I have been wanting to put my music in the cloud for a very long time.

For back up reasons, of course. After having spent hours ripping your entire collection to bits, you don’t really feel like doing it again any time soon (although the urge occasionally comes to me to do another pass with a better encoding scheme). However, it’s not very difficult to cover this back up aspect since all you need is an external hard drive, an ISP or simply more than one computer.

The appeal of making your entire music collection available from anywhere at any time is very hard to resist, though, but until recently, I have never really found any of the available services very compelling. Add to this the persistent rumors that Google and Apple will soon be offering such a service and I found myself squarely in the “wait and see” camp because I was pretty sure I would end up using one of these two services.

And then out of the blue, Amazon beats them both to the punch with its Music Cloud.

I was still conflicted, though, because I really wanted to wait to see what Google and Apple will come up with, but I recently decided to take the jump and try out Amazon. So I subscribed.

This post is not about Amazon, though, and since I’ve only been using their service for a week, I don’t have much to say about it, but here is a quick review.

My collection takes up about 40Gb,so I chose the $50 plan which gives me 50Gb on Amazon’s servers. The upload of my entire collection took about fourteen hours and went by seamlessly. The Android Amazon application is the same I already had on my phone, except that the previous version was only used to buy MP3’s. This new version also includes the player and it’s been working fine. It allows you to download songs only on wifi if you want to (an important detail, because even though your carrier is pretending that you have unlimited data, you most likely do not) and the preferences mention some “caching” abilities, although I haven’t had the time to investigate exactly what that means (does this cache contain the real MP3 files that I can access from other applications or did they scramble them?).

This move got me to step back and look at the bigger picture, and I realized the the Cloud had been slowly but steadily sneaking up on me these past years. I never really noticed it and I never made the conscious decision to use it, but the amount of information that I have stored on some random servers is pretty impressive:

  • My personal email, obviously. I switched to Gmail in 2004 and everything is stored on the Gmail servers since then. Sadly, all the emails that I exchanged since I started using email (around 1988) are lost. At some point, I was running my own sendmail server on my personal computer, needless to say that I will never, ever do that again (nor should you if you value your time, your sanity and the integrity of your email address).
  • My contacts. I initially stored them in my Gmail account but there was little point in it since I could hardly make use of anything but the email address field. Android changed everything: suddenly, all my Cloud contacts could automatically show up on my phone. Even now, almost three years after Android officially appeared, I’m still stunned that I can add a contact on my computer and have it automatically appear on my phone a few minutes later without having to ever connect my phone to anything.
  • My pictures and videos. Picasa contains all my pictures, but obviously, there are plenty of other quality services out there (SmugMug and flickr to name a few). I have done a better job at retrofitting pre-digital era material here: I scanned a lot of older pictures and uploaded them to Picasa as well. The oldest pictures I have there date from 1998. I wish I had a few older ones as well.
  • Various documents, sensitive or not. Google docs is great for this, both for my own documents but also for documents that I share with others. I’m never far away from a login name on some obscure web site, an account number or a driver’s license number.
  • Applications and programs. The record is more mixed in this area and so far, only my video games are being accurately tracked by Steam. Whenever I install a new computer, reinstalling these games is usually a matter of a few clicks and a few hours of download. Steam is awesome and it’s the future of digital distribution, but I haven’t yet found a service that will extend this to any application that I want to reinstall on my computers.
  • Various files and odds and ends. These are files that I use for development or other activities (configurations, preferences, etc…). I don’t have a good solution for these so I usually just copy them myself on the host maintained by my ISP. Dropbox has recently become a good solution to share files I need everywhere.
  • I’ve never been a big DVD buyer and this trend is not likely to change much now that so much movie content is available online. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and now even YouTube, movies are everywhere, and even if their access is sometimes a bit crippled compared to a good old physical disk (lower resolution due to streaming or availability delayed compared to retail), there is no doubt that these hurdles will soon completely disappear.

The consumer cloud is here and it will slowly continue to improve and swallow our lives, because the convenience is just too hard to pass up.