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Cloud storage

Cloud storage has changed the way we use computers and data.

Thanks to the cloud you can breathe easier. Your files are safe, even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet.

You can have near-instant access to any of your files from almost everywhere.

There’s a chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or Microsoft Office 365. You also get free cloud storage if you use Gmail or Google Docs.

Free storage is good, yet it’s worth paying extra. That way you can get the cloud storage plan that best suits your needs. When you pay, you get more storage. You may also get more features and tools or extra security. In some cases paying means you can not only store more data, but also store larger files. You may also be able to share them with friends or colleagues.

Most, but not all, cloud storage services double as syncing services.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive is the default cloud services for Microsoft Windows 10. It integrates well with the operating system. It also works well with Office.

If you’re a Microsoft 365 customer you get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your account. If not, Microsoft’s 50GB Basic plan costs US$24 a year.

Microsoft offers a comprehensive set of cloud tools and apps. This includes web versions of Office apps like Word and Excel. In practice OneDrive seems to be slower at syncing than the other options listed here. While there are apps for iOS and MacOS, the integration isn’t always smooth.

Apple iCloud

Apple customers often use iCloud in a different way to how Microsoft owners use OneDrive. iCloud is more about syncing between devices than simple storage. Although it does that too.

If you own Apple hardware and use Microsoft software you may end up using both services.

There is a 5GB free tier. The 20GB for US$12-a-year plan gives you 50GB. The price of the 200GB plan is US$36 a year while a terabyte of cloud storage costs US$120.

iCloud is a must for Apple users. You only get one 5GB allocation even if you have many devices. If you have a Mac, iPhone and iPad you may find it isn’t enough. Windows users can sign for any iCloud plan.

iCloud can be confusing at times. Apple designed it to work with Apple apps. That is still where it shines the most. Even so, it is easy to install on Windows computers and there is a great web interface.

Google Drive

There’s more to Google Drive than cloud storage and sync. You could say the same about OneDrive and iCloud. Those services complement Microsoft software and Apple hardware offerings.

Drive goes further. It is a key part of Google’s collaborative online office suite. The emphasis is less on backing up your phone or PC docs than replacing them in the cloud.

Google Drive’s 15GB is generous compared to the other cloud storage services. Yet it is not as generous as it first looks. The allowance includes mail messages and images stored with Google Photos.

Some find Google Drive harder to navigate than OneDrive. Of the three big services, it is the least geared towards conventional back up. In practice backup works well enough.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the independent alternative personal cloud service. You get less storage for free, but it’s independence means flexibility. It is also a great way to share files with others.

 

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freeStoragePrice
Apple iCloud5GB50GB$12
200GB$36
1TB$120
Microsoft OneDrive5GB50GB$24
Office 365 Home 1TB is included$80
Google Drive15GB 100GB$20
Storage shared between 1TB$100
Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos10TB$1200
20TB$2400
30TB$3600
Dropbox2GB1TB$120
Box10GB100GB$138
Unlimited$204
Mega50GB200GB$65
500GB$130
2TB$260
4TB$390
All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up

Apple MacBook 2015

Apple’s newest laptop upstaged the Watch during this week’s announcement.

The MacBook is thinner and lighter than the already skinny MacBook Air. It has a 12-inch display with the same high-resolution Retina display found on flagship MacBook Pros.

There’s just one port and that mainly works as a fast battery charger. There’s a new keyboard design and you can choose from three iPhone-like colours.

Best of all you can buy the MacBook in New Zealand for $2000.

Exciting MacBook

The new MacBook is hands down the most exciting new computer in recent years.

There are possible flaws. Reviewers who got early looks report the keyboard takes a little getting used to. There are question marks over the Touch Force feature on the redesigned Touchpad.

And some geeks complain the computer isn’t powerful enough. As Owen Williams notes, that’s missing the point.

Geeks have never loved Apple. They wouldn’t love the MacBook. The rest of us will.

