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Tag: iCloud

iCloud Online

It’s been a while since I’ve sold my Mac and have been relying on Windows and Linux – almost a year has gone by since I got rid of the MacBook Pro. I’ve not really missed it since it’s been gone. In general, I’ve been well served by my Windows gaming rig and my Lenovo X220 laptop running Xubuntu.

In fact, I’ve tended to prefer open source software and my Xubuntu laptop. I’ve taken to using LibreOffice more than Microsoft Word and I’ve taken to using other open source apps, like GNUCash, Zim, KeepassX (and Keepass) and Clementine. I’ve not really had any issues using these over the commercial apps that I used to use.

I did have some issues previously – for example, getting Zim working on the Mac was a right pain and in the end it was part of the reason that drove me away (I was using Zim for some revision and I replaced Day One with as my journaling software 1 when Day One went to a proprietary sync solution which meant it was harder to backup and wasn’t supported on Android). However, in general, it’s been rare for me to think “Boy, I wish I still had my Mac“.

iCloud

Perhaps that is, until today. I tried to use LibreOffice and then Excel to try and setup a tracker (well, a table) so I could track my required Continuing Professional Development hours. My profession requires me to undertake 25 hours a year training and the easiest method of this seems to be the creation of a table and adding new items to it as and when needed.

However, I was put off by the results of both Excel and LibreOffice. Whilst I wasn’t expecting much from LibreOffice (it works, but nothing it produces could be considered other than functional really – it isn’t one for prettiness, at least not without some work), I was at least expecting Excel to produce something reasonable but it seems like I was mistaken.

Functional, but not pretty

It was at this point that I realised that Numbers would give me a decent enough table – but with no access to a Mac, I thought I’d be relegated to using my iPad and having tried to use Excel and Google Sheets on my iPad, this didn’t fill me with joy. Thankfully, iCloud is online as well, so I can make the document I need online via the iCloud website.

There was some initially some issues – iCloud doesn’t like Linux and complains that it isn’t supported (but seems to work fine). Windows has no such issues – at least not if you use a supported broswer. Currently using Vivaldi, and whilst it’s not on the supported list, as it uses Chrome as the base, it doesn’t generate a not supported message.

2017-03-03 17_17_52-CPD Record

Using Numbers online hasn’t proven to be to much different to using Numbers on the Mac. Yes, it’s not quite as nice as using the Mac version, but it gets the job done and I don’t have to use it on the iPad. I believe the version on iCloud is slightly cut back when compared to that of the Mac version, but for the simple table that I’ve needed to create, it hasn’t been an issue.

iWork

In fact, using the Numbers online again has brought back reminders as to how good the iWork suite actually is. Whilst Pages has a number of limitations when compared to Microsoft Word that’s meant that I didn’t use it much (a lack of referencing support made it difficult for using it for for academic reports), Numbers and certainly Keynote give Microsoft a run for their money. In fact, I prefer Keynote for presentation creation – Powerpoint feels quite far behind in comparison. However, Numbers isn’t going to give Excel nightmares when it comes to serious number crunching, but for general day to day use without macros, it performs well and I’ve not really had any issues.

There are a number of apps that I do miss from the Mac days – 1Password on Windows is a poor shadow of its Mac counterpart which is a shame, whilst Windows and Linux are also missing any serious markdown editors – Ulyssess is a fantastic app and something similar doesn’t seem to exist on the other operating systems unless you use something like Simplenote online. I tend to run all my blog posts through Ulyssess on my iPad before posting as it can tidy up any code that I write in Atom on the desktops.

A side effect of using Numbers today is that I’ve found myself defaulting back to the Mac keyboard shortcuts! Yet, I’ve found that I’ve moved a personal finance spreadsheet back into iCloud because the method of using tables in Numbers suits the creation of lots of little tables, rather than the enforced grid layout of Excel/LibreOffice.

It may come to pass that I’ll start using it more often over the coming months for various other items as well. I can’t pretend that the auto sync doesn’t come in handy as well, though without a Mac, backing up the files is restricted to manual downloads of a file, which perhaps isn’t ideal.


  1. You can read about setting it up here where I set up my iPad to create Zim compatible text files in Dropbox. 

Email Experiment

My long standing dislike of emails (well, email software) is well known as I moan about it here and here. Well this came to a head this week again when I decided to slim down my hard drive due to boot camping again.

Part of this involved running JDiskReport to see what was taking up space. As part of this, I ended up moving my iPad to back up to iCloud and will then eventually remove all the apps from being kept on my machine (as that’s a fairly hefty 7GB – which adds up when you only have 320 to play with and you want at least 60 of that for Windows!) Anyhow, the point is I ended up finding at least 4GB of emails on my hard drive from the various programs I’ve used in the past. Even though I checked “do not download messages to the hard drive”, Postbox and Mail were saving messages. I just want an iOS Mail.app style client where the messages aren’t downloaded (and if they are, they’re not kept on the device – at least as far as I’m aware they aren’t).

