Apple iCloud: An IT nightmare

Apple's 'it just works' philosophy has little place in business, where flexibility to decide what and how everything should work is essential

If Apple's iCloud has anything to offer IT, it's that iOS 5 works just fine without it.

Just in case nobody has mentioned it to you, iCloud is Apple's latest version of "it just works" -- a service aimed at seamlessly synchronizing data among your computing devices.

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Except there's no "just" about it. While Apple's iTunes software has won Advice Line's prestigious Software Most Likely to Crash My Computer Award for five years running, its worst offense is forcing me to reboot when it gets in a bad mood -- which proves, among other things, that bad moods are contagious. 

iCloud is nowhere near that benign. Install it on your Windows/Outlook system, and it takes your carefully organized contacts, moves them into a single iCloud contacts folder, and leaves your old Outlook Contacts folder empty -- and you wondering how to reverse what it has done. (Wonder no more -- the answer is, uninstall iCloud and then restore your .pst file from backup.)

Consistency not being an Appleverse virtue, it copies all of your calendars into a parallel set of iCloud calendars while leaving the original alone. Just what you needed: two of everything.

It does all this without asking your permission once you check the sync contacts and calendars checkboxes in the iCloud control panel and press Apply -- not surprising, given that the whole point is that "it just works." Whether it does what you want it to do is a whole different matter. Therein lies a valuable lesson for IT organizations looking to spur user-driven innovation.

How Apple's approach falls short

If I lived entirely in the Appleverse, perhaps I would feel differently about iCloud. But I don't. I own and use an iPad, but my laptop runs Windows and my smartphone runs Android. I still need to keep everything in sync.

Let me clarify that: I need everything to keep itself in sync. This being the 21st century, connecting devices with cables and having to launch programs to synchronize data is too anachronistic to bear.

For me, "everything" means more than just email, calendars, and contacts. I have these things called "files." It sure would be nice to keep the ones I need most synchronized as well. But when you use iOS you leave that behind, because Apple doesn't believe in file management. If you are working on a project and want all of your project files available on your iPad, think again. -- which got me thinking about Google.

Google: Multiple configurations to suit your needs

Unlike Apple, Google offers no configuration that "just works." Instead, there are plenty of configurations that work the way you need them to if you're willing to put in a bit of effort.

Google calendar and Gmail work quite nicely as synchronization hubs for calendar and contact information, regardless of whether you make Gmail your primary email system. You can find quite a few alternatives for syncing your various devices to these services. Google's calendar sync does a great job keeping Outlook and Google calendars in sync, and I use Outlook4GMail to sync contacts -- one of several solutions suited to the task.

To be fair, Apple has put excellent integration hooks into iOS, limited as these hooks may be. But it's Google that tells you how to use these hooks. It makes setting up iOS to keep both calendar and contacts synchronized pretty simple, without messing up your data. It's almost as simple as Android, which takes care of itself.

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