Life in the (BlackBerry) Cloud

Life in the BlackBerry Cloud
By Joseph Holder on 27 Mar 2011 11:31 pm
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As much as I've resisted joining it, I must admit: life inside the cloud is great. Online storage means I never have to worry about losing important files, and I can access them from anywhere connected to the internet. The other day, my laptop computer conked out on me: Blue Screen of Death, corrupted files, the works. I called Tech Support to get the "magical" code that will let me perform a factory reset on the laptop. Right before the guy finally released this sensitive information, he asked if I had done a backup of all my important files.

All of my important files are saved in my DropBox. All my passwords are locked up with Last Pass. All my bookmarks and favorites are automatically updated and shared between my browsers. Why would I need to run a backup? Rather than explain all of that, I just said, "It's fine." A short while later, my computer is up and running.

Thanks to DropBox and LastPass, I'm back - fully restored - in less than a day. What I really like about both of these programs is their BlackBerry applications. Using DropBox on my ‘Berry, I can download any of my files. LastPass on my smartphone means I use only one password amongst all my internets; copy and paste takes care of the rest. Head on past the break to learn more; I'll even show you a couple of alternatives.

Syncing Bookmarks

Though there's no associated BlackBerry app for this, I thought I'd make mention of syncing bookmarks. Many of us have multiple computers, and it's difficult to remember which computer has which set of bookmarks. Since I use Google Chrome, I use my Google Account to keep all of my bookmarks in lockstep amongst my computers. In addition to bookmarks, themes; auto fill; and options are synced as well.

Firefox SyncXmarks

There are other options for syncing bookmarks between your browsers. Mozilla offers Firefox SyncSafari and Internet Explorer users don't have it quite so easy, but Xmarks might be a good solution.

 Keeping files up to date 


DropBox is a service that helps you to keep your important files in sync between computers. At CrackBerry, we use it to transfer large files between each other. At home, I use it to move files from my laptop to the desktop (USB drives are so 2009). The service also gives me a way to use the same file no matter what computer I'm on. I don't have to worry about accidently saving an old version; with DropBox I'm always editing the newest copy.

DropBox for BlackBerryThe DropBox for BlackBerry app is well done; any file some of the files in my DropBox is are available for download on my BlackBerry. Specifically, you can view media files and edit document files.  With documents, I'm given the option to download or edit the file. Once I've saved edits, DropBox automatically syncs the updated document to all of my computers. My one gripe with the DropBox for BlackBerry app is with the way it handles audio and video files. Media files are not downloaded to my phone; they must be streamed in the app's player. Secondly, you can't directly access any of your DropBox files; so no downloading directly to the phone. On the plus side, you can an email a with a URL link to any of the stored files, not just your public ones. 

SugarSync for BlackBerry

SugarSync is a DropBox alternative. Both offer file syncing, but go about it differently. DropBox allows you to sync everything (including subfolders) in one folder, SugarSync is more specific. It allows you to decide what folders on your computer will be synced to which computer on your account. This is certainly a plus when I'm just trying to transfer some files. SugarSync also offers a BlackBerry app, but the experience is vastly different. Where the DropBox app is elegant in its simplicity, the SugarSync app is overly complicated with its Spinning Wheel of Many Choices.

 

Passwords

In the olden days (1998), people were still getting accustomed to password security. Passwords were insecure little devils like 1925MyHomeAddress or password123. Today, people are getting better about using differing cases, numbers, and symbols (e.g., sup3Rm8N&^). but even that's not enough. You see, the problem nowadays isn't bad passwords, it's password reuse. Many people use one password for everything. The danger is if a hacker managed to get your password from one account, they could use it to access other accounts of yours.

LastPass for BlackBerry

Programs like LastPass are a way to combat this.  I've used it for about 2 months, and now have completely random passwords for about half of my websites. "&O@9YM#shmv@3$Dhxgf!dWyz" is much more difficult to crack than "fluffy3." And even if someone were to steal that password, it only works at one website; my others sites remain protected.

Another bonus is portability. Passwords are stored on LastPass' servers using 256-bit AES encryption. I can access those passwords from any secured internet connection. At home, I use the browseer plugin to automatically fill in my username and password.  Away, I can always visit the LastPass website to access my password vault.

Not to ignore the BlackBerry side of things, LastPass offers a BlackBerry app for its premium customers. LastPass is free, but $12 of premium service gets you a year of ad-free use and the mobile app. Menu options make it easy to copy and paste usernames and passwords directly from the app. When you're dealing with a 24-character password made up of a jumble of letters; numbers; attathorps; and ampersands, copy and paste is a wonderful thing.

RoboForm for BlackBerry

My uncle (inventor of the internet*), swears by RoboForm.  It offers many of the same features as LastPass: secure password storage, randomly generated passwords, automatic login to websites. Indeed, the program offers a great deal more. RoboForm can save form information - stuff like your address and phone number - and automatically fill it in later for you. The Robo- app can even securely store credit card info.

