Leaving Facebook? Don't Forget Your Data

Depending on what report you hear Google+ now has somewhere between 18 and 20 million users. I'm seeing lots of friends hanging up a "Moved to Google+" sign on their Facebook walls. If you do the same, don't forget to pack your stuff and take it with you. Facebook allows you to download your data. All packed in a nice .zip file.

Log on to your Facebook account. Go to Account > Account Settings. On the bottom of that page you'll see "Download a copy of your Facebook data". Click on the link and follow the instructions. No muss no fuss.

You won't get a nice file of your contacts, but just about everything else gets pulled down into the .zip file. This isn't the perfect mechanism for transfering data to Google+ but it's a way to get a copy of all that data you've been handing over to Mark Z. all these years. 



Test Driving Google+ (Plus)

I've been really lucky to have received an invite to Google's new entry in the social networking space, Google+ (Plus). I have to say, Google is doing a lot of things right with this effort and I'm finding it a very interesting alternative to what Facebook is doing. The concept behind Google+ is based on how we conduct our relationships in real life. We interact differently with different people in different situations. To attempt to replicate this real life experience Google has introduced the concept of "Circles". Circles allow you to place different people in different groups. This allows for controlled sharing of your information. You can have a circle for friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, or customize a ring for any group you desire. When you post content you then can decide which circle receives access. It's a lot easier than the lists in Facebook and one gets a much better feeling of control.

Another feature in Google+ is Hangout. This feature allows you and up to nine other members of your circles to do simply that. Hangout on a video chat. Your circle members drop in and out at their convenience. The software detects who is speaking and immediately switches the focus to that participant’s camera. This helps maintain the normal flow of real life conversation.

A concept known as Sparks is also being introduced. Sparks allows you to search on just about any topic and have that information flow directly to your Stream (think Facebook wall here). You can then consume the info or share it with others in your circles using it to “spark” a conversation.

In addition to the aforementioned features there are the usual suspects - photo sharing, chat, +1, and a really interesting mobile phone concept called Huddle which allows for group chat and decision making i.e. "What are we all doing for lunch?”. One word of caution is that instant uploading is available for photos and video within the phone app. With this turned on media is immediately uploaded to a private folder and you can decide later to share it and with whom. Fortunately you can disable this feature to have more control. The interface on the phone app is simple and elegant. It does remind me a bit of the Windows Phone 7 hub interface, but hey that interface is pretty nice as well. From the main screen of the app you can access your Stream, Huddle, Photos, Profile, Circles, as well as Notifications.

I really like what Google has done with this application. They seemed to have taken care with the user interface; something Google has received criticism for in the past. It feels light and fresh. The privacy and sharing controls are obvious and accessible. Also, it's not so "in your face" like the failed effort Google Buzz. Buzz was everywhere prompting you to sign up or give it access to this that or the other. There is none of that with Google+. Simple, elegant, and smooth are the words that come to mind. Navigating the site and using the mobile app is a truly fun if not addictive experience. It's too early to say if this is going to be a serious threat to Facebook but I really don't see why it wouldn't at least be a serious alternative. At this point, I'm not seeing a whole lot to dislike. I’m excited for the beta testing to increase so more of my real world friends will have access and then we will know which direction this project will take. Great job Google, no matter the end result.



Google Music, Something New is Something Old

I received my invite for the Google Music beta test and took the service for a test run. After receiving the invite, I signed in, downloaded, and installed the upload client. To test things I decided to upload just over 4GB of music I had on my hard drive. On a fast network connection with huge bandwidth this process took about an hour to complete. Once all my songs uploaded I went to the music player page. Once there, I have to say that's where my enthusiasm waned. There were my tracks, nicely loaded and categorized by artist and genre, but the interface looked pretty sparse. I tinkered with the play list functionality. I found the instant mix feature somewhat interesting. It's a version of iTunes Genius List feature. Basically, it creates a play list based on a selected track. It attempts to pull other songs from your library that are similar. Mood music as it were. There is an option to access free songs but nothing showed up when I selected it. I listened to a few tracks, created an instant mix play list and that was that. Playback sounded nice and I noticed no degradation of track fidelity. The other way of playing tracks is through an Android app. I haven't tested it out but from my reading it allows for the same functionality as the on-line player. Additionally, if you are off-line the mobile app allows access to recently played songs or songs you designate to be available off-line. I'm assuming it downloads those songs to your phone in some background process. All in all I like that Google has thrown its hat into this arena. I'm a big proponent of having access to your music in any way you wish, but to me, that's pretty much all I'm finding Google music to be, just another way to access my music. I find Amazon Cloud Player a lot more interesting. I think the ability to buy a song and have it immediately added to your Cloud Player library is a huge convenience as well as having the ability to download songs whenever and where ever you choose. Also, the fact that Amazon Cloud Player is tied to its Cloud Drive service is nice. Amazon's ability to store additional files other than music, and the generous storage space offerings, seem to relegate Google Music to being just an ordinary music player. That being said, if you live in the Google ecosystem it's not a horrible addition to their service offerings.


