Holy Trinity of Cloud Services: IMAP, Evernote and Dropbox

IMAP, Evernote and DropboxIt was being talked about for a long time but as of 2011, with the biggest rise of mobile, the new mainstream trend is set for the digital globe. From now on, for both your personal and business uses, you should be prepared for a life on the cloud.

Like most of the digital revolutions, Apple foresaw this trend like 10 years ago and started their iTools service which then became .Mac and currently MobileMe. But again, like most of the Apple services, they were partly dependent on Apple hardware. There are numerous rumors that within weeks MobileMe will become free for those who have one of Apple’s toys. Although I use Mac OS X on both my personal and business computers and an iPhone as my mobile gadget, I honestly find free (or even paid) alternatives to MobileMe much better. If a really big improvement will be seen on the service, I might think of switching to the free MobileMe but my current settings are already working very well.

I recently signed up for a paid Dropbox account (50 GB for $10/month) and completed the Holy Trinity of cloud services:

  • an IMAP email account
  • an Evernote account
  • a Dropbox account

This short list seems incomplete when you think of the services you get from MobileMe like Calendar sync, Address Book sync, Photo galleries etc. but actually Dropbox is such a perfect solution for syncing anything. I mean, ANYTHING.

Looking at the list, the most important feature of all 3 items is that they are platform-free. You can use them on any operating system or -almost- any mobile gadget, yet you are obligated to none. In case you are on a (not so) deserted island, you can access all these services with just the help of a web browser. If something bad happens to your personal computer like it be stolen, lost, or crashed (if you’re a Windows user), you lose no data.

Now let’s take a look the 3 items a little deeper:

1. An IMAP email account

Gmail is the king of email. Google might fail on some services but let’s face it, it is (1) the best search engine and (2) the best email provider. Some users complain that it is ad-supported and privacy breaker, but to me it’s not that big of a deal. As I said above, if the new free MobileMe email happens to be as good and ad-free, I might think of switching. But currently Gmail is my primary email for years and it works perfect. Also, most of my Gmail use is through desktop or mobile apps so I only see the ads when I have to use Gmail through web.

If any of your other email accounts support IMAP, you might use them, too. But if you’re planning to start a life on the cloud, stay away from using a POP3 account as your primary email! POP3 causes so much conflicts on read/unread messages and the syncronization. Currently, one of my business email’s server doesn’t support IMAP. Instead of setting that account as POP3 in any of my email apps, I’m receiving those messages in Gmail. You can even have them appear to be sent from your other email address in Gmail (learn how to do this here). And one more little thing I just discovered, the “flagged” messages on my Mail application are “starred” on Gmail’s web interface.

2. An Evernote account

There used to be a time when I kept my notes in zillions of different text files, my web clips in a special folder with sub-folders as categories, my rich text documents in Word files and my ToDo list in a small piece of software. Since I had a smartphone, these methods started shaking and breaking in my everyday workflow, so I decided to use Evernote. For the first few weeks EN was only my “note keeper”. It took sometime to get used to the way it works but once I did, it became the center of my daily flow. 60 mb/month bandwidth is free and it’s currently more than enough for my notes and web clippings. I generally crop a part of a web page excluding the side menus, headers and footers. If you need more, for $5/month you get much more bandwidth and ability to add attachments of different file types. But I have my Dropbox account for “files” so I keep Evernote just for text and web clippings. I efficiently use tags for notes and I set up my notebooks as a GTD model inspired by this blog post.

Whatever, there are thousands of incredible ways to use Evernote but this post is more about how it fits to the cloud. On my mobile, I have all my notes, ToDo lists and web clippings with me. When I have some spare time outside, I just grab an article from my “Someday” notebook and read it. They appear almost the exact same way as they do on a web browser. I write almost anything (even these sentences) on Evernote. I first wrote them last night at home on my laptop, and currently editing them on my desktop at work.

3. A Dropbox account

I didn’t need a -paid- Dropbox account until recently when I got a desktop at the office. I was carrying my laptop with me all the time (a bad habit left from the “freelancer” days). For the files I needed to access from mobile, Evernote was enough. But when I seperated my home and work computers, a way to syncronize them has been mandatory. With a projects folder of 20 GB, no free service could fulfill my needs. I had my free Dropbox account which comes with 2 GBs of space for over a year but never really used it. After a short investigation, I saw that Dropbox for syncronization is what Gmail is for email. Even paid MobileMe subscribers are switching to Dropbox because, “it just works”.

  • All Dropbox interfaces (desktop, mobile and web) are so simple yet powerful.
  • The upload/download speed is very good and stable.
  • Other than my “Documents” folder and all projects, I sync Safari bookmarks, Coda sites, Cyberduck saves, passwords keychain, mysql databases and else…
  • Some users also sync their iTunes libraries but I’d rather have it on a physical external drive because even “the cloud” is growing rapidly, it’s early to keep ~300 GB of media on it.
  • I sync photos which automatically becomes easily accessible photo galleries.

Addition: Address Book and Calendars Sync

One important thing that I didn’t mention in any of the above items is syncing your address book and calendars. This actually is one of the easiest things, depending of your preference. In my case, I use Dropbox for them, too. This doesn’t cover on-the-fly sync to my iPhone but address book and calendars are the things I mostly use on computers, plus I sync my iPhone daily, so this method is enough for me (at least for now). One more time, this might be a reason for me to switch to -supposed to be- free MobileMe.

If you want your address book and calendars to be synced on-the-fly all the time without MobileMe, using online services such as Google’s is another option.

At the end, it’s inevitable that soon all our data will be sitting/flying on the cloud and will be accessible from anywhere. There are several other tools, desktop and mobile apps to handle your on-the-cloud data. Aside from the security concerns, there seems to be no stopper for this growing “cloud”.


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