The RoboForm for BlackBerry app is on par with that from LastPass. That being said, the only way to "sync" the BlackBerry app and your home computer is to manually copy files from the computer to the smartphone. RoboForm does offer some other syncing options, but they get a little pricey for my tastes.

Living in the cloud shouldn't exclude your BlackBerry. After all, it's an always-on, always-connected device. Are there more ways to sync your desktop life with your BlackBerry? Drop us a note in the comments.

*Okay, true he didn't invent the internet, but he did do a lot of cool stuff during its infancy. 

25 comments

tidebuzz

If you have a computer, get Dropbox, ESPECIALLY if you are a college student.

tuffy100

Agreed. DropBox is a lifesaver

jbag1489

Tidebuzz...UA student by any chance?

chachoi

SOS online backup cheapest is about 5 dollars/month 50GB

jstarett

SoS is cheapest? its actually 10$ a month while dropbox is pretty much free. I have 2.5g and if I invite people into the program I get an extra 500meg per person.

thetnaung

I Agreed with Dropbox and I'm seriously using Dropbox, I have invited all of my colleague, my family member and I have extra free space. And Google Chrome Sync is also the good way of syncing your bookmark, app etc. But if you are living in the cloud, you can't ignore Evernote. This is must have solution for Student, Business etc. Thanks to all these Dropbox and Evernote for making our life easier and going paperless.

triquetra

I have a laptop that is full of docs I don't wanna lose. Does DropBox let us store docs so we can delete from puter? I don't even have room to download a zip program! I used to have Chrome but it took up too much room so I deleted it. Also anyone know of a program that finds and deletes duplicate pics? Looked at the properties of my C drive and the pie was almost all pink with a line of blue! Thanks for reading and hopfully answering.

Monsieur

Hi
I believe you may have more space than u believe. Pink is free space the blue indicates space that's been used up

nolan.b

Ditto on Dropbox, great app! Sync'd across multi-devices (and easy to share with family).

Another great Cloud-App is Evernote. Take notes on your tablet during a meeting or jot down that great idea on your BB while eating lunch, or need to pull up top ten list from saved on your deskop, or hell your wife passes you grocery list (from whatever device to whatever device...). You probably use your BB memo, have a notepad text file on your desktop and random ideas saved on your other devices..well here's one way to consolidate...and no i don't work for evernote :)

I'm still hesitant on Cloud based Password sites...

BlackBerry_Bold_Fan

LastPass also can save form information. You can set it to fill multiple sets of information such as one set for office information and one for home information. With a few clicks it automatically fills most online forms.

The LastPass app can even securely store credit card, bank account, and software license info (a real savior when reinstalling from the web) as well as a number of other specific items.

Finally, to potentially thwart key-loggers, LastPass allows users to generate several one-use master passwords. I have used it for a few years and could not be more satisfied.

zensen

Don't care much for dropbox. There are better alternatives though I do like lastpass! Especially if u use it with chrome, as the only thing good about it is the syncing of bookmarks to your google account.

whitesonj

Just FYI, the FileScout app (currently on sale for $4.99) has a Dropbox plug in feature... So you can download all your media files to your device including pictures, music, and ringtones. Once FileScout is installed and your Dropbox account is synced, you go to the file directory in FileScout, open the Dropbox folder, press the menu button, select "Receive From", and Dropbox will be one of the options. It'll take a second or two for the files to sync but once it does you just select the file you want to download and it'll then be available on your Blackberry. Again, this includes all media file types.

Also, being that Filescout is a third party app you can add it to QuickLaunch or SuperLaunch and have quick access to all your files no matter what you're doing on your Blackberry.

The lack of being able to sync media files to my Blackberry was my biggest complaint about Dropbox, but with Filescout you can. The only issue with Filescout is that you can only sync one Dropbox file at a time. Still, you truly can have ALL your files synced between your work PC, home PC, laptop, and Blackberry... I love it.

XWolf

"LastPass on my smartphone means I use only one password amongst all my internets; copy and paste takes care of the rest." - so if someone hacks/steals that ONE password you might as well have just used the same password on all sites in the first place! False sense of security.

JREwing

I use Dropbox, but I find SugarSync to be a great program too. Evernote is a must.

BB Musketeers

Great article. I didn't know anything about Last Pass until I read this article. I now have it on both my PCs and my Blackberry. I have attempted to use DropBox several times, but when I download it to my Blackberry, I either get a message that it has a java error or an uncaught exception error. Not sure what is causing the problem.

XWolf

All eggs in one basket comes to mind...

berry15

Last semester2 days before my midterms mine and my girlfriends macs were stolen in a home break in. Luckily I had dropbpx and when I got a new MacBook and installed dropbox it downloaded all my files right back to my Mac. My girlfriend wasn't as lucky unfortunately. She now does have dropbox though. I was thrilled that it auto downloaded everything. I thought I was going to have to go and click each file manually.

