Ubuntu Linux, Day 15: Cloud syncing and streaming with Ubuntu One

Just over a week ago Apple unveiled iCloud -- the new data syncing and streaming service that will keep all of your data, contacts, email, and music in sync across various devices. As awesome and revolutionary as iCloud seems, though, Ubuntu is already delivering a similar service with Ubuntu One. So, for today's 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux post we're going to take a peek at what Ubuntu One has to offer.

I logged in to Windows today, but it was to use Ubuntu -- I swear. Well, Ubuntu One at least. Ubuntu One syncs data to the Ubuntu One online servers, and there is a beta version of client software for Windows that lets Windows PCs stay in sync as well. I had to install the required version of .NET framework for the Ubuntu One software to work, but now it runs silently in the background with an icon in the systray. I can right-click that icon and select Open Synced Folders to add folders or access the data I have synced to Ubuntu One.

Ubuntu Linux

The 30 days series

Day 1: Getting Started

Day 2: That was really easy

Day 14: I'm an Ubuntu Unity convert

Ubuntu One is also available for both iOS and Android devices. There is an Ubuntu One Music app available on both platforms that can wirelessly stream your music collection to your mobile device. Unlike the iTunes / iCloud solution that will scan your drive and magically populate your online music locker with your tunes, you have to actually upload your music to Ubuntu One. Ubuntu also has its own online music store, though -- Ubuntu One Music.

The good news is that music purchased from the Ubuntu One Music store is instantly available from your Ubuntu One account, and does not count against your storage capacity max. The bad news is that the Ubuntu One Music store is only available from within Ubuntu, so you can't purchase music from your mobile device, or from within Windows. But, however you get it there -- once it's available in Ubuntu One, it streams smoothly over the wireless network to your smartphone or tablet. I had no problem streaming Pink's "Greatest Hits...So Far" after syncing it with Ubuntu One.

That was while I was sitting at my desk, though. As I was driving and listening to music from Ubuntu One, the songs constantly paused and restarted depending on my 3G signal. I'm not blaming Ubuntu One, though -- iCloud or other streaming services will likely have similar issues with relying on the availability and integrity of cellular networks.

The Ubuntu One Music app lacks polish and features. It just lists the artists alphabetically, with a search bar at the top. But, the search function will only search artist names -- not albums or song titles, and there is no ability to shuffle all music by an artist, or even shuffle within a given album, nor is there any means of creating playlists. Basically, you have to choose an artist, select an album, and listen to it straight through.

When it comes to data other than music, the Ubuntu One Music app is no help. But, you can still access the rest of the data by logging in to Ubuntu One through the browser. On my iPhone, I was able to log in to Ubuntu One and navigate through the folders I have synced, and open a DOCX file stored there. Within whatever viewer or filter Ubuntu One used, the file didn't display properly -- it seemed like a blank screen with the doc title at the top. But, by tapping "Open in Pages" I can open the file in the Apple iWork Pages app, or by tapping "Open In..." I can select another app -- like Documents To Go -- to open the file.

Ubuntu One also syncs contacts, notes, bookmarks, and photo syncing is listed as an upcoming feature. There is an app called Ubuntu One Contacts available for the iPhone, and I wanted to use that to sync my contacts from the iPhone to Ubuntu One, but that app is not available ... at least, not in the United States.

One advantage that Ubuntu One has over iCloud is the inclusion of Android. You can keep files, music, and other data in sync between Ubuntu Linux, Windows, iOS, and Android. That may be a valuable distinction for users who are not iOS-centric and have an Android smartphone and an iPad, or an iPhone with a Motorola Xoom. Of course, that comes at the expense of the Mac OS X platform, so you will have to assess which platforms and devices you use and determine which cloud syncing service meets your needs.

Some of the features are in beta, or are a work in progress, but the foundation is there, and it seems to be quite capable. The base package offers 2GB of online storage for free. Additional storage can be added 20GB at a time for $2.99 per month, or $29.99 per year. The streaming music service is an additional $3.99 per month, or $39.99 per year.

In contrast, iCloud provides 5GB of storage for free and doesn't charge extra for the music features -- so a user with 4GB of data to sync who wants to stream music will end up paying $70 a year more for those services with Ubuntu One than with iCloud. iCloud also seems more polished, seamlessly integrated, and with broader capabilities than Ubuntu One (like syncing apps and ebooks), but iCloud won't be available until fall, and it will be iOS-centric. Ubuntu One is available today and works with Linux and Android.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page, or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com. He also tweets as @TheTonyBradley.

Reprinted with permission from PCWorld.com. Story copyright 2011 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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