If you aren’t using it…

Posted on April 2, 2013

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One thing that everyone should be using is some form of cloud storage. Depending on the service, there are different rules for what you can and can’t do. The great thing to know here is that you can get a little bit of extra space to store files if you need it (for free). Even greater, you can share this space across multiple computers and even your phone. Let’s add one more benefit: you can share the files with anyone who you are connected, so if you exchange files, that would be one way you can do this task instead of burning a CD or DVD disk for each person who you distribute files. You can even work collaboratively on files with others while the client software resolves the conflicts with your editing. So, I have to ask, why haven’t you started to use cloud storage yet?

Probably the granddaddy of these providers is “Drop Box” (https://www.dropbox.com/). This is one of the oldest service providers of cloud storage. They have clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, and various phones. For the OSes (operating systems) that aren’t supported, you have a windows based interface that is cumbersome to use, but functional. Everyone is given a small amount of space free: 2 GB. This is expanded by 500 MB for each person you refer to their system, up to 18 GB maximum free space. Paid plans start at $10 per month if you have larger storage requirements. The client software makes the “drop box” available to you as a simple drag and drop operation – no web client to learn and very easy to use. Sharing is simple with those who have accounts, and is fairly easy to accomplish. Unfortunately, this has to be performed both on the client software and then the web interface (it is easy, though).  This service does one thing and does it well: storing and sharing files.

Another plan is Google Drive (https://drive.google.com). This service from Google is part of the Google Applications bundle of services that you may have heard as “Google Docs” in the past. The security on Google Docs isn’t as complete as you find on Drop Box, but you can share folders with anyone who has a Google account and give them access to “view only” or “edit” the document. Everyone starts with 5 GB of space. I don’t know the pricing on the payment plans. You may be wondering what the other applications are that you can use with Google Drive, and that should be what you are asking. You have spreadsheet, word processor, forms (data collection and survey), presentation maker (slides), and drawing. I haven’t worked with their new “Fusion Tables” beta project, but it aims to make presenting data in the form of charts easier. With third party applications, you can add other functionality including diagramming, project management, and a lot of other helpful applications to the common business. The bad news: you have to install all these apps in Chrome to use them on each system, and mobile isn’t supported for all the applications. Another bad thing: it is only accessible via Windows, Mac, and Phone. If you have Linux, you are just out of luck for a client, but can still use the web interface. On a positive note, the speeds that you can upload and download files are incredibly fast – by far the fastest I have used short of a dedicated storage system at an organization I used to work. When you weigh in the other functionality that Google has given to you with Google+ and Gmail, you can’t ignore this provider.

Since we have Google, we might as well add some comments about Microsoft’s product: Sky Drive (https://skydrive.live.com/). If you have a Windows phone, this is the only cloud service that integrates with it. As with Google, if you have Linux, you are out of luck with a client package but can still use the web interface. I am not sure what the storage you will have if you try using your account – I know a few people who started with 25GB and others who started with 7 GB. Again, if you need more space, Microsoft will gladly provide an additional 20 GB for $10 per year (you can get more if you want to pay more). One of the biggest differences is that Sky Drive is strictly web interface based. Microsoft is working on a client package to install locally and give the seamless look and feel of the other providers (a small number are beta testing this and unfortunately, can’t say anything more than something is being worked on). I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft is working on more to compete with Google’s full product offerings.

Another service is Amazon’s EC2 cloud storage system. Anyone can get 5GB of storage space for free. The bad news: there is only a web based interface that uses Adobe Flash to upload files. This means it is difficult to use at times. If you purchase your music from Amazon, you can store it in their cloud at no additional cost to you (and stream from it with Amazon’s Cloud Player). More storage is available starting at $20 for 20 GB more. They have recently released a Windows client package to make everything seamless. There is also a photo viewer for Android phones.

Lastly, I am going to cover Ubuntu One (https://one.ubuntu.com/). This service is available for Linux, Windows, and phones. I haven’t tried to make it work on a Mac. Ubuntu One offers 5GB of storage for free, and starts with a streaming service with 20GB of space for $40 per year. My experience with the client software has been excellent, but have heard from others that they have had problems with Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems.

There are other services out there such as Apple’s MobileMe/iCloud service, Copy, and the like. These services are constantly changing, and overall they are improving. With Apple, I am not sure what they are doing with their service and believe that Ubuntu One will be going in their direction.

I hope from this that you can see you have several online or “cloud” based storage options available to you. Seriously consider them for your business, and instead of burning a new CD or DVD each time you need to send images to your clients or business partners. Even if you don’t, why not use the free storage space?

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Posted in: Technology