T-Mobile G2x, All That and More

I waited quite a while to make the jump to a new smart phone. Over the years whenever I set my sights on an upgrade I was always dissuaded with the promise of a new and better phone arriving within months. Sure, I carried a Blackberry for work, but we all know they are getting their heads handed to them in the smartphone space. Doing anything other than sending email or texts with a Blackberry is like watching paint dry and takes much longer. Finally my patience was rewarded when all the stars aligned and the convergence known as the T-Mobile G2x hit the market. Why this phone? Why now? Being a T-Mobile customer I wanted to stay with that carrier. Like all carriers they have their detractors but over the years I’ve been pretty satisfied. I have always leaned toward the Android platform, so when I saw the G2x coming to market I was immediately intrigued. The phone promised all I was looking for, a nice form factor, a dual core processor, 4G speed, upgradeable memory, a vanilla version of Android, front and rear facing cameras, HD video, and a gorgeous display. So with all that, I made the jump and have not regretted the purchase for one second. I’ve probably utilized this phone more in the last few weeks than I have used any phone I’ve ever owned. The thing about this phone is that you really want to use it. Nothing about it is cumbersome.  It starts with the display and user interface. The display pops and without the clutter of a carrier’s ported version of the user interface it’s very easy to navigate. You get a clean crisp plain vanilla Android interface. The way Google intended. If you use Google services I can’t think of a better phone. Start it up, type in your Google credentials and almost before you know it the phone is populated with your Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, and your online photo galleries from Picasa. There are a variety of ways to input text, classic touch screen keyboard, swipe, and the method I love the most, voice. The speech recognition is the best I’ve ever experienced. It rarely misses what I say and when it does it’s usually the result of loud background noise. This phone is fast… noticeably fast. Web pages load so much faster than on other phones I have used. The combination of the dual core processor, 4G speed, and an outstanding browser all work together for one awesome browsing experience. Then there are the apps, so many apps. Mobile applications are those things that you sort of think “So what. Big deal”... until you dive in to them. In the short time that I have owned this phone I have discovered a myriad of uses, creating text documents, using GPS to get to unfamiliar locations, updating all my social network feeds, instant messaging, emailing, making an HD recording of a friend’s wedding, taking some really cool pictures with the 8 mega pixel camera, using a QR Code reader app to get reviews on products while in the store, creating my on QR Codes for work and to use as a person contact card, finding nearby restaurants and stores, taking voice notes, listening to my music stored on Amazon Cloud, moving files to and from Dropbox, timing my laundry, and becoming addicted to Angry Birds. Before my purchase I read some complaints about battery life. I find myself charging once every day or day and a half. So for me, the battery life is fine.  All in all my G2x experience has been one of the best I’ve had with any electronic device I’ve own or operated. It was definitely worth the wait.


Image Your System for Real Backup Protection with Acronis

One of the rituals for any computer owner should be that of regularly backing up their system. The simple fact is that it is not a matter of if you will experience computer issues but when. There is no sicker feeling than hitting the power button and having your system just sit there like a recalcitrant child. Then you think of all the photos, videos, tax returns, and who knows what else trapped on your hard drive but you have no way to access them. Sure, you've thought about backing up that system, but you've just been putting it off for when you get time. Too late now. Time has run out. Of course I paint a grim picture but I've experienced that situation as have many of my friends, family, and co-workers. Not a good feeling at all. Well, luckily there are a number of ways to prevent that sinking feeling. You could use one of a zillion backup utilities including the one built right in to your operating system. But I have a better way. Instead of just backing up those cute pictures of little Jimmy's frosting covered face, or him picking his nose in right field as a fly ball lands at his feet, I suggest using Acronis True Image to take a snapshot of your system. What's the difference? Backups typically copy your files and place them in a file that can only be read by that software package. To restore your data from a typical backup, especially to a new system, you need access to the backup application first and then you can attempt to restore your data. This is great for your documents but in the event of a system crash you'll need to reinstall all your applications one by one to get your system back to the desired state. That means hours or even days of reinstalling applications, looking for serial numbers, product keys, and begging vendors to allow you another activation key. When you image your system you're making a bit for bit copy of your hard drive. In the event of a crash, you simply boot your system with the recovery disk and then follow the prompts to bring your system back to the state it was in the last time you took it's image. Acronis True Image makes restoring your system extremely easy. You install the software, create a recovery disk, store the disk in a safe place, then set up a job to take a snapshot of your system. I recommend springing a few bucks for an external USB drive to keep your disk images safe. There's no reason not to as disk drives are cheap now days. In the event of a crash you simply pop in the recovery CD, boot to it, and use Acronis to restore your system from the USB drive. You can even mount the image to recover files and directories if you accidentally delete them. No muss, no fuss. Acronis offers a wide variety of products for home and business. If you maintain systems at work, home, or for friends this is a tool you shouldn't be without. Acronis is affordable, but hey can you really put a price on those pictures of little Jimmy?