About 5 years ago, I was very impressed when my best friend, who lives in Vancouver, sent me a link to his Picasa Web Album with photos of his trip online, a service provided by Google, I was able to view, comment on, and download the pictures, as were all the others he shared the files with. This was early on when “the cloud” was still something you see in the sky.
My friend is a Mac guy and I’m a Windows guy (yes, we continue to battle that one out) and I didn’t immediately follow up and go with Google’s Picasa, but instead opened a Windows Live account. There I was able to post my pics for my friends.
Little did I realize what these simple online photo sharing services would turn into. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I got my Windows Phone, I hadn’t used my Windows Live account for more than photo sharing. But the phone wanted access to my account. It wanted to be able to upload and download photos to what Microsoft has since named its SkyDrive. It wanted to be able to upload and download Office files. It wanted to use the SkyDrive as a storage area for Apps, for PDF files, for music and for videos. And then it lets you decide who gets permission to see or edit these files. And then the online Office apps can be used by your friends to update Word or Excel or PowerPoint or OneNote files. And files can be synched between the SkyDrive and your Smart Phone and your Desktop computer. It even acts as a file backup area, so I put up all my current working Delphi files necessary to build Behold up there as a fail-safe backup. Then I wouldn’t have anything to worry about If a meteorite crashed into Winnipeg destroying my onsite and offsite backups at the same time … well, if that happened, I might still have a slight concern.
But then today, I discovered that Microsoft very recently released their SkyDrive App for Windows. I installed this on my desktop computer, and all of a sudden, the SkyDrive became a folder in Windows Explorer. I could access and open and copy and paste and drag and drop files from SkyDrive as if they were on my own Computer and not have any idea they were not. As a test, I even used my Beyond Compare (my file comparison program) to see if it could sync and compare files between my machine and the SkyDrive – and it was flawless in its execution and as fast as FTP.
Okay, so Sky Drive’s not the only trick in the book. Apple iCloud and Google Drive and DropBox have been doing this for years. Yes that’s true. But other than the small differences, there are two major reasons why Microsoft’s implementation is so rad.
1. Microsoft is integrating the SkyDrive into their Operating Systems and Office System for all their devices. I love this vision. You have access to everything everywhere without having to think about it.
2. Microsoft is making this available on all platforms. They have Apps for the Mac, for the iPhone and for Android to access SkyDrive. Their Office apps also work on Macs and have direct access to SkyDrive.
To me, this is what will carry Microsoft’s “cloud” higher than Apple, Google’s, or anyone else’s. Once Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone comes out, the Sky will be the limit (pun intended).
Now what does this mean for genealogy and for Behold? Well, I’m glad I’m seeing what’s going on and I have to keep thinking forward to what we genealogists will expect in our genealogical applications. We’ll want our data in the cloud, so we can use it and share it and update it anywhere. We’ll want access to it on any platform – Desktop or Laptop (Windows or Mac or Unix for geeks), Tablet, or iPhone, or Android Phone, or Windows Phone, And we’ll want to use one program to access it all consistently, without worry of data loss, with one interface to learn, with a complete set of capabilities on all platforms. (And if it would have source-based data entry with evidence/conclusion modeling – that would be nice, too).
There is a new program, the first genealogy application available for the Windows Phone, that actually makes use of SkyDrive. The program is called Relative History and it downloads your GEDCOM from the SkyDrive and displays some information from it. The program is far from perfect and failed in loading 2 of the 5 test GEDCOMs I gave it. But it does illustrate the concept. I was impressed (by the concept, not the program) and I look forward to presenting the real deal with Behold when I get to develop it for all the different platforms. I am very excited about what is to come.
(And for those of you who simply want to know when the next release of Behold is coming … I’m working on it. I really am.)