When your files are online and you aren't

TECH LAB When your files are online and you aren't

By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff | February 19, 2009 The Boston Globe

Funny thing about cloud computing - it's useless at 35,000 feet.

In cloud computing, you rely on applications running on the Internet instead of on your personal machine. So rather than write a file in Microsoft Corp.'s Word or Excel, you might use Google Docs. This online suite from Google Inc. features word processor and spreadsheet programs and stores your documents in the Internet cloud.

But online documents aren't much use when you're disconnected from the Internet - like when you're flying. Airline companies are beginning to deploy on-board Wi-Fi service, but it'll be a couple of years before it is generally available. And even on the ground, you can't always find an Internet connection.

With earthbound copies of critical files, you can work on them as needed and upload any changes to the Net, first chance you get. And if you work on multiple computers, you can share updated files with all your other machines.

If you're a Google Docs user, get a copy of Gears. This free program, available at gears.google.com, lets you download your Google-generated documents onto your computer. Work with them even when you're offline, and when you log in again, Gears uploads your modified documents to the Google Docs Internet server, so your up-to-date document is available on any Internet-connected machine.

Gears isn't just for Google Docs fans; it works with other cloud computing services, including Zoho, a rival online document editing service, and Google's Gmail messaging service. You can plow through your e-mail on the plane, write up replies, then transmit them once you're back online.

But Gears has its limitations. For instance, you can edit your existing Google Docs when offline, but you can't create new ones. Besides, Gears gives you no easy way to share multimedia files, like video, audio, and digital photographs.


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***** Moderator's Note *****

When I find a document stranded "in the cloud", while I'm incommunicado, I resort to coding in HTML on Notepad. It works fine, and is always portable.

Bill Horne Temporary Moderator

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