Are you on ‘cloud’ yet ?

November 25, 2009 at 10:28 AM | Posted in Cloud Computing, Web Technology | Leave a comment
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Imagine this scenario :

You wake up, switch on the PC and start browsing the net – you come across something nice, and bookmark it. Side by side, you are watching the latest episode of Prison Break or Lost (or Desperate Housewives, if you are into that sort of things…) Suddenly, you remember there is an important presentation you have to give in office that you had completely forgotten. You switch on the presentation editor, and start making it. You had researched for some content at the office and saved it at your office PC, but sadly, you do not remember the links or are able to search for it again now. Its almost time for the office bus, but there is still some more things to be added, some content that you had downloaded and kept at the PC – but you know if you sit around any longer, you will miss the bus and be late anyways.. So, you start copying it all – and then Murphy strikes – your PC hangs and it crashes.. You curse your luck, miss the bus anyways, and are back to square one with no presentation !!

 

Now, imagine a more web-aligned person. He wakes up, switches on the PC and starts browsing the net. All the tabs/history from his office PC are synced as soon as he starts up the browser, and continues to browse where he left in office. Side by side he opens up his online hard-disk and resumes the latest episode of Lost from where he left it while watching in the bus while returning from office. Suddenly, he remember there is an important presentation he has to give in office that he had completely forgotten. Coolly, he logs onto Google Docs and opens the folder where he had saved all the research material and starts making the presentation on Google Docs itself. Since its almost time for the bus to arrive, he switches off the PC (happy and content that all his material is safe on multiple backup enabled high-end google servers across the world), reaches office, and lo-and-behold, resumes his browsing and presentation preparation right where he left at home, without a single effort at his side…!!

 

This is ‘Cloud Computing’ !

So, how exactly do you define cloud-computing ?

As Wikipedia – Cloud Computing defines it : Cloud computing is Internet– (“cloud-“) based development and use of computer technology (“computing“). So, essentially, all your data moves from your PC to the web, and the browser becomes your gateway to it all ! Your PC is not exactly a dumb terminal (it still has enough RAM and processing power as it needs to load all those rich websites, and process a lot of javascripts), but its now more of a display terminal, an extension if you may, of the information stored on the ‘cloud’.

 

 

The cloud computing has been gaining popularity slowly and surely over the years. Remember the era when Hotmail and Yahoo Mail used to give a measly 2MB mailbox storage ! Then came Gmail and changed people’s perception of mail service – not only did you have a 2GB (to start off with – now its nearly 7 GB) of storage space, it combined the simplicity of interface ( I miss the conversation based view and tagging capabilities of Gmail in the Outlook 2007 !!), the search technology of Google with the convenience of anytime-anywhere mail. You no longer had to think about what to keep and what to delete – just store every important document in your gmail, tag it, and archive it – and rest assured, you will be able to find it when the need comes… Certain softwares/plugins even allowed you to use your gmail account like a hard-disk (Gmail Drive), by allowing you to store bigger files by splitting them in multiple attachments and mail. In my view, gmail pretty much was the first step to cloud computing for an average PC and net user.

There are a lot of services that provide cloud computing. Over the years, Google itself has expanded its cloud-based services –

  • Store and save all you bookmarks in Google Bookmarks – and have them available across PC using google toolbar or online
  • Save, view and edit you docs, presentations etc on Google Docs
  • Found something interesting, then just note it in your Google Notebook (although its no longer actively developed).
  • All your subscribed feeds are available on Google Reader
  • Make and keep track of appointments on Google Calendar
  • Save all your photos (with tags and face recognition) on Google’s Picasa Albums. (and at just $5 for 20GB additional cheap, its getting almost as cheap as your regular hard-disks).
  • Google’s Chrome browser now supports bookmark sync (in beta version for now), although its not yet integrated with Google Bookmarks – it uses Google Docs to store and sync them.
  • Download google sync and all your contacts/calendars on Google and mobile will e synced
  • Springnotes is a third-party site that supports google openid login (see my earlier post if you still don’t know what OpenID is !) and allows you to share notes etc in a better way.

And the best part is, most of these services are also accessible seamlessly on your phone too !!

While the above may look like a Google-sponsored advertisement, believe me its not. Its from a long-time user perspective that I write this.  I really appreciate a single google account login provides (and if you have read my previous post – this is what OpenID is all about)

One thing that I guess google still lacks is a general ‘online harddisk’  – but there are enough sites that provide that – check out microsoft’s skyDrive, iDrive, DropBox etc. But my strong feeling is that Google is soone gonna give us that too, and soon 🙂

Another leap that Google is now making is the Google Wave (in beta for now – entry strictly by invitation) – an online collaboration platform – which supports chat, collaborative editing, messaging etc… !! I have a few inviatations of Google Wave up for grabs – tell me in the Comments section why you need one, and you may just get lucky !

Also, browsers are now starting to support cloud-data too… Mozilla team has been developing an extension for firefox called Weave (which will be inbuilt in Firefox 4.0) – that not only supports syncing bookmarks and passwords (like a popular extension Xmarks used to) , but also, open tabs from other computers, history, browser settings etc. as well ! Opera has had similar feature too for quite sometime.

 

The move towards cloud-computing has been necessitated by the fact that most people now use multiple computers – a desktop at home, an office computer, and a laptop, and plus, internet access from mobile. In fact, Google’s Android OS for mobile has a native support for all google services – that means as soon as you switch it on and put in Google Account password, you have instant access to all your contacts, calendar entries etc and they are constantly backed up on the cloud. Also, the fact that fast internet access via wired and wireless means on desktop, laptop and mobiles is commonplace now in a lot of countries has only helped the cause…

However, the above is also one of the strongest reasons why it will take some time getting popular in India – most people are still on 245Kbps plans, we don’t yet have 3G (and only God and government knows when will it actually be here), WiFi hotspots are still an exception rather than norm – you cannot hope to transfer 20GB worth of photos on a measly 256kbps speed – and then hope to view it whenever you desire…!!

