Monday, August 02, 2010

Life in a cloud: You CAN do it, but SHOULD you?

How about "cloud computing" for ready access to your data while breaking dependence on your personal computer? After all, hard drives do fail. We're getting accustomed to storing photos online with Picasa or Flickr, why not just take advantage of the space available, and relax, since you won't have to reply on just one computer.

You don't need to travel to take advantage of cloud computing. You never know what will happen to your computer. I've lived in Florida where one bolt of lightening down the block can zap out a microwave, the AC condenser and 2 computers. You can never be too safe.

CLOUD COMPUTING is the utilization of internet resources for the preparation, viewing and distribution of data, rather than relying solely on personal computers. See WikiPedia.



We're using Microsoft Office Live to store each chapter of a new genealogy 'how-to' book we're compiling. Since our group members live all over the world, storing our work online for peer review is a great idea. The data is in MS Word format, and we merely sign in to MS Office Live to update our own chapter assignments and to see what others have done. This plan requires MS Word on our local computers if we wish to modify a chapter. Any changes are saved online, rather than the local hard drive, and a notice is listed on the MS Office Live side bar under "recent activity" so the next time a team member logs in, he /she can elect to view the changes. There is also the ability to post notes to the team within Live Office, so there is no need for email exchanges. This works especially well with large document files that wouldn't get through the email system.

Office Live Workspace

Ol' Myrt here has not yet experimented with the even "cloudier" prospect of using the web ap versions of Word, Excel, etc., recently offered as a free upgrade to Microsoft Office Live. That 100% cloud option is called Windows Live SkyDive. I imagine it will work a lot like GoogleDocs.

By the way, we'll use to print & distribute our final book, and provide a .pdf version with clickable links to all the great websites and resources we mention in the book.


This past month, Ol' Myrt here has moved all her genealogy and accompanying source documents to Dropbox, so I can access my files without difficulty as I move between:

  • laptop A
  • desktop SLC
  • desktop Virginia

I've got the laptop for presentations, and a desktop in both of our homes. This plan works well for snowbirds like us that spend part of the year in one place, and then move to another for a season or two. Mr. DearMYRTLE and I travel frequently to conferences and are doing research along the way. Keeping the latest files updated on each computer is cumbersome and time consuming. When we get back home to Utah, I want to spend more time with grandkids. When we arrive in Virginia, we want to meet with friends and get on to research at the DAR and the National Archives.

Dropbox manages the updating of each computer seamlessly as soon as the next one is turned on and accessing the Internet.

Each computer has a MyDropBox folder, where everything is stored. When I turned on my old desktop computer here in Utah last week, the Dropbox service updated my local MyDropBox folder with all the items I'd added to the folder when working on my genealogy database at our home in Virginia. All those documents are now also available here in Salt Lake and none of my work was lost.

Now that I am working on my desktop SLC, I am making sure all of my PowerPoint presentations, handouts, speaking contracts and my journal entries are included in a subfolder of my DropBox. After flying back to Virginia, if I don't turn on my computer in Virginia, it won't get updated. If I turn on the computer and don't connect it to the internet, Dropbox won't be able to update my Virginia Dropbox folder either. But since both homes are equipped with high-speed internet, the updating is quick and painless. I don't have to do a thing except recover from our travels and begin transferring photos from our digital cameras. See: Treasure Chest Thursday: Digital Pics from an old Camera.

Unlike a back-up service, the Dropbox files are not compressed and I don't need to "restore" them to their original location in order to view or modify the files.

This Dropbox service will prove interesting, since I frequently "tweak" a PowerPoint presentation the evening before a class, and will no longer have to worry about updating my "home" computer with the latest, greatest version.

SIDE NOTE: Yes, I do have some of my genealogy data online at quite simply because of the semi-automatic, contextual look-up capabilities, and opportunities for networking with serious, like-minded researchers.

PART C - USE AN ONLINE BLOG READER EXCLUSIVELY. Moving all subscriptions over!

