Head in the Cloud(s)

Written By Dave on Wednesday, October 9, 2013 | 5:34:00 AM

Yeah, so I'm sort of late to the game talking about "cloud computing". Although, I often work with faculty who still don't know about the "cloud", and certainly don't use it. So it's probably worth it to write a bit about it.

Everyone should be "clouding". 

The merits of cloud computing are probably the subject of a blog for some other time; I would rather provide my summary of several cloud services and explain how I leverage each one.

By the way, if you don't live in the cloud yet, you're missing out. In addition to convenience, resiliency, convenience, collaboration, and convenience, the Horizon Report has listed it as an impending technology for K-12 (and those folks really know what they are talking about).

There are three main cloud services to choose from (I've left out iCloud from Apple because, well, it just isn't nearly as robust as the following - although Apple has rolled out beta versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, which makes it slightly more appealing). For the scope of this comparison, I don't address the concept of space. Sure, bean counters will argue with me, but in the end it's all about the same, and you can always pay a nominal fee to get more space. In my opinion, functionality and convenience trumps space any day.

Google Drive

Google Drive
Google Drive is my number one recommendation!

For me, it does not get any better than Google Drive. It integrates with everything. Just yesterday, Mark McBride was showing me a document scanner in the library that will upload any scan directly into your Google Drive. But that is just the icing on the cake. Most of my apps on my phone can interact with Google Drive (fewer apps integrate with Dropbox). But Google Drive also has a wonderful desktop application that allows me to sync files from all the devices I work on into one, centralized location. Changes that I make on a document at work are automatically synced to a document I work on at my home computer. 

Even more impressive is the fact that I can actually work on my documents from a mobile device (Dropbox and SkyDrive - as of this writing - cannot boast that). To me, that's a deal breaker right there. I also haven't used Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint in over a year (because the on-board Google Applications - colloquially still known as Google Docs - are just as good). However, Google Drive will also open (and convert, if you want) Microsoft products.

Sharing on Google Drive is easier and better than any other cloud service, and this is a major selling point for me. It is ridiculously easy to share with other people (Google users and non-Google users alike). I prefer to share most of my documents privately, although I've been known to adopt the "security through obscurity" method of "link only". 

Apps (such as Pixlr, Presentations, VideoNotes, and Forms) make it very simple to have universal access to all my daily production tools (and it's all free!). 

But as an educator, the biggest reason to use Google Drive is that the embed feature is much better than Skydrive. That may not sound impressive, but - trust me - it is. The ability to create content on the fly, and then publish in Google Drive and embed in an LMS is brilliant. That means you can change any content you have posted in your LMS from your cell phone, without even logging in to your LMS!

One added advantage of Google Drive is that it can be used to host (and collaborate with!) a website. It's fairly limited, but great for mock-ups and simple hosting (although, you could get a much more robust site with Google Sites.

As a testament to the potency of Google Drive as a staging area for your LMS, I am finishing a book right now (incidentally, I wrote it exclusively in Google Drive and used tools such as Pixlr to manage the pictures). It will be available in November for free, so check back! 

Microsoft SkyDrive

Microsoft SkyDrive
Microsoft's cloud version of OneNote is totally rad.

In response to Google Drive, Microsoft developed SkyDrive. It is also a venue to store any file you want (so you can retrieve it later), as well as a place to develop new Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents. So it really parallels Google Drive, but without the ability to integrate with a full suite of products or apps. There are two advantages to SkyDrive, though:

  1. You can create (and share!) OneNote documents. Google Drive does not have a comparable product. And OneNote is pretty amazing. As a teacher, it allows you to host all your notes for one class in one spot; students only need to know one URL. As a committee member, it allows you to share all notes and files related to a project. It's pretty dang sick.

  2. If you do not have Microsoft Office on your computer, but need to open a Word file, pull up SkyDrive and open it (you can even edit it!) in SkyDrive. This was particularly helpful when people had Word 2003 and couldn't open 2007 files (.docx). 
Unfortunately, there isn't a more compelling reason to use SkyDrive. There is a desktop application - just like Google Drive. But you can't even edit documents from your mobile device using SkyDrive. I suppose if you are beholden to the Microsoft ecosystem, it might make sense to use it often. But the collaboration is a little tougher to use than Google Drive, the embedding is a lot tougher to use, and the whole package is slower. Use it for OneNote (I will be doing a sweet, two part blog comparing OneNote to Evernote) and times when you specifically need access to Microsoft Office (for instance, from a Chromebook).   


Great for mass file storage.

This is more or less a storage facility for me. I put media (pictures, music, videos) and the occasional backup file here. It is a cloud solution for data that does not have production needs. Sure, there is a desktop application that syncs files, but from a mobile standpoint, it pales in comparison to Google Drive. Collaboration is a little convoluted, and embedding is a whole other ball of wax. Stick to Dropbox for file storage, exclusively. It is noteworthy to mention that you can get increased storage by inviting people to use Dropbox. And that Dropbox does have integration with some mobile apps.

Lifehacker did a neat piece on a way to use Dropbox as a venue to host a website.

That's it. Although each of the above products has their own merits, I think it really comes down to using Google Drive for most things, SkyDrive for OneNote, and Dropbox for mass file storage. 

Okay. Time to stop clouding around.

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