both apps died around 12 months ago, there was supposed to be a person taking on the development but this has not happened and now the apps are no longer bug free (or even available in the App Store).

So I have had to find alternatives – which you would think would be easy, but I can assure you it isn’t! Despite there being a huge number of financial apps available most are frankly poor, the same with mileage and fuel logging apps.

Luckily I have found two good ones; Account Tracker for my banking, and Road Trip for my mileage, but the upheaval of transferring data and setting it back up has been quite disruptive – not something I want to repeat in a hurry! We are about to have a move to the cloud at work, hopefully I am now well prepared for that as well!

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Why Microsoft “don’t get it “

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For a while I have been ‘coming over from the dark side’ – that is to say I have been embracing the world of Apple. To some that classes me as a geek, historically Apple products were the preserve of the ‘Guardian reader’ set, not a bad thing in any way, but a stereotype that probably didn’t help their marketing! This puts me in the minority, but if I am honest I don’t care, as I find the Apple way so much less stressful.

With the massive growth of the iPod, iPad and iPhone, Apple are now a major player in the hardware market (for example they have almost 80% of the tablet market). Historically they have been weak in the world of software – and by weak I mean they did not have the business market particularly catered for – that was the province of Microsoft – and still is. But for how long?

Computing in the business and home market is going mobile, we are all getting smartphones, and the tablet is making desktop computing far less of a necessity. Our PC at home is used rarely now, either iPad or Mac has taken over. Consequently we are all keen to have our data available where ever we are – cloud computing by any other name. And who is doing this best and appears to have a game plan going forwards?

In my view it’s Apple and not Microsoft. I have started using Apples iCloud with its Numbers and Pages packages – all my documents are automatically available on all my devices (including my PC). The program’s are nothing like as ‘belt and braces’ as Word or Excel, but who uses anything like the full potential of those packages – they are just too complicated! Also on an iPad the Numbers spreadsheet is way better than anything Microsoft or any third-party converter can offer.

Apples iCloud is in its infancy, MobileMe was not a success, but the mobile OS has developed and I think we will see great things from Apple over the next few years in mobile data sharing and working – they never get things wrong more than once!

And what about Microsoft? Windows 8 is just about to appear and from what I have heard it is just Windows 7 with a weird front end. Their Office package has a web version, but it is not catching on (probably due to being too complex). Microsoft may be about to start to see the end of their dominance – a good thing?

Proper computing?

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Now I am of an age whereby computing is still a bit of a novelty, mainly because we didn’t have them when I was a kid at school. I discovered computers at college so consider myself a latecomer to that world. Perhaps it is because of this that I love playing with them and learning how to solve issues with hardware and software – my wife uses the word ‘geek’, possibly a bit harsh but probably true.

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small and simple!

Somewhere at my family home in Malmesbury there is a Sinclair ZX81 hidden away. I have to be honest and say that I was not a childhood computer programmer with it – I purchased it off a mate a few years after they were popular because I fancied playing with it. It was interesting but generally useless!

However, I gather it was machines such as this that made the UK world leaders in programming (especially for gaming). More importantly we have been lacking ‘a ground floor entry’ machine for kids to learn how to code on – until now.

The Raspberry Pi has just been released, it is a credit-card sized computer designed as a bare-bones, low-cost computer, ideal for kids and educational establishments to develop. Sold un-cased without keyboard or monitor, the Pi has been six years in the making, but has created an amazing amount of interest.

Supporters hope the machines produced by the Raspberry Pi Foundation could help reverse a lack of programming skills in the UK. The device’s launch comes as the Department for Education considers changes to the teaching of computing in schools, with the aim of placing greater emphasis on skills like programming.

Initially the £22 model of the Pi will be offered for sale. A cheaper £16 version will go on sale later in the year. The machine runs on open-source operating system Linux, and can be hooked up to a typical computer monitor – with additional ports used to attach a keyboard, mouse and other peripherals. It also features an ethernet port, meaning the device can make use of high-speed internet connectivity.

I have to be honest – I have an urge to get one to play with…

Can cloud computing help reduce global warming?

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There is a steady move towards cloud computing, both Apple and Microsoft are nudging their users towards it in different ways;

Apple via iCloud which is in its infancy, but has some potential. This however is currently based around machine based apps for word processing and similar, and only carries data.

Microsoft on the other hand is moving towards cloud based application use – Word, Excel etc accessed directly from their servers so that software is not PC based. This is perhaps more related to them trying to control pirated software than for our benifit though!

Is there a ‘green’ side to cloud computing though?

A study carried out late last year that focussed on large IT companies in France and the UK found that they could achieve large cost savings and carbon reductions by 2020 if they migrated their data storage operations to the cloud. The suggestion was that they could reduce their carbon emissions by up to 50%!

The study follows a recent forecast that use of cloud services could triple in the next two years, a fact that has  been backed up by a number of blue chip companies indicating that they intend to move to cloud solutions far quicker than many had thought. Obviously cost saving is the main aim – but a drop in carbon emissions has to be a positive side effect.

Cloud computing allows companies to reduce costs by buying less hardware and using servers located elsewhere to store, manage and process data. The report suggests that by 2020, large UK companies that use cloud computing could achieve annual energy savings of £1.2 billion and carbon reductions equivalent to the annual emissions of over 4 million passenger vehicles – figures not to be sniffed at.

And if your server farm is in a country that has lower emission electricity such as France, (where nuclear plants generate the bulk of electricity), that figure can be much lower.

So as we place more and more data in the cloud we can actually reduce our carbon footprint!