 

And by the way, very soon, you will probably be reading such blogs not on your expensive quad-core, 20GB RAM equipped Windows 7 PC but rather on a Intel Atom or ARM based ‘netbook’ running on Google’s Chrome OS (more on this in my next post…) !!

 

Till then, decide who you want to be – the person who is waiting for Murphy’s law to strike or the person who lives on ‘cloud’ !!

 

Happy browsing…

 

Aneesh

As always, this post is also available on my blog at :

http://itsaneesh.blogspot.com/2009/11/are-you-on-cloud-yet_23.html

 

One Ring to rule them all – OpenID

November 9, 2009 at 1:42 PM | Posted in Identity Management, Web Technology | 1 Comment
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Hello everyone..

A few weeks back, I came across a new term that has been getting rathwer popular since quite some time on the net – ‘OpenID’. Now, a lot of people  might be using it in some form or the other, but perhaps, not all of us understand what and why is it..

So, What is OpenID ? To understand it, first imagine how registering and using different sites work. Most of us are registered on various sites – these may be social networks (like facebook, orkut etc.), shopping sites, forums, and other such sites. Now, there are a few issues with how things work normally :

  1. Firtstly, registering on a site is a multi-step process which needs to be done repetitively – a recent study showed that many visitors avoid registering on a site simply because they are too lazy to fill up all the registration information. However, automatic form-filling (like in google toolbar) could help somewhat by automating the form-filling.
  2. The second problem, which is  what is of more concern, is remembering the password. Either the user keeps the same password on all sites which increases the chances of identity theft (you will be surprised at how many sites store your actual password and not its encrypted/hash value on their servers – ever got a mail from a site after registering, mentioning your password in the mail ? – well, beware of such sites). In the above option, if a a ‘hacker’ could get your password on any one site, he could potentially gain acces to your identity on all the other sites. The other option is that you keep different passwords on different sites   – but then, remembering them is a complete mess ! You either cannot remember them or you need to use some password manager to gain access – again a problem since it involves extra step and because you may not have access to the password manages on a public computer.
  3. A third problem, is that if you use many social networking sites, there is no link between the friends you have on one site to the friends on another site – you cannot simply add frineds on Facebook and then hope that the same would also appear in your friends list in Orkut !

In comes OpenID – “one ring to rule them all”  – it is like your one single identity across the whole web and one central/unified way of signing in towebsites. So, now, if you go to an openID enabled site and press register, all you have to specify is your openID, and then perhaps your openID password, and then the site where you are registering will pull in all your information and your contact information from the openID provider’s site (with your permissipon ofcourse) and you are done – no need to fill up forms, remember passwords of search for your friends !! Simple and effective. Also, because now your password is only visible to the openID provider’s site, and no other site sees/knows it, you only need to protect and remember a single passwors thus making identity-theft less likely.Also, if all your frineds on one site are using openID, its simple for any of the other site to pull your frinds’ ids from one site and add them to your friends listr in other !

Now that the concept of openID is clear, lets see what is openID – it is actually a form of URL (e.g. openid_provider.com/myname) – without going into too much technical detail, whenever you enter your openID URL to any site, that site will contact the openID provider website (openid_provider.com in the example above) and will authenticate you and your information. For more technical details on how it works, refer : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenID#Logging_in

Naturally, the question that comes to mind is, who is openID provider ? Since the past year, the openID has become quite popular. So, many sites have  been providing openID – infact, you already might have one or many of them. For example, blogger (my blog url : https://itsaneesh.wordpress.com/ is actually also an openID), wordpress, livejournal etc. provide you an openID when you register. Google also makes an openID for you when you register (although, its slightly different in that your google openID has a long alphanumeric sequence as your openID) as does  flickr, yahoo and msn etc. (see : http://openid.net/get-an-openid/ for more details). In fact. for users of google – you might have seen “Sign in with a Google Account” button on many third-party sites – all of these are utilizing Google’s openID features)

An alternate way of getting ypur openID are from sites meant solely for this : some good examples are – http://chi.mp/ , https://claimid.com/ , http://www.yiid.com , http://www.myid.net/ , https://www.myopenid.com/ , https://pip.verisignlabs.com/

While understanding openID etc, I visited and created my openID on the above mentioned sites, and personally, I liked yiid the best (mine is at http://aneesh.yiid.com/)- as it gives you a page where you could mention all the sites/communities you are a part of and also, allows you to link multiple openIDs together so you could sign in to yiid with any of those. Another one I really like is chi.mp as it gives you a personal free domain (mine at http://aneesh.mp/) and a page which you can customize, along with a blog, photostream etc.

Lastlys, as openID becomes popular and the de-facto standard for logging into sites, the id will become a persons unique identity on the net – you go to a photosite, and see a photo or a comment on another site by  “http://itsaneesh.blogspot.com/” , you know its the same person who created this blog ! Of couse, this also brings about concerns of privacy – but you have the control on it – its no different than real worls – you have one unique face and you are known by it – you simple hide it when you want to do something you don’t want people to associate with you !!

So, now that you are more aware of what is OpernID, hopefully, you will start noticing its existence and its advantages at more and more sites – share with me on how you feel about it. And if you still don’t have one, well, what are you waiting for ? – go, claim your identity !

Enjoy !

Aneesh..

PS : I still cannot decide which platform is better for blogging – blogspot or wordpress. Till the time I do so, please find the same post also at :

http://itsaneesh.blogspot.com/2009/11/one-ring-to-rule-them-all-openid.html

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