Journalists need a device we can carry all day more than we need to number-crunch the data coming out of the Large Hadron Collider. There are lots more people who prize, compact, light and long times between battery recharges over raw power. That’s why I chose the MacBook Air.

As for ports, who needs ’em?

Living on a cloud

Not me. Not even for back-ups. Most of my back-ups live in the cloud.

By chance, there’s an external drive plugged into my Apple laptop’s USB port as I write this. It’s busy making a secondary Time Machine back-up.

Plugging drives in ports is handy, but not necessary, The main back-up sits on a network drive connected to a wireless router. I’ve also got a Seagate Wireless Plus drive which would be just fine with a one port computer.

The only other time I use the USB ports on my MacBook is when my iPhone battery is running low and I’m too lazy to hunt for the wall charger. That’ll have to stop.

What Watch?

What about that Apple Watch?

The first crop of so-called smart watches do nothing for me. They don’t have features I need. I’m happy to go on living without another device that needs charging every night.

Apple’s Watch is more interesting than what has gone before, but we are a generation or more from a computer watch being as compelling a buy as a smart phone or a tablet. And I’m the kind of person who sported a digital watch with a built-in calculator at the end of the 1970s.

So I’ll let the geeks and hardcore gadget fans get excited about the watches. Meanwhile I’m working on a business case to replace my MacBook Air with a new MacBook.

Apple Keynote presentation app

Microsoft’s PowerPoint is better known, but many would argue Apple Keynote is the better presentation app.

Keynote (US$20 or free if you buy a new Mac) beats PowerPoint with features and ease-of-use. Those two departments are easy to measure. Less easy to measure is how it tackles creating presentations from a more graphical point of view.

And that makes for better presentations. PowerPoint almost forces users to build dull-looking, pedestrian slide shows. It all but text heavy and leaden slides.

Refreshing Keynote

After hours sitting in front of indifferent PowerPoint slides, I find Keynote presentations refreshing. So I was keen to try Keynote when I had to build a presentation last week.

It was my first time using Keynote to create a real presentation as opposed to just testing the software to write a review. Keynote is strikingly straightforward.

In the end I managed to build a simple, but good-looking 14-slide presentation in 30 minutes.

Ease-of-use

No-one gets ease-of-use quite like Apple. Yet even by that company’s standards, Keynote stands out.

There are dozens of pre-made templates you can use to get started.  Keynote ‘themes’ are, in effect, designs for an entire presentation.

There are 30 themes included with the software. Then within each theme there are 12 types of slide. Some do specific jobs: a front page, pages with big images, pages with lots of text, pages with bullet points and so on. Some of quite bare for you to use as you wish.

Presets

Each theme comes with preset fonts and colours. You can change them as much as you wish and edit either individual slides or alter the master slide from the layout panel on the right of the screen.

You don’t need to worry about placing images on slides. I just dragged and dropped the pictures I wanted directly into place. Resizing, cropping and reshaping take seconds.

Somewhere in the background Keynote uses gridlines to make sure things line up in the right places. I’ve used other presentation tools and spend ages nudging things around slides to get them looking right. It does this so well you barely notice it is happening.

Keynote on Mac and iPad

There’s full compatibility between the OS X and iOS versions of Keynote. That’s a powerful feature. I whipped up my presentation in 30 minutes using my MacBook Air and stored the file to iCloud.

The next day I took my iPad into town to present — in the event I had to send the file to another Mac for the actual presentation. What was noticeable is that I could make last-minute tweaks using my iPad or iPhone.

I tend to work alone, but if I was part of a team, iCloud makes it easy to collaborate with others.

Verdict

Long-time Keynote users were not happy when Apple refreshed the OS X software bringing it more in line with the mobile iOS version. I can’t comment on that because although I tested the earlier version, I’ve only ever used the latest Keynote 6.0 version for a real job.

