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Cloud computing

André Guyon
(Language Update, Volume 7, Number 3, 2010, page 26)

There is an old saying: “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” Like the cobbler, I occasionally forget to follow my own advice. For example, I often say that data security requires backups and rigid discipline. But there is always a good reason not to practise what you preach.

In August 2009, I bought a computer—a high-end system—made by a very reliable and reputable company. Well, it conked out on me in November or December. I had backed up my files on DVDs, but I admit I was caught off guard. The problem with backing up data is that unless you have a second, almost identical computer that will allow you to check that your backup was fully successful, you could be in for a surprise when you try to restore your system. The inevitable happened to me: the data could not be restored because the backup medium had been defective. On top of that, the company then sent me a damaged hard drive. Thankfully, the data I had stored on other computers was in good shape, limiting the damage. But what would have happened in the event of a fire or water damage? I think I just would have cried.

For a nominal fee, you can protect yourself against this type of mishap. Well-known companies offer inexpensive solutions that allow you to automatically back up the entire contents of a tree structure. If there is a fire on Thursday, you can be up and working on a friend’s computer or a rented system Friday morning.

This type of service costs about a dollar a week. In general, this is how it works:

  1. You select the main folder or directory containing the documents or subdirectories where your valuable data is saved (for example, My Documents in most versions of Windows).
  2. You configure all your software to store data in this tree structure (some software still has the annoying feature of storing data elsewhere).
  3. Then, all you have to do is connect to the Internet for a few minutes every day.

Most of us use Microsoft Word. Follow the instructions below to configure the desired options for Word 2000 and 2007 (it should be practically the same for Word 2010).

In Word 2000, go to the Tools menu and click Options. A multi-tab window will open. The File Locations tab allows you to choose where you want your files to be saved.

Print screen of the Options Menu from Word

The two folders you are interested in are Documents and AutoRecover files. Click the folder whose storage location you want to modify. Then, click Modify and browse until you find the desired folder.

Print screen of the File menu icon

The process for Word 2007 is a little more complicated. First, rather than selecting the File menu, click the Office 2007 icon, which replaces the File menu.*

A dialogue box will open. When you click the Word Options button in the bottom right corner, a new dialogue box will open. Click Save.

Print screen of the Options menu

The two access paths in this dialogue box correspond to the AutoRecover files and Documents folders in Word 2000, respectively.

In general, companies offer 5 to 20 gigabytes of storage space. This should be enough, unless you decide to store multimedia files, which can be enormous. In this case, it would be better to carry data media to a friend’s place or elsewhere. When the time comes to choose a provider for this type of service, the most important criterion is the company’s viability. You can be left high and dry by the disappearance of an independent provider running a business out of his or her basement. In the same vein, people are increasingly turning to office Web applications where the content is stored by large companies. If you do not want your data to be scrutinized under the Patriot Act, you should choose a company that stores its data outside the United States. Many of my colleagues have also warned me that WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Web interfaces generally contain bugs, which means that documents often need to be reformatted.

To save myself headaches, for over five years I have been using an email address that is not linked to my Internet service provider and allows me to retrieve my email from anywhere in the world. I used to use the same email application as my employer, and I would regularly lose data. I have not lost anything for a good five years. In summary, as long as I don’t have any top secret files, storing my data on the Internet rather than at home requires less fiddling and decreases the risk of losing data. It is up to you to decide whether this option is right for you, but I say, “If the shoe fits, wear it!”

Remark

<Back to remark 1* Unbelievable but true! Microsoft deviates from the idea that standard menus make users’ lives easier. The first time, users search for the File menu for a few minutes before they are able to save their document.