I've never heard of evernote I will defiantly go check this out now

mikeplus1

I use DropBox daily on my PC and laptop as well as on my Blackberry. The DropBox plug-in for FileScout works great on my Blackberry too and I highly recommend it. You can sign up for a free DropBox account and get 2GB free space along with 250mb bonus space immediately here: http://db.tt/bpBmcS4

jlb21

I am not a fan of the cloud. And I'll provide a few reasons why from my professional side (I do technology risk management consulting).....

I look at it from a regulatory/privacy perspective. Take a client of mine that is looking at cloud services to stay up to pace with their competitors. Right now, to make things simple, they have data on their servers. They are required to protect that data (or portions of it) due to regulations like HIPAA, PCI, MA 201 CMR 17, etc......

They are, so to speak, in control of their own fate and a data breach, if one were to occur, is theirs alone.

But as soon as they place data in the cloud, they have a totally different ball game. They now need to ensure that every single service provider they utilize for cloud services is also compliant with these various regulations. And let's make the case for one vendor who, for argument sake, has dual, mirrored, geographically separated data centers. Let's assume they, in fact, have good sound controls. What happens if those data centers fail? What is that vendor's backup plan? Do they default to some other tertiary provider? If so, then company X now has ANOTHER layer of control that they will have to validate.

Now granted, the likelihood of a scenario such as this occurring may be low. But I see countless clients who don't think issues like this through accordingly.

For personal data only, I might consider the possibility of using cloud services for my BB. But if my device was a company one....no way in heck. And if you use a personal BB for work, and you receive some work data on your phone, and you use cloud services, and assuming the data contains sensitive, PII-like information, are you violating any of your company's policies in doing so?

I also look at it this way.....I do a backup and make a DVD copy that I store, just in case, in a safe at home, or something like that, and I know where that data is. If I put data in the cloud, sure, I know how to access the data. But do I know, with 100% confidence, where my data resides all the time? No. Impossible to know. Servers, backups, tapes, discs, who knows on what media my data is and where it is at any one time.

Ok, I am now climbing off my pulpit for today and going and getting my third cup of coffee!!!!! :)

gritsinct

I second this opinion!

From the perspective of an IT admin, putting data in the "cloud" takes it out of my control and is definitely a security risk IMO. I don't take that chance with my personal data either.

KFBradley

What about Windows Live Mesh? I use it to sync folders between my desktop and laptop, as well as my bookmarks. You can also control a PC remotely with it. It's a lifesaver.

interfasys

If you're using any of those 2 apps, just pray that there isn't any breach like there has been recently at so many companies, including Gawker, Comodo and HB Gary Federal.
If Dropbox's systems get compromised, it's not just your personal details that will be sold on the black market, but your data.
From a company's point of view, those apps should be banned off phones, from a personal point of view, it's your life: you can get it stolen or choose not to put any sensitive data on there (and do backups another way).
The apps that properly protect your data unfortunately don't offer Blackberry clients at this time and from a desktop, if you insist on using something like Dropbox, you can always encrypt the folders you're going to store on there. They just won't be available on your Blackberry unless someone wants to have a go at making a mobile version of Truecrypt :).

whitesonj

Well, speaking as system analyst, I agree with the fact that there is no guarantee that any cloud stored data is 100% safe. The company I work for would never consider using cloud computing for data STORAGE. However, when files / data is encrypted (using a PGP key for example) cloud computing is a rather useful tool for TRANSFERRING files. Using a Dropbox style application for temporary file transfer is VERY appreciated in my world. You can transfer files safely without having to worry about email security, email attachment size limit, setting up FTP sites, etc. As long as the files are removed from Dropbox after the file transfer takes place there is no lingering security threat. We wouldn't ever consider using it as a permanent file transfer / storage solution though.

@interfasys
I agree, but... Users utilizing programs like Dropbox on their mobile devices, PC's, or otherwise won't make a difference in security. If someone really wants to exploit sensitive data they will. Any person nowadays can plug a USB drive (or Blackberry whether it has a special app or not) into their PC and make away with pretty much any information they have access to, which can then be uploaded to the web at any time. If a company deals with personal or other secure information the employees usually are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If an employee then divulges or misuses sensitive material the user is held responsible, not the company or program that was utilized.

Nonetheless, I do agree with what everyone is saying. Online data storage probably isn't going to become mainstream for companies anytime soon. Not until it goes through a substantial period of time without any hacks, break ins, or leaks. Then, and only then will it possibly become a reputable solution for data storage.

Stompy

Joseph, thank you SO MUCH for this article. I just started using LastPass after reading what you said about it, and now there's no doubt I'm going to buy a subscription. It's got features I didn't even know I needed until now but most importantly it prevents me from letting my passwords get out of sync between my BB and computers because I'm being too lazy to sit through a long sync with SplashID.

I'd also like to second the sentiments for Evernote. Another outstanding app, and the developers have put out a few updates recently for the BB which is always good to see.

Someone mentioned using it for a shared grocery shopping list and it made me realize I should mention OurGroceries. It's also cloud-based, and specifically designed to share a list between people using a web interface or a dedicated client for BB, Android & iOS devices. It's fantastic.

Gamesdmc3

i wish i had this when my laptop died,but at least i still have my hard drive