Keynote has a clean user interface. It’s powerful yet simple to use. The software integrates beautifully with the rest of Apple’s technology including Pages and Numbers. You can create fantastic looking charts from numeric data in next to no time.

It’s hard to argue with the price. For many people the presentation software is free, for the rest it costs just US$20. If you use a Mac or an iPad it is the best way to go when creating presentations. It may also be a reason for Windows users to take another look at buying a Mac.

wellington cloud

Free, or almost free, unlimited consumer cloud storage moved a step closer overnight. Microsoft increased the free storage on its OneDrive cloud service to 15 GB. This is more than double the previous seven GB and is free to all comers.

Microsoft also boosted OneDrive storage for customers of the company’s Office 365 software to a whole terabyte from 20 GB.  For most users, that’s effectively unlimited cloud storage. The terabyte applies to all Office 365 subscribers including Office 365 Personal which costs $NZ110 a year.

Until yesterday Microsoft sold 200 GB of OneDrive storage for US$100 a year — so in effect, it has boosted the storage and thrown in the Office software.

Consumer cloud storage: the battleground

Microsoft, along with Apple, Google and a host of smaller, more focused cloud service providers are in a cost-cutting spiral. Earlier this month Apple slashed the prices of its iCloud service. Overall personal cloud storage costs have dropped and free allocations have soared in the past decade.

It all started in 2004. At the time Microsoft allowed Hotmail users 2M of free storage, then Google came along offering Gmail users a gigabyte.

Microsoft, Apple and Google realise people tend to use the applications associated with each company’s cloud service. OneDrive users are most likely to create documents using Office, Apple with iWorks and Google with Google Apps.

Cloud sells software, hardware, advertising

This means whoever stores the documents, gets first option to supply the editing tools.

Given that Microsoft still earns rivers of gold from selling Office, having the most generous storage offer makes economic sense: it sells software. In Apple’s case free cloud can sell hardware while Google gives away free storage to, eventually, sell advertising.

For each of these three companies adding terabytes of storages costs little. And let’s face it most consumers will only use a fraction of their allocation so it’s not a matter of one terabyte per customer.

The next step in this game is that it will become difficult, perhaps impossible, to charge consumers for cloud storage. This has implications for focused storage companies like Dropbox and Mega who don’t sell software, hardware or services on the back of storage.

ipad microsoft office

Microsoft is woefully late to market, but don’t underestimate incoming Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s move to launch iPad versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The software is powerful and polished. Microsoft clearly had time to iron out the kinks before launching.

It looks as if Microsoft has been ready for some time. I can’t help think the apps were only held up by internal politics or wrong-headed strategists.

Apps have never been more strategically important

Despite Microsoft’s official message about moving from being a software giant to a ‘software and devices’ business, Office is still the company’s biggest moneymaker. It pays the bills. Giving that away to rivals, Google, Apple or anyone else who tried to fill the gaping void for Office software on the iPad, was just dumb.

Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as Office for the iPad, just Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote for the iPad. Each appears separately in the app store.

They are free downloads. You can do basic things with them in their raw state, but to unlock their full power, you need an Office 365 subscription.

More clever iPad Office strategy

And that’s another strategic win for Microsoft: a standard 365 subscription means you can use all the Office apps across Windows and Macintosh PCs, Windows or Apple tablets and on Windows or iOS phones.

The glue holding all this together is OneDrive — formerly known as SkyDrive — Microsoft’s cloud service.

With OneDrive you can compose a document on a desktop, edit it on a tablet and deliver it from a phone. Better still, you can share documents with others.

While similar functionality has been possible with Google Drive and iCloud for some time, Office remains the gold standard for business productivity software. If you want to play nicely with other companies, Office remains a must-have.

Joining all the dots should help Microsoft keep it in that top spot and keep the lucrative Office revenues rolling in. Office for the iPad is a triumph in its own right, a great start for the new CEO and an indication that Microsoft is back on track.