iCloud on the Desktop: A Look at OS X 10.7.2 and iCloud for Windowsby Andrew Cunningham on October 18, 2011 3:01 AM EST
iCloud is included with the OS X 10.7.2 update, so Lion users out there will be able to pull it down through Software Update if they haven’t already (and even if you don’t intend to use iCloud, 10.7.2 is a major update that purports to fix many problems with the OS). Once you restart, you’re invited to enter or create an AppleID to associate with iCloud, and upon signing in you’ll see the iCloud preference pane for the first time.
There's nothing particularly interesting about the technology behind iCloud - its mail service uses a standard IMAP server, your calendar is hosted on a standard CalDAV server, and your contacts are served up by LDAP - all open and widely supported standards (meaning that, with the proper server configuration, you could get some of your iCloud data syncing with most OSes, albeit without the help of Apple's handy preference pane). As such, your iCloud accounts can easily co-exist alongside other IMAP or Exchange accounts without conflict, and using iCloud-enabled calendars in Mail and iCal feels the same as does with virtually any other service.
Novice users will appreciate the ability to access all of this using a single sign-in, but just about everybody reading this article doubtlessly has a setup that works for them already (Gmail, Dropbox, and Chrome Sync, for myself). There's nothing about these services in iCloud that's compelling enough to make a contented Gmail user switch, and there are indeed some reasons not to, including the fact that email storage space comes out of the same 5GB pool as everything else.
Other iCloud services are of a bit more interest to people who already have email accounts and calendars, though again little of it is truly new. Find My Mac is an extension of the Find My iPhone tool, which can be used to locate, lock, or remotely wipe a misplaced or stolen device - we'll talk about how it works a bit later when we discuss iCloud.com.
Back to My Mac, a MobileMe import, uses OS X’s built in Screen Sharing and FIle Sharing functionality to share the screen and the files of two Macs on two different networks. You can limit or expand its functionality by enabling, disabling, and configuring the Screen Sharing (or Remote Management) and File Sharing services as you see fit - it's one of the few iCloud services that needs some extra configuration after you turn it on. Once you have two Macs connected to an iCloud account with the same Apple ID, they will show up in each others’ Finder sidebars under Shared, which allows for easy screen and/or file sharing based on how you’ve configured them. Back to My Mac uses IPsec to encrypt data sent over the Internet, and uses Kerberos with Digital Certificates for secure authentication.
As on iOS, the main issue with Photo Stream at the moment is that there's no easy way to delete individual photos from iPhoto or from any of your iOS devices at present. Even if you locate and delete the pictures in the filesystem, that still doesn't delete them from all of your devices (though I do think I broke something on my Windows box - after deleting the photos from the filesystem, I couldn't make them download again without completely trashing the iCloud preferences and starting over again).
There are two ways to delete everything: the first is to disable and then re-enable Photo Stream on all of your devices, and the second is to sign into iCloud.com and wipe it all out in the Advanced settings panel. I'm hoping that Apple implements the ability to delete individual photos from Photo Stream soon, because at the moment it seems like a big downside to a pretty useful feature.