Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Efficiency

"The cloud" has become the new buzz phrase in the technology industry and whether or not you like the idea of using the Internet as a base camp, there are some cloud based tools that can increase your productivity, save you time (and money), and increase efficiency within your business. There are many tools out there, so allow me to introduce five tools, either cloud based or used in conjunction with cloud based apps, that I have been using in my business and professional life.

1. Dropbox – This is my favorite cloud based program/app. You can install it on pc’s and laptops running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. It is available in many mobile formats as well, including iPhone and Android platforms. Anything that you drop into your Dropbox folder on any one device will automatically sync to your other devices where Dropbox is installed. This is fantastic when there’s a pdf file that you want to read later or when you have a file that you started in on one device and need to finish on another. I now keep all of my business cards in a "business card" folder within Dropbox. I don’t see any need to keep paper business cards around since utilizing this tool. I can access a clients card from my mobile device or from any pc/laptop where Dropbox is installed. Best part is that Dropbox allows 2GB of storage for free! If you refer people to sign up both parties get an extra 250MB and they allow you to get up to 8GB free with this method. I only keep small files and JPEGS in Dropbox, but for more space you can upgrade to paid plans with more storage.

TIP: I am well aware of the recent news about Dropbox’s security (or lack thereof). You should definitely think ahead about what files you are saving to the cloud. The files that I use within dropbox are not highly sensitive and the benefits of efficiency outweigh the risks in my case. However, for files that may be more sensitive you can use open source Truecrypt to create an encrypted fileholder. I keep a small Truecrypt file within Dropbox just in case I want to drop in something that requires more security. If anybody accesses my Dropbox they will not be able to decrypt anything in my Truecrypt file since I alone hold the private key.

If you are a Linux user making backups to Dropbox you can use a program called DejaDup that encrypts your files to the cloud and allows for incremental backups.

2. Tomboy Notes – Available for Windows and Linux. Tomboy is not technically a cloud based tool (yet); it’s actually a desktop note taking application. However, it does have web sync capabilities. The development team is working on a Tomboy server where you can type notes and it will sync directly to your local Tomboy apps, but it’s still unstable.

I use it in conjunction with Dropbox which allows your notes to sync up flawlessly while basically keeping a backup in the cloud. I love tomboy notes because: 1) it’s available for Linux; my main OS kernel of choice. 2) It is small, simple, and intuitive; just install and use with little to learn. 3) It automatically saves and links to other notes. 4) It’s free.

I have just about ditched using paper for note taking, I use Tomboy instead. Click "new note", type what I need, hit sync, and close. I can print if I need to or keep notes open like sticky notes on my pc. The only downside thus far is that there is no app for a mobile device, although you can read the synced files in Dropbox that are in XML format if you really need to look at a note.

TIP: Here is a quick tutorial on how to sync Tomboy notes using Dropbox.

Cloud Computing3. Evernote – Available for Windows, Mac, and most Mobile devices. Evernote is a powerful note taking tool and cloud based app that will sync with all of your pc’s and devices. It offers many more features over the simplistic Tomboy app and is comparable to Microsoft OneNote, althoughh I have found Evernote easier and more intuitive than OneNote which is why I am recommending it.

Evernote is awesome as a mobile app! I frequently use it’s camera feature to snap a shot of a business card, receipt, written note, etc, then use it’s integrated Dropbox feature to upload into my Dropbox. Seconds later the file is synced to all of my devices. I cannot tell you how much this has reduced clutter and made my business (and life) more efficient. You can also save voice notes as well as typed notes. Evernote is what I use to type notes on my mobile device since Tomboy isn’t available yet. It is also great for clipping notes, articles, and pictures from websites and then syncing to use later.

4. Voltage Secure cloud email – Voltage secure email is a cloud based email encryption tool.

We implemented this tool in order to send securely encrypted emails to our hospital and healthcare customers. Voltage is HIPAA compliant (regulations in the USA regarding patient privacy) and most of our hospital customer are already using it internally. The current cost is $65.00 per license, per year. The reason that I like this tool so much is that it does not require the recipient to install anything, such as a private key or a certificate, nor do they have to be using the same software. It is cloud based and both parties only need a web browser (though there is an Outlook plug-in that creates a "Send Secure" button, making it very easy to use with that mail client). The first time when you send a Voltage encrypted email to somebody they will receive a link to the Voltage website in order to create a login and password. Once the information is verified they can open and decrypt the message using their voltage credentials. This is extremely useful when dealing with healthcare clients because getting healthcare IT departments to install anything within their environment requires nothing short of a miracle! Sensitive data requests can now be easily transferred via email and is easy for the non-tech savvy recipients to use.

