Cloud computing

Dan Warne
31 March, 2008
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I’ve finally decided to rid my e-mail and calendar of this earthly life — I decided after a recent MacBook Pro upgrade that it was time for them to go and live in the cloud. I’m talking, of course, about Google’s “cloud” — thousands of computers sitting somewhere in the middle of a desert, powering the web applications in my browser.

Until a few days ago, there was no way I’d have been prepared to make this switch. Running your primary e-mail client in a browser is a messy business: you lose the muscle memory you have for instinctively selecting your e-mail client, and it’s all too easy to close your e-mail by mistake. I wrote about one solution to that recently in AMW’s print edition — software called Fluid that turns any web page into a discreet application for your Mac.

Since then, I’ve discovered two apps that do the job so much better: MailPlane and BusySync 2.0 beta.

MailPlane is a stupendously fantastic program — it recreates an e-mail client around Gmail.

“Sure”, you might say, “I can already get my Gmail in Apple Mail through POP or IMAP.”

The difference is MailPlane is a true web app, in that all the data resides on Google’s servers and MailPlane provides (as the author says) “the last mile” between the web app and your desktop. MailPlane adds back the features you’ve come to rely on your desktop mail client for, like Growl alerts when you get a new e-mail, the ability to drag a file to its icon and have a new e-mail open up with the file attached. Or the ability to select a batch of photos in iPhoto and click “e-mail”.

MailPlane also recreates many of the nice extras you get as an Apple Mail user, such as the ability to download all photos on an e-mail and then add them to iPhoto. And you get the advantage of not having your e-mail taking up space on your hard drive, but still getting Gmail’s instant search.

Online calendaring gets easier. There’s one key reason most people haven’t warmed to online calendaring like Google Calendar as quickly as they have to web mail: the inability to sync the calendar with their phone. Personally, I live from my Blackberry, and the thought of being unable to sync my calendar with it is, well, unthinkable.

Now, a new app called BusySync can sync Google Calendars with iCal. Unlike other syncing solutions I’ve tried (such as Spanning Sync) which were constantly having glitches, BusySync works flawlessly. It’s one of those apps that you install, configure and forget about — it quietly just syncs your calendar every [x] minutes (as frequently as every minute) and that’s it.

As a result, you can receive a calendar appointment in Gmail, say “yes, I will attend”, have the appointment added to Google Calendar, and you’ll find it almost immediately appears in your iCal, ready for synchronisation with your phone. BusySync can also synchronise calendars between Macs on your home or work network using Bonjour.

Now, I’m just looking for a solution to sync Address Book contacts with Google and other Macs on my network. I’ve tested a couple but wasn’t happy with either of them, so I will keep an eye out and let you know.

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