What cloud are you living on?

I was going to write this cool post on how much I hate those Microsoft “To The Cloud” commercials because they’re about on the same level as the kinds of magical technology that’s found in tv shows and movies..  where hackers type on a computer real fast for a second and are then logged in to a government supercomputer where they can magically open locked doors, change people’s police records, or tap into cameras.  But two problems, one is that someone sort of beat me to the punch, and two is that some of it is sort of possible – even though the commercial is very misleading on many levels.

Still, these commercials are crazy fake. The one that gets my goat the worst is the one that shows a bored couple sitting in an airport, and after the announcer tells them they’re in for even longer wait, the husband says “To The Cloud” and suddenly they are logged into their computer at home, looking for shows that were recorded so they can watch them over the net from the laptop in the airport.  Speaking as someone who actually has a setup that would allow me to do this.. the facts in the ad are complete poppycock!

Of course in this ad they’re using the term “To The Cloud” to really mean “To The Internet”.  In reality, “The Cloud” refers to the idea of storing items on a server location rather than on a local hard drive.  But in this ad the guy logs into his home computer, which is not the cloud. It’s no more the cloud than the laptop he’s holding in his hands. Really what that ad shows is something that in the mac we’d either call “Back To My Mac” or “Screen Sharing”, which allows you to see your desktop at home from your laptop out and about.

You gotta read the link above cause that guy really goes after them.  His post really covers the “that’s not what the cloud even is” argument.  Which is a very good point.  My argument below is much more about the technological improbability of any of that working the way they show in the ad, having been in a similar situation and tried to do it myself.

There are a few challenges in doing what they show in the ad, a few logical problems with the story… and I also have a few suggestions for these people for future trips they take:

First, I’d have to think that anyone savvy enough to be recording tv shows to their computer at home, would have also brought some media with them. Who goes on a trip like that and doesn’t expect a delay of some kind? If they have media at home, you’d think they’d have media with them and would just watch that. Some advice to the couple: get an iPhone4, iPod Touch, or an iPad2, which are all excellent video players for those times when you need some relief from boredom. All of those aforementioned devices are also great music players, which is useful to drown out the boredom of a long airport wait.

But on with the debunking.. The first question I have is what kind of internet connection do they have there in the airport? I sort of get the impression that they’re just on the free network connection at the airport. That connection, with it’s 1000’s of users pegging it, is not going to do a good job of streaming video. It certainly won’t be as clear as it is in the commercial.  Even the connections in hotel rooms have not been fast enough for me to stream video media from my house.

Maybe they have a wimax card or something like a sprint overdrive. Well I have a sprint overdrive and it requires you to be close to a window to get signal at all. And even then it barely works. Most places I’ve been with it I only got a 3G signal, which is slow and can’t do streaming video of any quality. Again, you’re better off taking the video media with you and watching it on that laptop or better yet on an iDevice.

So let’s assume they have the good enough inbound connection.. the next hurdle is the outbound connection from their house. This one is much easier to tackle. My cable modem actually performs good enough in this area. So it IS impossible. But still is something they’d need.  If anything I’d think that ad would be better for a company selling internet connections, like Cox or ATT, Sprint, Verizon or T-Mobile.  Really the product that is providing the couple the ability to watch this video is their connection out of their house and the one their laptop is using at the airport… But let’s suspend disbelief and move on.

Logging into a home computer from out in the world is possible. The trick is that the IP address on your home connection changes all the time. It’s a dynamic address, not a static one. On the mac you’d need a service like Apple’s Mobile Me, or be set up with a dynamic dns name that keeps track of the address and resolves to it from a custom domain name. I’m sure this is the service that they’re actually trying to advertise on the Microsoft commercial. But of course it gets lost in the meme they’re trying to create of “To The Cloud”.

Last is the trick of recording TV shows to your computer at home. Again, I’m not a Windows guy and don’t know how they’re supposedly doing this in the commercial. But on my Mac I am set up to record shows to my computer. It requires a satellite box next to my computer and some hardware to take the HD output from the DirecTV box and capture it to the mac. I’m using the Elgato EyeTV HD, which does just that, and has software to keep track of schedules, change channels on the DirecTV box, and record the shows with all of the associated meta-data.

The thing is that the Elgato EyeTV HD also has software for an iPhone or iPad to allow you to either watch prerecorded shows or live TV right off your computer at home.  That app is also called EyeTV.  But alas, if your network connection is slow, that video is going to be barely recognizable, looking more like a LEGO version of a TV show.

I won’t lie.. what’s being shown in the ad is somewhat possible and I’ve done it.  During the Christmas I was at the in-laws and watched live tv streaming from my house, but to my iPad and over a very decent cable modem connection there.  Still I think the ad is confusing and misleading to say the least.  And don’t get me started on the one where the mom replaces her kid’s head on the photo… cause that’s something that without some serious photoshop skills just isn’t going to look right.