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Create and access documents anywhere

05/24/12
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



I’m an hour from my house. I have to be back approximately where I am in three hours, so there’s no point in going home and returning later. Fortunately I made a plan beforehand: I found a nearby restaurant with free Wi-Fi — OK, it’s a McDonald’s — in which I can write my weekly column on an otherwise crazy busy weekend.
 
Only I seem to have forgotten my laptop.
 
A few years ago I would have been dead in the water. Now, my smartphone makes even the Wi-Fi unnecessary. I can type and format documents and I don’t even have to worry about transferring the text later.
 
You probably already know about Google Docs. Compose documents right on a Web site and they’re waiting for you when you log in on any computer. There are other ways to get that same effect.
 
Mac and iPhone owners have iCloud, which automatically syncs photos, documents and other files between devices, though it doesn’t sync every possible kind of file automatically and the three iWork productivity apps cost $9.99 each.
 
I prefer free solutions. Right now I’m typing in Evernote, which is available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry and Windows Phone; Mac OS X and Windows; and even as an extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari Web browsers. I started using it about a year ago on the advice of a coworker who was always tons more productive than me. Its notes support rich text features like bold, italics, underline, numbered and bulleted lists, and checkboxes.
 
When I open Evernote on my laptop this evening, this note will be waiting for me automatically. It offers 60MB of syncing traffic per month, which takes a LOT of work to reach with text files. It’s honestly changed my life a bit by synchronizing my to-do lists and letting me enter new items the instant I think of them; I don’t always have a pen but my phone is glued to my side. My biggest complaint at the moment: no word count.
 
Some applications are more full-fledged and integrate third-party cloud storage services right into their interfaces. I sometimes use Kingsoft Office on my Android phone, and there’s a version for iPhone as well; it’s a suite like Microsoft Office, but very very VERY stripped down. The basic Word, Excel, and Powerpoint editor syncs with Google Docs, Dropbox and Box.net. Olive Office is similar, but doesn’t support Box.net and is only for Android. And no word count. (Curiously, the biggest open source office suite, OpenOffice.org, has no mobile app at all.)
 
Even though I can access Google Docs perfectly well from my phone, these client applications add functionality that doesn’t have to travel over the Internet every time I press a key. They sync when I save and I don’t have to access the desktop version of the app in my mobile browser just to get a word count. Google. Seriously.
 
Then there’s the old fashioned route of moving documents to your cloud storage within your device’s file system — dragging and dropping, basically. In addition to the services mentioned above, you can try out Amazon Cloud Drive, Comodo Backup, CX, Mozy Home, Microsoft SkyDrive, SugarSync, and Wuala. Just make sure those services have client software for all your devices.
 
Or you could e-mail the file to yourself, if you’re feeling particularly archaic.
 
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