December 23rd, 2012 • 10:37 am
The one thing I hate the most about cloud-based computing is the sense that I have lost control, that the computer does things on my behalf with very little input or feedback, and that things can fairly easily go wrong. And so I tend to avoid it like the plague.
That said, as a tech support guy, I am also expected to help other people out with their use of cloud-based features. So I do feel a need to try and experiment a bit, although I always do it with things that are not of a critical nature.
A few weeks ago, I experimented with creating a couple of Pages documents in the cloud, with my (first-generation) iPad. They were just plain documents that I created (as far as I can remember) using the default “Blank Document” template, and in which I just typed a few lines of plain text, with no formatting, no images, no layout whatsoever.
It appeared that things went smoothly. The documents were saved with the names I gave them, and the next time I went to my computer, brought up the “Open” dialog box in Pages ’09 and switched to iCloud, the two documents were there and I was able to open them and view them on my Mac.
Then yesterday I had a kernel panic (sigh) and after the computer restarted, I got a weird dialog asking for my iCloud password (I’m not even sure which application the dialog belonged to), so I went to System Preferences to check the status of my iCloud account. I was signed on with the various features checked, so I clicked on the “Manage…” button to see what was going on in more detail. And, among other things, I saw this:
According to this information, each of the two documents that I had created on my iPad weighed a whopping 5.2 megabytes!
That didn’t quite make sense, so I had to double-check and went to icloud.com to view the documents there. The site told me the same thing, i.e. that each document was over 5 MB. I tried downloading one of them from the web, and checked the result in my “Downloads” folder: It too was over 5 MB.
I opened the document package to see what was inside and here’s what I saw:
Needless to say, I am not the one who put any of these “storyboard_paper” files in there. It looked like the document was based on some kind of template with various background image patterns stored in it, even though none of the patterns actually appeared in my document.
I had to try again from scratch and so I went to my iPad, and created a new document in Pages. I made sure I selected the “Blank” document template, which was not hard to do, since all the other ones had all kinds of stuff in them by default. There is simply no way that I accidentally selected anything other than this “Blank” template when I initially created these two documents a few weeks ago.
I gave my new test document a name (“Test”). And then I went back to icloud.com and tried to download it. And I got this:
See what I mean about having a feeling of not being in control? I had just created the document two minutes ago, and now iCloud was telling me that I had to choose between this version and an older version from… April 2012? What the hell?
Now, maybe I did create a Pages document with the name “Test” on my iPad six months ago, as part of another testing procedure. It’s possible. But there is no other document called “Test” in the iCloud storage for my Pages document! So where on earth is iCloud seeing this other version that is somehow in conflict with the one I just created?
It just mind-numbingly impenetrable.
I ended up downloading the “newer” Pages document and, sure enough, that one only weighed 99 KB, so I guess whatever caused my original documents from a few weeks ago to weigh 5 MB each is gone. But still… I just don’t see how Apple expects us to trust a service like iCloud with behaviours such as those. In many ways, to me cloud-based computing feels like an extension of the feeling that most computer users have with their machines, especially on the PC side of things, i.e. a feeling that the user is not in control, that “the machine” does incomprehensible things and that there is no point in trying to figure them out.
As an experienced Mac user, I of course know better and my experience as a troubleshooter means that, in most situation, I am able to come up with an explanation, even if it boils down to “a bug or flaw in the software” (most of the time) or “a glitch” (far too often). But with cloud-based computing I too am starting to feel like we have entered a realm of endless glitches and bugs, with incomprehensible behaviours that there is no point in trying to figure out. Of course, with anything that is network-based, there is the added dimension of unreliability and server unpredictability, which means that in many cases one encounters behaviours that one cannot even reproduce five minutes later. Which makes the whole situation even more unfathomable.
I suspect that, in many cases, cloud-related glitches are just going to become a part of life and that even experienced troubleshooters such as myself will increasingly be forced to endure them along with everyone else, with a shrug of the shoulders as the only possible response when faced with things that don’t make sense and do not work as expected.
I cannot say that this paints a future that is very attractive to me.