Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sky's the Limit

I stopped using Outllook at home some years ago.  It was a combination of reasons, partly because we were moving to separate email accounts and Outlook seemed a little picky over multiple accounts, especially if you wanted to log in individually, but mainly it was the transfer to personal laptops.

You see, we ended up after a very short period of time with a shared desktop computer and individual laptops.  If either of us opened Outlook on any of these three machines our emails would slip onto that machine, making it the go-to for that particular email.

So, as we obtained new email accounts with more personal email addresses, we transitioned to webmail.  It was timely as our phones started to become email compatible and, as time moved on further, we started using tablets, so webmail became the de facto standard in our house.

This isn't a blog about email, by the way, it's a preamble to explain how I ceased to use certain parts of Microsoft's tools day-to-day at home - my work solutions have always been Microsoft Exchange including Outlook, no matter where I've worked.

But I do use Office a lot in other ways - all of my books have been written in Word and I've got probably the most comprehensive Excel solution to managing my personal home accounts possible, built up organically over many years, all worksheets linked together, interactive and using a central lookup table for managing repeating costs that may change mid-year.  I've used a thumb drive to store those accounts on for years, periodically backing up to my hard drive, although the backups have always been a bit random.  You look up and three months has shot by.  To make it more imperative, I've felt that either the thumb drive or my USB port has started to become a tad flaky lately.

Then, at the Microsoft stand at the recent Gadget Show Live event at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham I learned about SkyDrive, a piece of Cloud computing that had passed me by.  I assumed it was just me who hadn't spotted it, but since canvassing a lot of people at work, it appears to be a reasonably well kept, if open, secret.

It's Cloud space, 7 gigabyte free to anyone who signs up.  So much, so what?  We can have 5 Gb of Apple's iCloud, and similar amounts of Google and Amazon space up there in the Cloud.  But it does differentiate itself a bit over the other offerings out there.  It's probably better to explain how I've started using it than just listing the functions.

I've got the home accounts, going back to 2004 and all interlinked.  If my thumb-drive failed I'd be reliant on the most recent backup on my hard drive.  Some months that could be a lot of reverse engineering needed to restore  my records. If the law of sod kicked in and my laptop spontaneously ignited with the thumb-drive in the USB port, then I'd be screwed right Royally.  So I've uploaded these files to SkyDrive for safe keeping.

First off, I had to join, which involved creating a new Microsoft email account, complete with password.  These two pieces of information give me exclusive access to my personal slice of the SkyDrive, which Microsoft will back up and maintain on my behalf for free.

Then I had to upload the files to SkyDrive.  When you join up, Microsoft create a SkyDrive folder on your hard drive and that's where you work with your SkyDrive documents.  I copied the files across to the SkyDrive folder and then checked the Cloud area assigned to me.  It took a few minutes and as far as I can tell it just happens automatically - I've been playing with SkyDrive for a few days now and it just seems to happen, I haven't found a sync button or any way to push my files up there, but just being connected to the internet seems to be all that I need to do.

Anyway, once my files appeared in the Cloud I realised I could view them up there.  More importantly, I can use Microsoft Office tools, specifically Office 2013, up there even though I have Office 2007 down here on Terra Cotta.  In fact, should I pop around to a friend's house and decide to modify a document in my SkyDrive account, even if they don't have Office on their computer, I can still carry out the modification.  I just log onto my SkyDrive account and use the Office tools up there.  When I connect my own computer to the internet next, SkyDrive will update my hard drive version.

So I took a look at my home accounts and initially all was not well - many of the links no longer worked, however I went back to my SkyDrive folder and rebuilt the links.  I think they were a victim of copy and paste.  And here's the top SkyDrive tip of this session - be patient.  I rebuilt and tested the links on my hard drive, then popped up into the Cloud to check on progress and found a small number of links didn't work.  Well, to be specific, February was a mess.  I made changes on the hard drive and reverted up to the Cloud and it didn't seem to work.  Eventually I was distracted by something and when I resumed my checks I found the file worked fine.  Remember that bit about the synchronisation being out of your control?  My advice is to make your edits, then go and make a cup of tea or coffee, or do something useful like spell checking your latest blog entry, because the changes do happen, but in their own time.

Next I uploaded a number of in-progress novels I have on my hard drive.  I'm keeping to using SkyDrive for backing up those documents that would cause me pain if I lost them.  Anyway, being straightforward Word documents they have slipped up there effortlessly.  And here's a  trick point for you self publishers out there - download the SkyDrive App to your android tablet and you can view your novels on your tablet direct from SkyDrive in PDF format - bang up to date and looking like an eBook will help you proof read your manuscript before uploading to Amazon and Smashwords.  Converting to PDF and uploading on my Kindle is part of my pre-publishing routine already, only this makes it easier.

Up there in the SkyDrive space there are a number of other tools you can access for free.  One is Outlook.  You can use this to manage your new Microsoft account.  It also gives you access to your own Calendar up there in the cloud.  Here's a cool part.  I added my Microsoft email account to my Nexus and when I add appointments to the SkyDrive Calendar, they drop into my Nexus Calendar.

So now, after a hiatus of several years, I'm starting to use Outlook at home again.  Not as my main email client - you can't beat using the tablet email function for always-on emailing, but being able to use the SkyDrive to book family orientated appointments that drop into relevant calendars across several devices is really useful - it's the smartest way I know of to achieve that across Android and Apple devices to date.

SkyDrive has a lot to commend itself to you.  I recommend you check it out.


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