Anyhow, due to email being a big PITA, I’ve decided to trial webmail only. I’ve liked webmail in the past when Google Mail was actually useable – now with it’s VIP rubbish and then it’s horrendous change in style made it unusable, amongst a few other considerations (back when I tried it, there was no mailto: integration for browsers etc) meant I firmly stuck with an email client. Back then it was Thunderbird but I moved when I changed to the Mac – using Mail.app and then Sparrow and then finally Postbox.

All of them weren’t great and so now I’ve spent a week with the webmail (and iOS) and I’m not missing it to much.

Web Mail Service

I decided to investigate the different webmail options open to me before making a choice. The Wikipedia page on web based email was extremely helpful (link) and I narrowed my solution down to Zoho, based on a number of factors, one of which was that I could change my domain name. I ended up getting a domain name, solely for email to go with it. Anyhow, signup to Zoho was free, easy and painless.

Migration

Unlike when I switched to iCloud for email, I didn’t migrate my email – I don’t recall there actually being a tool to do so (sure, there’s some workarounds) but there was no simple way of doing it. Zoho offered to migrate the emails using a simple service in the settings. This worked perfectly, though I did need to move over the Sent Items into the Sent folder, thanks to some inconsistencies in folder naming between the two services. Once that had done, I didn’t have any issues.

It was all done via IMAP access by filling out the form below and proceeds without any further action by the user.

Mail Evaluation

By setting up forwarding from my iCloud account and POP collection from my Gmail account, I’ve been able to re-evaluate all the mails I’ve been getting and have slowly been either:

  1. Moving them to my new email
  2. Unsubscribing from the mailing list
  3. Consigning them to junk folders where the emails either refuse to honour my unsubscribe or don’t offer an unsubscribe option

It’s amazing how much stuff I’d actually signed up for and tended to auto pilot drop it straight into the bin!

Hotkeys

Zoho, like Gmail, supports the use of hotkeys which means that you can easily use the webpage with hotkeys, something I find essential. The benefit of the web based email is that the settings are set once and then apply where ever and when ever you access the website. This has to be one area where I feel that Zoho could improve – the accuracy of the hotkeys is a bit hit and miss – sometime the hotkeys work but other times I find myself having to click to remove or archive the email as the hotkey doesn’t seem to be working. This is a pain, especially as my browser is on the supported list (Firefox 16).

Overall

To date, I’ve not really had many issues in the move to webmail. In fact, it’s helped somewhat by the fact it’s easier to check my email from any computer (such as work) and having App tabs in Chrome and Firefox – though for some reason the app tab on Firefox on the Mac causes some issues (I’ve noticed some playback errors in iTunes when the App tab is in the background at random intervals – I think these coincide with the page refreshing).

Another upside is the excellent Markdown Here plugin I mentioned in a previous post. This means I can easily write emails in Markdown and then have it sent in normal format. Now, to find the same sort of think for Outlook for work!

So for the foreseeable future, it looks like I’ll be using a webmail solution for my email and Zoho seems to excel where Gmail falls down (adverts, email tracking and user interface – what happened Google?!). It’s not without its downsides but I feel these are fairly minimal in the long run.

5 Online Services I Cant Live Without

Those that are members of UKAPU will know that one of newsletters monthly articles is a 5 Items You Cant Airsoft Without. I thought I’d add a similar feature to my site.

I toyed with what software but decided to make the first one an article on online services I cant live without. So without further ado, I give you my list of services in no particular order. You might be able to argue that some of these are software services as well, which may well be the case but I’ll class them as online services here!


Dropbox

So everyone should have heard of the excellent Dropbox service by now (if not, have you been hiding under a rock?!).

Dropbox Offsite Link is an excellent, simple syncing tool and it just works. No hassle, no problems. In all the time I’ve been using it (probably nigh on over a year), I’ve not had an issue. Conflict with syncing files? It creates a conflicted copy and tells you and lets you choose the conflict. No internet connection? No problem, Dropbox will reconnect when it can and upload the work.

Built into a lot of mobile applications (such as the excellent Writing Kit Offsite Link and Day One Offsite Link now as well, mean that’s it’s use is firmly set in my daily work flow.

I’ve briefly paid for a 50GB account but currently I’ve dropped down to the free account. The price is worth it but at the minute, my referrals and extra space mean I have an account that is currently 8GB and I don’t need to sync my music so much that I’m willing to pay (though if they brought in a smaller service or started charging for the space I’m currently using, I’d happily pay as the software is invaluable)

Spideroak

Spideroak Offsite Link is another online hosting/syncing/backup service (well, mainly backup when compared to Dropbox). Initially I tried to run one service or the other but came to the conclusion that I couldn’t. Why? Various reasons.

  • Dropbox is primarily syncing – it does it well. However, to keep changes to files for more than 30 days, you need to pay extra. Spideroak does that in it’s price.
  • Spideroak’s syncing is a bit hit and miss. It’s difficult to see what has finished syncing and stay on top of what’s been uploaded etc.
  • Spideroak gives a lot more space for the money, double what Dropbox offers.

