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May 13, 2010

Uptime Uncertain

A tad off-topic, but the release this week of Office 2010 and its new, free web counterpart got me thinking about whether web productivity apps will soon replace standalone apps. Is the answer tied to the similarities and differences between connectivity and power?

Google and the online Office tools depend on connectivity and functionality. You need both the Internet and the software as a service (SaaS) provider to be operational for web productivity apps to work, especially where your work-in-process is stored in the Cloud. Lose either the 'Net or the provider, and you're more-or-less twiddling your thumbs.

My calendar and all messaging services are virtualized with Google. I'm a heavy user of Google Docs for simple documents that I want readily available from anywhere (e.g., time sheets). Two nights ago, Gmail shut me out of my data because it detected usage it considered a potential threat. It was the number of devices and browser iterations I had connected to my account at one time. I'd tripped a breaker in Mountain View, and Sergey needed time to go out to the box and flip it back on. The bouncer message told me Google might keep me out for up to 24 hours; but luckily, it lifted the velvet rope in just a few. I'll never know why (or when it will happen again) because Google never reports what was bugging it or what prompts it to let me back into my stuff.

Other times, Google's in a good mood but the Internet is cranky. I might be beyond a hot spot or the wired service simply stops or slows to a crawl for no apparent reason. When that happens, I use standalone apps to keep working, but quickly bump into the loss of connectivity. Standalone work isn't worth much if you can't get it out.

Losing Internet service is like losing electrical service with one crucial difference: I can generate electricity, store it or substitute other forms of power, but what can replace the 'Net? Even my phones are VOIP!

I'm not suggesting that I should or could be less dependent on these tools. There's no going back. My point is, we plan for fires, natural disasters, bad weather, blackouts, epidemics and terrorist threats from full-sized toothpaste tubes. What are our flashlights and candles for the day the Net or SaaS aren't there?


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If by "in the cloud" you mean ONLY in the cloud, then yes, even 99% up-time will occasionally lead to frustration. But the importance of redundancy and backup should be beaten into the heads of computer users by now.

You can use Outlook or Google Gears to copy critical mail, calendar, docs locally so you have access if the net goes down. I spend plenty of time in Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Gmail when I'm flying internationally. Obviously, I'm not getting new mail, but that's no different than any mail server.

A much more likely reason you will loose access to your data is that your computer dies. If that happens, I just jump another another connected computer and I have access to my data without having to pull it from a backup or archive.

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Easton.

I use Gears, of course, and it helps, particularly when I'm sailing and connectivity via satellite is slow and expensive.

For readers who don't know "Gears," it's a free offline synchronization tool for Google Apps. It is to Google Apps what the OST file is to an Outlook/Exchange system when the network connection is down or disconnected.

Nothing like defining one obscure concept with an even more obscure one!

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