Sunday, 12 June 2011

Cloud Computing. Is it really the future?


Most of you have probably heard the term 'in the cloud' or 'cloud computing', but what does it all actually mean and how will effect you as an end user? Let's investigate. The term 'cloud' comes from IT diagrams where the Internet is always depicted as a cloud, 'cloud' basically means to store something on the internet.

The biggest name in cloud computing is google. They have some big ideas for the near future to implement their vision to get everyone 'in the cloud'. Google have already adapted their Chrome internet browser to become a cloud Operating System (for those of you that don't know, an Operating System is the piece of software that runs your computer such as Windows XP or Windows 7). But merely creating a Google Operating System (OS) isn't enough, from mid July 2011 Google will begin to sell their new Chromebook laptops. These are basically netbooks that are running the Chrome OS.


Googles Chrome OS

So what actually do they mean by 'the cloud'? Well, as I touched upon before, it basically means to store all of your data on the internet. So, google would expect you to keep all of your emails in Gmail instead of outlook. Your documents and spreadsheets in google docs instead of Word or Excel, your pictures in Picasa and your music in the new google music service (at the time of writing this article, the Google Music service was only available in the Unites States).

The idea behind it is that you don't store anything on your actual computer, but all of your files and settings are stored on the internet, with google (or any other cloud based service). So, if User A and User B both have Chromebooks, let's say User A's Chromebook breaks and has to send it away for repair then User A can borrow User B's Chromebook, sign in with his username and password and instantly all of his emails, files, music & pictures are available for him, setup on the exact same way as they where on his own Chromebook. This is the whole idea about cloud based computing, you are not tied to one computer. You can log on to any machine, anywhere in the world and have access to everything in the exact same way as if you where sitting on your computer at home.

So all of this sounds great, right? In theory, yes, it's a brilliant system and would mean you can have all of your data, everywhere, on your phone, your tablet, anywhere. BUT, what if your Internet goes down? BT are having a problem and all of the Internet is off in your street, BT have said it's not going to be fixed for another week. Before, this wouldn't have been a problem, sure you can't send emails but you can still work on that spreadsheet for work, or that Powerpoint presentation for your meeting in a couple of day. But now, all of your files are on the Internet, so, without an Internet connection your shiny new Chromebook is rendered as useless as a paperweight, well for the next week at least.

This, for me at least is a deal breaker. I like to have total control of all my files and data. Do you actually read all of the small print when you agree to terms and conditions? I don't – so do we actually know what Google can or maybe even will be doing with all of our data? Don't get me wrong, I love the internet and all of the technologies it uses. For example, I use a service called Dropbox that both backs up all of my important data to the internet and also syncs my files across my multiple computers. This is a great service, but ultimately I still have my files stored on my computer. If I where to go to 'the cloud' then this wouldn't be possible.

Cloud computing is a great theory, but for me, it won't be the future for as long as I have a say in the matter. But, once again, this is just my humble opinion.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Tablet or Netbook?

Hi Guys, welcome back. As all of you know, tablets are all over the news at the moment within the IT world, whether it be an iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Asus Eee Pad or anything in between - you have to admit, they are popular at the moment. Basically most of them are just mobile phones on steroids, they give a larger, higher resolution screen which makes things like composing emails and surfing the web much easier. Plus they are portable, very portable. But there is another contender for the portability crown that the Tablet currently holds...the netbook.

For those of you that don't know, a netbook is basically a small laptop, they usually have a 10.1" screen instead of the standard 15.4" screen on a laptop. They run a normal computer operating system like Windows 7 which means they can do everything your laptop or PC can do, but are they better than a Tablet, let's discuss...

The Tablet
As an IT professional and general geek I have both a tablet and a netbook, so I think I am in a good position to comment on the pro's and con's of both of these devices. I personally have a Samsung Galaxy Tab (shown on the right above), it has a 7" HD touch screen, 256MB RAM, a 1GHz processor and it runs Googles Andoid Operating System. All in all this is a great device that I use a lot, it's great for composing emails on the run or even just googling something that I think is interesting with having to boot one of my computers up.The battery on my Tablet will last around 3-4 days or around 7-8 hours on heavy use (like watching movies), so this is a definite pro over the netbook. Internet pretty much anywhere, most tablets have 3G or HSDPA connectivity (the same Internet connection as your phone) which means you can surf the net anywhere as long as you have a mobile signal. You can use your tablet as a phone! This is only applicable to some tablets though. It's fast and looks pretty cool, I think that is where the advantages over a netbook end.