5. Kindle (app). The Kindle app is available on Windows, Mac, and most Mobile devices. I am including this here because I consider the Kindle an extremely useful business tool with great syncing capabilities. Learning is an essential business process. I don’t know of many successful business owners (at least the ones I want to emulate) that haven’t cited reading as a key to their success. The Kindle app is useful because you can download an e-book on any device, whether it be the Kindle e-reader itself, or one of the free Kindle apps available for Windows (PC), Mac, iPhone/iPod Touch, Blackberry, iPad, Android, and Windows Phone 7, and the e-book will sync to all your devices where you have the app installed. Recently this came in handy for me as I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room for over an hour. I didn’t have my Kindle device on me at the time, but did have my iPod touch and was able to continue reading Daymond John’s "The Brand Within" not missing a beat. Plus, you don’t need to be online as long as you sync the app ahead of time. You can no longer use the excuse that you don’t have time to read because Amazon has given us the opportunity to read anytime, anywhere, on almost any device.

The other great thing about the Kindle app is that your notes and highlights are also synced across all of your devices. If you read something that is useful for your business while reading your Kindle on the beach, highlight it or type a note. Later when you’re in the office and your Kindle is home you can access your note/highlight on your pc or mac. I have found the Kindle app extremely helpful for keeping my reading notes organized, which allows me to be more effective in applying what I learn into my business, especially when part of my business is writing articles!

Chuck Romano

About the Author

Chuck Romano
More articles by me...
Chuck Romano is a business and technology professional with over 9 years experience in document imaging and 11 years in computer repair. Chuck provides results driven expertise in fields such as Healthcare IT, document imaging/workflow systems, marketing, and management.

Comments (13)

  • Josh says:

    I vouch for evernote. I use it for every random thing that I need to jot down when I’m on site.

  • Anything based on a server could be classed as “cloud” but if you really want to use the term cloud computing correctly, you should only be talking about remote computing in my opinion.

    storing a few files on a server has been around for years… but virtual / remote computing is what the cloud is all about… and that is a really bad thing for all those computer repair companies out there! :(

  • Zoltan says:

    Try SugarSync, as well. I think it is just as user friendly as Dropbox and it offers 5 GB of storage space for free.

  • Sorin says:

    For notes I prefer Catch. Similar to Evernotes, has an excellent app for Android, auto sync, pictures, great interface, Chrome plugin.

  • Chuck Romano says:

    @ PC Repair Dublin- Yes, the cloud is still a pretty vague description. SAAS, Cloud, virtual computing, are still being used interchangeably, even though they do have specific definitions.
    @Zoltan and Sorin, thanks for the rec’s!
    @Josh- ditto!
    Thanks for the comments!

  • wekebu says:

    Great article.

  • Matthew Davidson says:

    Definitely encrypt data before it is transmitted to DropBox or any other file sync service. In addition to TrueCrypt and DejaDup try SecretSync or BoxCryptor.

  • Technoslick says:

    I was using Dropbox for a central sync point to a KeePassX database file of passwords, along with some non-sensitive files needed for the business, until I heard about Dropbox’s lack of propriety. Even though the database file is encrypted under Blowfish, I know this can be cracked in time. Again, it was the lack of propriety that mattered most to me.

    I ended up solving several needs by opting to pay for 100GBs of storage/sync space ($75/yr.) at It syncs well and I really enjoy their ‘zero-knowledge’ storage (keeping the encryption key on the local device only.) I can sync and backup all my devices: Windows, Macs, Linux and Android systems. A good value for my business. I recommend them.

  • George says:

    I have been seeing this term around a lot lately and I think its a big load of crap. “cloud computing” has no solid definition it can be used to refer to almost any kind of server-device interaction. So with no real definition I could call what I’m doing right now “cloud computing”. What do you mean by virtual/remote computing? Do you mean using virtualization software to run operating systems? Do you mean remotely connecting to other computers? Do you mean accessing content on a server? Do you mean storing content on a server?

    In the words of Larry Ellison, “they changed a term and they think they’ve invented technology”

    Another extremely dangerous aspect of all this “cloud computing” as mentioned in the article is the lack of security. Why would you want to expose your files to a vulnerability like that if it wasn’t absolutely necessary? To think that you’re safe because you “alone hold the private key” to an encrypted file or folder is not smart.

    Take a look at Larry Ellison on youtube talking about cloud computing, its some funny stuff.

  • Alex B says:

    I’d like to add my two cents to cloud, also.

    Cloud, by nature, isn’t completely reliable, no is any cloud service as secure as your own local systems. As such, and many companies follow this model, cloud is primarily used for any non secure, or non-essential documents and services. I would never use a cloud based service to hold any customer information, any financial information, or any proprietary information.
    No matter how secure, or redundant.

  • Chuck Romano says:

    This is good feedback. I think “the cloud” is controversial, but the tools are there and people are using them (myself, of course, included); therefore it is good that we as techs discuss these matters. It’s a matter of what you feel comfortable with and the “cost analysis” between efficiency and security.

  • Dead Badger says:

    Just as an FYI for Linux users, there is an open-source Evernote equivalent called Nevernote. It is free (of course) and compatible with Evernote. Cheers!

  • We’ve converted many business clients to Google Apps and they all agree that it’s a wonderful solution. As much as I’d like to deploy Exchange (not really) moving to the cloud makes things so much easier. Suddenly a whole world of easy to use possibilities open up (shared docs, calendar, chat) for the common business user. The beauty is that the learning curve is very short, and there is very little overhead and maintenance on the IT side when it comes to cloud applications.