Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

When a Laptop Dies: A True Tale of Business Continuity, DabbleDB, and Apple iTunes

laptop.jpgBy Dennis D. McDonald

Sometimes it's good to have everything in one place. Sometimes it's a good idea to have everything spread around. And sometimes having all your eggs in one basket will bite you.

I was reminded of this earlier this week when my main laptop died. I was able to rapidly switch to two backup machines for most of what I needed to do while waiting for the technician. In the process I observed a few things that are worth noting.

First, I had seamless access to my personal sales and contact tracking system. Several months ago I switched all contact data from a local Microsoft Access database to Dabble DB, a web based tool for creating, storing, and managing data, lists, and databases. After some hiccups in importing my contact list from Access, I was rapidly able to access and maintain the data and create a variety of easy to use and search views. I can download backups to my own machine whenever I want and access the data securely from any web browser and internet connection. I like the DabbleDB service -- it's slick and reasonably priced.

I'm glad I made the switch. I practically live out of this database when I'm working. When my main (Windows XP) machine died I was relieved that continuing on was so easy to do whether I was using my old Windows 2000 machine or the Macintosh running OS-X. DabbleDB didn't care as long as I could use a web-connected browser.

The "business continuity" I experienced was a good thing which I attribute to the ability to access powerful functionality through web based systems.

This is not the first time I have had this experience. One of my first "white papers" published here recounted my experience using a web-based sales tracking system with a previous employer. You can see that report here: What I've Learned Using a Hosted Web Based Sales Force Automation Tool. (I should point out that using a shared web based resource as an independent consultant is different from using one when managing a group involving multiple people; check out the "downsides" listed in my paper to see what I mean.)

My other experience this week was not so positive. When my machine failed, so too did access to my iTunes application and library. Even though I use both an iPod and a generic MP3 player for listening while on the go, I lost access to my entire library of ripped CD's, purchased albums (such as the  and downloaded podcasts.

I was faced firsthand with the frustration of losing a local client software application (iTunes) that is tightly coupled with a stored database (the iTunes "library" of music and podcasts I maintain) and linked with a specific peripheral device for some files (the iPod). Not only is the iTunes application not accessible directly through a web browser (I assume there are hacks out there that will do this but I haven't investigated) I have found the iTunes application tricky to network on my home devices.

Unlike the DabbleDB database, the iTunes application and database are tightly coupled with specific devices. As I found to my chagrin, when one of those devices fails, access to my legally procured audio collection is dead as well, with even the files I have paid to download from Apple, such as various film soundtracks, being out of reach.

As we all know, the tight coupling of iTunes software and Apple's Digital RIghts Management (DRM) technology is one of the main reasons for this lack of flexibility. Im other words, one of the reasons I cannot store and access my music and podcast collection easily from multiple locations is because of DRM's hammer-hold on how I can configure my hardware and software.

This is not intended as an anti-DRM screed; I've talked about that topic many times already and feel that these topics are now in the realm of politics and business and have little to do with user preferences or ease of use. Suffice it to say that I am rethinking my reliance on iTunes for managing my collection simply because it is reducing the flexibility I have for using my legally procured files wherever and whenever I want.

That's disappointing to me since I think the user-friendliness of iTunes and the iPod is far and a way the best thing on the market. But when my use of a product leads to the problems I've discussed here -- Dell still has not been able to fix my machine despite my Gold service plan, and I'm now going on 5 days without access to my main machine --  I have to consider alternatives, and my positive experience using a product like DabbleDB is definitely influencing my thinking. (An irony is that DRM, the technology designed to make it difficult for me to share my files with others, is also indirectly making it difficult for me to share these files with myself!)





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