Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SkyDrive - The Perfect Backup Solution?

Sometimes I worry about my data.  I have documents, music, and pictures (lots and lots of pictures) that would be difficult to impossible to replace if destroyed.  Not only that, but I'm spoiled too - I want to be able to edit my documents where ever I happen to be - home, work, vacation, whatever.  Until yesterday, that was nearly impossible (without a lot of effort), but now it's not.  Why?  SkyDrive.

SkyDrive is a service from Microsoft that allows you to synchronize anything in your SkyDrive folder on your desktop with 7GB (or more if you're willing to pay) of online storage AND any other desktop you configure.  There's a great article on it here.

The way it works is simple.  You sign up for a Windows Live account (which you will use to access your stored data) and download the SkyDrive client for your desktop.  During setup is will ask you to log in to your live account.  Once it's set up, you will get a SkyDrive folder on your computer.  Now any document you put in that folder will automatically show up in you SkyDrive online storage as well as any other computer you install the SkyDrive client onto.

But wait, it gets better.  Log in to your SkyDrive account and find a Word document that you just uploaded.  You can now click on it and it will open in Microsoft's online Word application.  Same thing for Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.  Cool!  I can even edit document on my smartphone!  Sometimes, technology really is great.

So, with that set up, if my hard drive crashes, all of my data is safe online and on any other computer I have the client on.  If I need to access a document away from my computer, I can do it from any web browser.

It keeps my data both safe and accessible - AND - it takes care of itself.  No manual copies.  No saving in two places.  No flash drives to carry around.

It's simple, easy to use, and easy to maintain.  It's almost hard to believe it came from Microsoft.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My First Week With a Windows Phone

As you are probably aware, I suffer from a malady called gadget lust.  Whenever cool new tech things come out, I find myself really wanting one.  I go through several iterations of justification and, usually, it turns out that I don't need it and I wouldn't really use it very much if I got it.  So, I have to say a tearful goodbye and get over it.  However, sometimes, it turns out that the return on investment is justified.

Recently my wife's phone died.  Coincidentally, her two year contract with T-Mobile was just about up as well (which means we could get a subsidized phone).  So it was time to look for a new phone.  I cruised around the T-Mobile site to see what was available - plan-wise as well as phone-wise.  I found that combining my prepaid and her individual account into a family account would actually cost a little bit less that what we were paying now (since I started managing projects, I use a lot more minutes on my phone).  Then I found that we could get smartphones for just a little more than we were paying now.  I talked it over with my wife and we decided it was time.  So we got a pair of Windows Phones.  Specifically, we got the Nokia Lumia 710.

Here's the reasons we decided to get smartphones:

  • Shared Calendars - This is a killer feature for us.  Now I can see what my wife's schedule is as well as my own and my wife can see my schedule.  It makes things easier for planning events and coordinating responsibilities.
  • Contacts - Now we always have all of our contacts with us.  No more trying to juggle between email, phone, and paper address book.
  • Reminders - This is something I really missed from my Palm Pilot days.  I love that my phone reminds me of appointments.
  • Online Docs - This is pretty useful.  With a Windows Phone, I can see all of my docs on my SkyDrive account.  This is nice for taking notes (Microsoft OneNote is a great note-taking app) and if we need to refer to any of our docs while we're not at home.  Honestly, I don't see us using this one very much but it's pretty cool.
  • Texting - As much as we've tried to fight it, texting is just a reality of life.  There are so many people and businesses that use texting constantly (I just had the pharmacy text that our prescription was done).  However, on our old phones, texting was clumsy and awkward.  Now it's much, much easier.
  • Family Pics - Go ahead and laugh but it's important to me.  I like having pictures of the family always available.
  • Camera - I've missed lots of picture opportunities because I didn't have my camera with.  Well, that's not a problem any more!
It took some adjustments to get our calendars where we need them and a little time to get used to the interface, but I'm already wondering why I waited so long.  Not only do the phones simplify some of the things we do, but it has some pretty cool features that I hadn't even thought of - but now I love.

  • Voice Commands - It seems a little silly but just telling the phone to call my wife is convenient when my hands are busy and we searches using voice commands is a lot faster.  Heck, the kids treat it like a game!  "Find McDonalds", "Find ColdStone", "Find Krispy Kreme" - you see a pattern there?
  • Local Scout - This is a handy little app that gives you everything going on in your area - restaurants, movies, events, etc.  It's a lot of fun to play with.
  • Custom Alarms - It's nice to have an alarm for Monday through Friday but to be able to sleep in on Saturday and Sunday (just so you know, 6 AM is sleeping in for me).
  • Live Tiles - I'm a gadget person and I like to see what's going on at a glance.  Live tiles on my Windows Phone shows me, at a glance, my next appointment, missed calls, messages, etc.  It's very useful.
One thing that I have to recommend, if you're getting phones for you and your spouse, get the same phone.  When my wife needs to use my phone for whatever reason, she's already thankful that the interface is the same.  I am too - it's so frustrating to have to spend a few minutes to figure out somebody else's phone just to make a phone call.

So, it's been almost a week and I'm very happy with my phone.  There was one little hiccup setting up the email but that's been resolved and we're all good now.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My New Windows Phone Can't Sync to Google! - Resolved

My wife and I finally took the plunge and got ourselves smartphones.  We got matching Lumia 710 Windows Phones from T-Mobile

They're really cool!

I love the interface, the live tiles, and other features.

I did run into one issue though.  I couldn't sync my Google account (gmail, calendar, and contacts).  This was really frustrating!  It was so bad that I was considering returning the phone.  After all, I do all of my email and calendar in Google.

Fortunately, I found a resolution on the Nokia forums.  Basically, Google makes you pass a captcha test (you know - "type in these letters" sort of test) to log on from a new device.  Well, with Windows Phone, it signs in automatically so there's no option for doing the captcha.  No captcha means no access and you get the following error:

"m.google.com is currently unavailable. Try again later."
and the error code 85010017.

Well, to fix it, you have to have Google suspend captcha verification.  Simply log into Google, and go here.  It will suspend captcha verification for 10 minutes.  Enough time to start syncing your gmail account with your Windows Phone.

Sometimes I think that it shouldn't be this hard...


OK, whatever the problem was, it seems to have been fixed.  After I jumped through all of the hoops to get my phone working, I went to fix my wife's phone and it was all synced up and going.

This was definitely an issue on the Google side (nothing changed on the phone) but I'm glad it was fixed.

I really am loving the phone!