I make it a point to back up as much data as I can into the Cloud. I didn’t always do this, but there were two compelling events that forced me to change.
My path to the Cloud
The first compelling event was actually two events. Specifically, twice in my life I had my computer completely die on me.
The first time it happened, I was in the middle of finals. Suddenly, my laptop started making strange whizzing noises, like a tiny jet prepping for take off. I figured out that something was amiss and made a desperate attempt to back up my data. Unfortunately, it went dark before I finished and a lot of good data was lost. It was at that point that I realized the value of backups.
Soon after, I bought a computer with a RAID drive. “With two copies of all my files I could never lose data again” I thought. “This automated backup is going to be great!”. And it was great until something happened to my computer and I could no longer boot into it. At least this time I was able to recover the data, albeit after a lot of pain. It was at that point that I realized the value of offsite backups.
The second compelling event for moving my data to the Cloud was getting an iPod Touch for my birthday. After using it for a bit, it became apparent that I needed an easy way to access my data (like financials) on multiple devices, which may not have access to my home network.
So, what’s in your Cloud?
I use a set of Cloud-based services to back up and synchronize different types of data across multiple machines. All of these services are free, or at least have a limited free version.
Personal finance: Mint
I’ve been using Mint for almost two years and overall it’s a pretty decent tool. Mint is a free service that automatically collects and categorizes all your financial transactions, shows you spending trends, budgets, investments, etc. It also has iPhone and Android apps, so you can track your finances anywhere.
Mint’s biggest deficiency is probably its lack of support for recurring bills. You can’t just set up a recurring bill so that you can forecast your account balances (The now defunct Quicken Online had this feature and it was very useful). It’s also a bit buggy and support is virtually non-existent (I’ve had an open ticket with them for close to 6 months now with no resolution or even follow up).
Documents: Google Docs, Dropbox
I use Google Docs more than Dropbox, but both are awesome. Each has a free version (with limited space), clients for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android, and support for pretty much an type of file. Google Docs also has its own spreadsheet, presentation, and document applications and all do pretty much what you’d expect from office apps. Except they all run in a browser.
Evernote is a free service that lets you create and sync notes across as many devices as you want. I use their apps on a Mac, a PC, an iPad, and in Chrome (via an extension). Furthermore, there are iOS and Android apps which sync to Evernote.
Aside from core note functionality (which works great), there are also many cool features. You can email notes to your account using a special email address, search though text contained in images and PDFs, tag notes (including geo-tagging), take audio notes, etc.
Toodledo is a free service that lets you create and manage tasks. There are multiple apps for iOS devices that sync with it and there is a way to keep it updated with Outlook. And although Toodledo itself has both a web site and an iOS app, some 3rd party apps that work with it (like Todo for iPad) are better.
News: Google Reader, Instapaper
I use Google Reader as my primary RSS reader and it’s very good. Aside from being a good RSS reader, it’s also supported on a number of great iOS apps (like Flipboard, Pulse, and the Feed).
Instapaper is an amazing free service which lets you save web articles for later reading. What’s more, it strips out all the cruft from the article (like ads) and presents you with just text and relevant images. Finally, Instapaper’s iPad app looks and works like a dream (well worth the $4.99).
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