Blog reading has come a long way since my first blog entry back in the days. I now trust Bloglines  Google Reader to pull in all the blogs I enjoy reading. Previously, Ol' Myrt here used an amalgamation of MS Outlook, Eudora (email), Yahoo, GoogleReader and Bloglines, just to see how readily each updated the blogs I like to read. Without an online blog reader, I cannot hope to keep up with the prime genea-blogs using MS Outlook on my SLC computer. I'm only at that computer about half the year.

UPDATE: Bloglines announced 10 Sept 2010 that it will close down 1 Oct 2010. Consequently, Ol' Myrt here has moved everything to Google Reader. See my blog entry with directions for transferring feeds from Bloglines to Google Reader.

Mr. DearMYRTLE are getting the hang of coordinating our schedules using Google Calendar. He prefers to use his MS Outlook Calendar. I've already got my Outlook syncing to my Google Calendar. Now I've got to get his Outlook syncing to a Google Calendar we'll create for him. It is as easy as signing in to his Gmail account, and choosing the calendar option in the upper left to create his personal calendar. The sync option is an ap to install on his computer. Then we share our individual calendars with each other. Our calendars would be easy to update from any computer at any library or archive with a computer and Internet access. We aren't limited to our own computers.

PART E - ONLINE EMAIL Arrgh -- I'd miss my MS Outlook archived files.
Here's where Ol' Myrt here particularly has trouble. I cannot imagine having to rely on the email interface provided for by my server. It's simply atrocious. I do have a Gmail account, but don't like the "hiding" of sub folders and the way messages are threaded. I'd like to find SOME sort of version of MSOutlook that works online. I haven't researched this, as I've been very busy getting the first parts of the cloud computing achieved. Do any of my DearREADERS have insight in this area?

All of this is designed to make it easier to access my files when traveling to distant courthouses and archives, using different comptuers and such. Let's say I want to view my genealogy database at my daughter's house. She has the free version of RootsMagic, so we can look at my newly accomplished research, scanned images and such without a glitch if I allow her access to my RootsMagic database file in my Dropbox folder. Alternately, I can give her permission to access the file on her own. But I won't. I am still experimenting. All my girls are trustworthy, but I am mighty protective of my genealogy database.

What cloud computing resources have you been experimenting with lately?

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. ONLINE EMAIL - I really like Firefox's email program called Mozilla Firebird. It behaves a lot like MS Outlook. It is free if you would like to try it at hope this helps some.

    Laura :)

  2. Dear Myrtle,
    I use Gmail exclusively and can file messages in folders I devise and find them using Google's unexcelled search engine. I no longer download them to my computer at all. In almost three years, I have used less than 9 percent of the free space allocated to me by Google and I rarely delete anything!

  3. I concur with Doris - was going to say it myself - Gmail meets all the needs you've demonstrated in the other items. It takes a mental reset, but I don't even use any folders... I just put key words in, and ANY email I've sent or gotten comes right up - I DO NOT delete email, I archive everything. It is "there forever" - and, I find it works. I've been on Gmail practically from the beginning, and love it. One opinion. ;-)

  4. I've had to move over to Google Reader since Bloglines just announced it is closing 1 Oct 2010. Arrgh! I should listen to my DearREADERS!!!

  5. I love your idea about using dropbox for your genealogy program. I've tried it, too, but when I bring it up from dropbox, it always asks what program I want to use to view it. I choose RootsMagic4, but I still can't view it. Any ideas?

  6. DearMISSPeggy,
    Here's how Ol'Myrt does this:

    1. I changed RootsMagic's file location to a folder in my DropBox.

    2. I open RootsMagic, which opens the most recent file.

    3. If I need to open a file I created for my friend Elsie's database, I just choose File>Open from within RootsMagic itself.

    So I guess you could say, I don't click on the file in DropBox, I just do everything from within RootsMagic.

    Try it and see how it works.
    Myrt :)