Now on to the con's...They're expensive, my tablet costs around £400. Tablets don't really work well at multi-tasking, as I said earlier, they are basically a big mobile phone so if you want to compose a spreadsheet, check your emails and surf the net, all at the same time then I would go for the netbook. Whilst a tablet will do all of the above, it isn't an easy process swapping between applications often and it will slow you down. Typing, you can buy blue-tooth keyboards or docking stations for most popular tablets but as standard you have to use the touch screen. This is ok when composing shorter emails, maybe a paragraph or two but if I had to create this blog post for example then I would be pretty frustrated by now using my touch screen (incidentally, I am using my netbook to create this post).

The Netbook
As previously mentioned, the netbook is basically a mini laptop. Personally, my netbook is running a Linux variant called Elementary OS (but that's just because I am weird). Most popular netbooks (like the one shown above) come with Windows 7 or Windows 7 Starter (a stripped down version of Windows 7 for lower spec computers). Because the netbook runs Windows (or Linux in my case) you can have all of the applications you are used to in the office or at home, like Internet Explorer, Firefox, MSN, Word, Excel, Outlook etc, this means that you can pretty much do anything you need to do on the machine. The battery life on most netbook is designed to last longer (on average around 5-7 hours) so that you can use the netbook whilst on the run for the whole day. Some netbooks even come with 3G connectivity, so, like the Tablet you can have the Internet anywhere.

Netbooks tend to be a lot cheaper than tablets (around £200-300), but whilst being more portable than a laptop, the tablets wins on portability hands down. I can pull my tablet out of my bag at anytime and be on-line straight away. On the netbook, I need to get it out, boot it up and have a Wi-Fi network to connect to (mine doesn't have 3G) - this isn't really feasible when I truely am on the move.

Both netbooks and Tablets have distinct advantages and disadvantages over each other, they both have their place in the world, but which would I rather have? For me it's the Netbook, it's not quite as portable but the trade off is that I can do a whole lot more than on the tablet. I tend to use my netbook for work and serious computing and my tablet tends to be a bit of fun, I don't really see it as a viable business tool - although some may disagree, this is my humble opinion.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

First Look: PinguyOS 11.04 Mini

Hey guys, welcome back! Today I'm going to show you the brand new mini version of the ever popular PinguyOS series. For those of you that don't know, PinguyOS is basically Mint on steroids. Most people describe Mint as a more user friendly, better looking version of Ubuntu. PinguyOS takes this one step further. It looks great and have brilliant apps for everything you would every want or need to do in Windows and more! Critics of PinguyOS have said in the past that it has too much, so Pinguy has answered these called by creating this 'Mini' version. As most of you know, PinguyOS is my distro of choice, I love it, it looks good, works well (I spend around 50-60 hours per week at a PinguyOS computer - I work in IT) and needs very little configuration right out of the box.I will try to keep this first look as fair as possible but I can't guarantee anything :)

Mini vs Normal
So what actually is the difference between the normal version and Mini version of the OS? Well, looks wise - nothing. It has, MintMenu, docky, conky, themes, icons and wallpaper all present and correct. The main things that are different are the amount of apps included, some have been changed for lighter ones (Rhythmbox for Gnome MPlayer is a good example). LibreOffice also isn't included. Which I personally think is a mistake, but Pinguy wanted to keep the space down to under 700MB yet still wanted to keep the looks, plus, LibreOffice is installed simply from the software centre - so not all that bad.

I am running PinguyOS Mini as a virtual machine inside my laptop, I have given it 1GB RAM, a single core CPU, 8GB HDD and enabled 3D effects. All in all the distro runs really well on this Virtual Machine. Idling, the machine is using around 290MB RAM and 5% of the CPU. Program response is good, taking only a couple of seconds for Firfefox to load. With Firefox open, RAM usage has increased up to somewhere in the region of 400MB - still pretty good for such a modern looking and well working distro. Look at it this way, if you had PinguyOS Mini running on a low spec machine with 512MB RAM, you could surf the net and still have over 100MB of RAM spare! You don't get that in Windows :)

All in all PinguyOS Mini is a great little distro that will work like a charm if you are running on a lower powered machine. I am personally thinking about putting this version on to my main machine as it doesn't have the best system resources in the world. More information can be found using the links below:

Download PinuyOS 11.04 Mini 32 bit
Download PinuyOS 11.04 Mini 64 bit
PinguyOS Web Site
PinguyOS Forums