So after trialling Dropbox and Spideroak together, I came to the conclusion that I’d use Spideroak for the excellent and cheap offsite backup – I backup all my documents and my music, as well as some odds and ends, such as my eBooks that I purchase from the Black Library Offsite Link and my GPS tracks recorded when cycling and running.

The lack of being built into mobile applications isn’t really a concern thanks to Dropbox but it’s nice to know that this is constantly updating my offsite backup of my files. Teamed with Dropbox, I’ve got a tool that will sync all my important documents to all my devices and then back them up to the cloud safely.

Evernote

Evernote Offsite Link is a note taking program. Any notes added to it are synced to the Evernote servers and then to all your devices, be it PC, Mac or phone so you can have access to the notes anywhere, anytime. You can also add images, files and other items to it (if you have a premium account) and can store items for offline use on your phone.

Very quickly I paid for a premium subscription to this. $5 a month is a small price for the indexing, searching mind space that is Evernote. Dropping a thought into Evernote means I can pick it up at a later date and time. It’s a massive help to my PhD and all my notes are stored within it on the papers I’ve read, my thesis plans and ideas and my research notes. Extremely helpful.

iCloud

iCloud Offsite Link is a new addition to the list and replaces the Google services. As a Mac user, with iPhone, it made sense to move to Apple’s offering, rather than Googles, especially as the new Google themes and updates have basically killed the service for me (the new theme is utter terrible and trying to use Google Reader without the use of desktop software like Reeder Offsite Link is a painful process). As such, it seemed to easy to move over to iCloud.

Since doing so, I’ve had no issues (other than my documented attempt to try and use Sparrow with iCloud here which is still occurring). Being able to sync all my calendars, contacts, reminders, bookmarks and emails to all my devices is a great help and fits nicely into my workflow.

I’ve yet to pay for the service as the current 5GB seems plenty for my current use (I don’t use photostream or the Pages/Numbers/Keynote storage).

Last.fm

Last.fm Offsite Link may seem like an odd one but over the past year, it’s been a fantastic source of insightful information on the music I listen to (I guess I like VNV Nation a lot!! Offsite Link) and for finding new music based on what music I already like.

This ability to find more of what I’m interested in is great and the ability to listen to a radio station based on similar artists to what I’ve already scrobbled is great for times I don’t have access to my music but do have access to my Last.fm account.


That rounds up the 5 best online services I cant live without. However, there are a few that probably deserve a mention here that didn’t make the top 5 for some reason.

Imgur

This service is a great phot sharing service. I spent ages considering how I could spend money on some hosting to get a Imgur style site for personal use and decided I’d just pay the Imgur hosting price for the benefits it gives me as it’s so easy to use that I couldn’t replicate it elsewhere. It’s how I host images for this blog!

Tumblr

The host for this blog, Tumblr has been an excellent online service, allowing me to write this drivel and share images of cats. The ease of customisation and the ability to add your own domain name for free is a nice touch. Thanks Tumblr and keep up the awesome work!

WordPress

Ok, so a competitor to Tumblr that I left for this site. However, it’s main use to me now is that WordPress acts as my OpenID identifying service. Which I use on a fair few sites (normally, all that allow OpenID!) so I have to give a shout out for that.

So there we go, my top 5 online services. Hopefully that’s given people an idea of what’s out there and of the different services.

Sparrow and iCloud

Ok, so Sparrow Offsite Link has been released on the App Store today and features iCloud support.

Having now tried it, I can safely say it sucks. Don’t get me wrong, Sparrow is a fantastic email client. It very quickly replaced Mail for me as it was nice and simple, uncluttered and allowed me to send email quickly and it worked great with my Gmail, Gmail App account and my Work Exchange Server (accessed via IMAP).

But with the release of iCloud, I decided to ditch Google pretty much – partly because I’m a privacy nut and I think they have enough of my data, what with my search engine results so I gradually started moving everything to iCloud (incidentally, this advice Offsite Link at Reddit made moving everything bar email to iCloud easy).

However, I was lacking desktop email reading. It wasn’t a problem initially but as I’ve slowly begun to move more and more of my website subscriptions and personal email etc over to iCloud, I’ve begun to need to read my email on a desktop, rather than web based or on my iPhone. So the release of Sparrow’s update was a great relief.

That was until I used it.

Adding the iCloud account was simple – just put in your name, email and iCloud password and all is added automatically which was a good start – I’d tried to add iCloud as IMAP following Apple’s guide Offsite Link, but this hadn’t worked. The problems arose when it downloaded the mail. My Inbox contained 1 email according to Mail, iCloud online and my iPhone. Sparrow was showing me at least 5 emails, most of which I’d deleted from my inbox – iCloud had them in it’s trash but Sparrow was showing them in the Inbox. After deleting them, I’d change to see if they were in the trash but on moving back to the inbox, they had magically reappeared (but not on the server). I could find no way of correcting this and so in the mean time, I’m forced back to use Mail.

Not that Mail is bad, it’s just that Sparrow is simple, easy, intuitive and is a great example of why I love Mac software. Mail is a bit more bloated than Sparrow.

All I can do is hope that this is just a temporary hiccup and Sparrow will work well with iCloud in the near future! Please?