Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The down side of the Cloud

I've been using Windows 8 for months and I'm not ashamed to admit that I like it. One of the features I've found particularly useful is the ability to share settings between different PCs once you have linked your Microsoft account (formerly known as a Windows Live ID) to your PC login.

I regularly use two machines, a multi-monitor desktop in the office and a touch enabled tablet. The tablet is used both in the office and when I'm out and about and having my settings replicated on each machine (particularly IE bookmarks & links) is proving to be a great time saver. This is achieved by seamlessly copying the settings to and from the cloud.

The cloud features heavily in other ways as well, with Microsofts' SkyDrive storage service being pushed as the way to store your documents, photos etc. allowing them to be accessed anywhere. Windows Store apps (formerly known as Metro style apps) also have limited local storage capabilities and are encouraged to store their data in the cloud, certainly for any meaningful line of business applications it will be the only option as databases such as SQL Server can't be directly accessed from the new Windows runtime (although they still can from a desktop application).

Relying on the cloud to store settings and data is all well and good if you've got the connectivity, but it soon unravels when you don't. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of people in the tech industry who assume that we are connected to the internet wherever we are all of the time.

I recently went for a meeting at a customers, all I took with me was my tablet because that's all I needed. I can write notes on it and if I need to demonstrate our software, it's installed on it and can run with no problems at all (it's Windows after all) and it's easy enough to hand the tablet around to show it off. It's certainly a lot more convenient than lugging a laptop around and having to carry a separate notebook.

As I sat down at the meeting I started the tablet and once I'd logged in I tapped the OneNote MX tile on the Start screen. OneNote MX is a Windows Store app version of OneNote which is a part of Microsoft Office. To my horror instead of starting up straight away and showing me a blank note in which I could starting writing my notes it complained about needing access to the cloud so that it could create its Notebook and wouldn't load.

To be fair it was the first time I'd started it on the tablet since I'd rebuilt it with Windows 8 RTM and it would've worked fine had I run it for the first time when connected to the net while in the office. That could've been a showstopper but fortunately I also have Office 2013 preview installed on the tablet and so I could use the desktop version of OneNote. But even if I didn't have that version I could have probably used the Windows Journal which would most likely have been enough for my purposes.

I know this is a fairly trivial example, one which I was easily able to workaround but it does highlight a problem that we all face when running apps on our tablets. There seems to be an assumption that tablets will always be connected to the internet, either through Wifi or 3G mobile connectivity. I don't think that's a safe assumption to make, but it's probably a frustration that we'll have to get used to.

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