Since I bought my Sony Tablet S I’ve been trying to consolidate all the different bits of software I use so that as much as possible is available on both my main Windows 7 laptop and on the Android tablet. “Android“, by the way, is the operating system on the Tablet. In other words, it does the job that Windows does on most computers. It was specially designed for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs where the screen is typically much smaller than that on a PC and where there is likely to be no physical keyboard.

So, if you want to move smoothly between a laptop and a mobile device with the same data and functionality available on each device then you have to consider:

  • Whether there is an identical or similar program available on both devices.
  • Whether these programs access the same data files so that you don’t have to worry about trying to reconcile different versions of your data.

As I said in my earlier blog on Tablet PCs, I am new to Android and I’m pleased and surprised at how good it is with these considerations. I haven’t got it all sorted out yet and some requirements are easier to satisfy than others, but so far I am encouraged and I think it is very possible for users with the typical needs and skills of my own computer support clients to get value from a smart mobile device. Some people may need some help to get started, but once things are set up they seem stable and user-friendly (Android devices, that is, not my computer clients – whose stability and user-friendliness is beyond doubt).

So, as part of that quest to get my main work needs met on a Tablet PC I went looking for a modern “Task Manager” (or “To-Do-List Manager”) that I could access from a Windows PC or Android Tablet.

ToodleDo logoI came across ToodleDo and certainly think it’s worth looking at. It works as follows:

  • It is web-based. You access it through a web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox).
  • Your data (tasks, reminders etc) are held by ToodleDo on their servers.
  • Consequently, your data is available from any computer that can access the internet. It could be a Windows PC, a Mac, a Tablet PC, a smartphone.

This “model” or “arrangement” of working through a web browser is becoming more and more popular. You’ve probably heard the term “Cloud Computing” and this is it. You don’t install a program onto your own computer, you don’t have to back up your data (if you trust whoever is hosting your data to do it properly), and you don’t have to copy or reconcile different data files between different devices. It’s not really new, of course: web-based email programs such as Hotmail have worked this way for years. But it’s now becoming more and more popular for other types of programs and one of the reasons for the growing popularity is this need to have the same data available on lots of different devices.

There can be disadvantages to this approach:

  • You may need to have a working internet connection to be able to access your data (but some programs allow downloading of your data onto your own computer so as to make it available “offline” – ie available even when there is no internet connection).
  • You may be concerned about the privacy and security of your data as it’s online (“in the cloud”) and outside your own control.
  • Web-based programs are often slower, have fewer features, and are generally less pleasant to use than the equivalent “local” program would be.

A ToodleDo Screen

A ToodleDo Screen - click on image to enlarge it.

Despite the disadvantages, you don’t have to have lots of different devices to make it worth using cloud-based programs such as ToodleDo. There’s no reason at all why you can’t use it on your one and only PC. Some of the things I like about it so far are:

  • It’s free (there’s a “Pro” version available that has an annual subscription fee).
  • There are lots of ways of classifying, sorting, and prioritising tasks.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • You can receive a daily email listing the most important tasks for the day.
  • You can create tasks/reminders just by sending an email to a special email address linked to your account. This is useful for creating tasks as soon as you think of them, but it also means you can forward an incoming email to this special address so that it’s on your “to do” list.
  • There’s a data backup/restore feature (but not, as far as I know, a method for working “offline”).

So, whether or not you use more than one computer, if you are looking for a Task Manager I recommend looking at ToodleDo. And if you are thinking you may want to be using a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet in the future then I would definitely recommend bearing that fact in mind when choosing any new program or way of working.

Cloud Computing has become a buzz-word recently, but what is it? Cloud computing is internet-based computing. It is the provision of computing services over the internet that would previously have been provided locally on one’s own computer.

Example of traditional computing

Most people have a word processing package. This is a program that is installed on their own computer. If you have such a program then you can start it running, create a document, save it or print, close the program and all of this is done without any internet connection. You may have originally acquired the program by downloading it from the internet, but it is now installed on your own computer and you can use it without an internet connection. Quite possibly, you do this with Microsoft Word.

Example of Cloud computing

Suppose you don’t have a word processing program on your computer but you have an internet connection and you have Internet Explorer or Firefox or another web browser (a web browser is a program that allows you to see – and interact with – web sites). You can create, save, and print your document using a service such as Google Docs. The word processor is provided by Google via your web browser. All the programming for the word processor is at “their end”, but you can still create your document etc. This is Cloud Computing.

A slightly different way of looking at this is that instead of buying a product (a word processing package that you install on your own computer and then use whenever you want at no further cost) you are instead buying a service (the provision of word processing facilities). Cloud computing services are often provided on a basis of paying for what you use – in terms of time, or amount of data stored for instance. There are also free cloud computing services (see below).

Why is it called “Cloud Computing”?Cloud computing

In computer flowcharts and diagrams, it has become the convention to picture any part of the process that happens via the internet as happening in a cloud – see diagram

Pros of Cloud Computing

  • For organisations (with several or many users) cloud computing can be more flexible and quicker (and, therefore, cheaper) to deploy. The larger the organisation, the more this is likely to apply.
  • Cashflow for the user is improved as services are paid for as they are used, rather than up-front. Cashflow is also helped as expenditure is moved from capital to revenue expenditure (completely claimable against tax in the current period rather than written off over a number of years).
  • Updates, bug fixes and so on are very easy and inexpensive for the supplier to provide as there are no downloads or CDs/DVDs to supply, and the timing is under their control.
  • The user can access the program/service from any suitable computer with internet access.
  • Users don’t have to download and install updates, bug fixes etc.
  • Cloud computing tends to mean that users can use smaller, less-powerful (and, therefore, less expensive) computers to access the programs.

Cons of Cloud Computing

  • There is a perceived loss of control as data may be stored in the cloud and program functionality may change without the user wanting it or needing it to change.
  • It can be slower to access and use as the “conversation” between user and program has to happen over the internet rather than just on the the local computer.
  • Cloud programs tend to be less sophisticated in their power, options and configurability.
  • There are huge problems if internet access goes down or if the service provider’s system goes down.
  • There are security implications as data is constantly passed across the internet and may be stored remotely.

Some examples of cloud computing resources that are free of charge can be found here:

http://www.docs.google.com/ – word processing, spreadsheet, and drawing
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/web-apps/ – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote
http://mail.google.com/mail/ – Gmail webmail

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Computer Support in London
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