Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tech Column: The Universe and What It Means for You

by Bill Adler

Last week I wrote about the advantages of owning a Chromebook laptop, http://amzn.to/PQYNEq. It's an incredibly useful laptop that operates in the Google universe. It's a do-everything machine for those who use Google's services, such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, and Google Play. The Chromebook gives you instant access to email, your documents and files, music, and the Internet, of course.

The Google universe is sometimes referred to as the Google ecosystem.

Google isn't the only Internet giant with its own universe. There's Amazon and Apple. Microsoft is inching forward with its own ecosystem, too, through Skydrive, which lets you access all your stuff anywhere.

That's the secret sauce of these "universes" or "ecosystems" -- you're never far away from your data, documents, music, photos, or even favorite computer settings.

Each of these universes has different features, different strengths, and, yes, different annoyances. The downsides of using or even relying on an Internet ecosystem are rapidly diminishing.

Access to all your data wherever you are isn't even the main reason to make use of an Internet universe. The main reason to throw your lot in with one ecosystem or another (or a combination of them) is to avoid the days or weeks of seemingly endless work that's involved when you move into a new computer. Think back to when you moved into your current computer: Powering it up for the first time might have been fun. But restoring all your data and program settings, not so much, right?

One of my Windows computers was recently suffering from a case of BSOD. If you're not familiar with that abbreviation, it's stands for "blue screen of death." Yeah, that. My computer's problems were not hardware related, but what software was bugging my machine eluded me. So I decided to reset it to the original factory configuration. As little as a year ago, I would have been extremely unhappy about this; today I was only moderately unhappy. Why? Because this particular machine was my Google universe machine. Although I did have to reinstall a variety of random programs, once I had Google Chrome back and I was logged in, my computer was just about the way I last had it and wanted it.

The next time a computer unexpectedly dies or needs to be replaced, it will be even easier, because these universes are becoming even more user-friendly.

I'm a Windows person, except for the iPad and iPhone part. I envy people in the Apple universe because when they move into a new computer, Apple makes it super easy with their Migration Assistant,  and Time Machine. iPads are even easier when it comes to moving into a new one, but few people use their iPad as their primary computer. The Apple universe is a very sunny place.

What about Amazon and Microsoft's universes? Amazon's universe is great if you own a Kindle Fire, watch a lot of Amazon movies, buy music from Amazon, or back up with Amazon Cloud Drive, http://amzn.to/OkbjjY. Microsoft's Skydrive, http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/skydrive/compare, is for people who use Word and other Microsoft products. When Outlook 2013 comes out, http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/en/whats-new, expect your Microsoft Office settings and documents to be available to you everywhere.

You don't need to choose one universe over another, nor can you really (yet).  I'm in the Google universe for my work: email, wordprocessing, file storage. I use Amazon's ecosystem for books and some music and movies -- they're all available on any PC or iDevice. I also use iTunes for music, some movies and for syncing with my iPad and iPhone. Yes, there is overlap between these universes.

It may not be possible to ever live entirely in one Internet universe or another. But casting your lot in with one can make your tech life easier.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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