BitDepth 734 - June 08

Dropbox and other online storage options.
Disks in the cloud
Dropbox on the three platforms it supports, Linux, Windows and Macintosh.

For a technology that was built from the ground up to freely share files, the Internet has taken a long time allow ordinary users can send large files to each other without jumping through confusing hoops.

While uploading and downloading files is in the DNA of the web, understanding how it’s done outside of the safe confines of a web browser has proven to be staggeringly difficult for most folks who want to take advantage of the web to pass along data on their computers.

Most web users discover quickly that e-mail isn’t the best way to transfer files back and forth. E-mail is very much a lowest common denominator medium for data transfer, and everything that moves on an e-mail network does so encoded as text.

Many providers and corporate networks limit the size of attachments (2MB is common) to keep traffic manageable on their e-mail networks and sometimes incompatibilities in those limits mean that one person can send a large file but the person it’s addressed to can’t receive it.

The protocol built into the web for handling the movement of large files is FTP or file transfer protocol, and while it’s robust and there’s a lot of software available for working with data this way, the process is a bit too technical for the average computer user.
This is one area where the buzz of the “cloud” has met a real need and the services available for moving files back and forth using somebody else’s server space for free have been exploding.

Both Microsoft (Skydrive) and Apple (MobileMe) offer branded services that are intimately tied into their operating systems, though Apple’s suite of services barely rivals Google’s free offerings at a stunning US$99 per year.
Most cloud drive services offer a relatively small amount of server space for free, usually around 2GB, with pricing plans for larger disk space allotments.
All of these services offer a browser interface for accessing and uploading files and some, like DropSend and YouSendIt, are streamlined to link their service to e-mail.

I’ve used and continue to use many of these services to collaborate with various clients who are comfortable with one product or another, but the one that I’ve actually begun using for my own collaborations is Dropbox, offers a sensible and familiar way of working.
I run a small multi-node network in my home office and setup private download pages for clients on my website, but I have to admit, that Dropbox is sexy stuff.

Unlike its competitors, Dropbox offers software that makes browser based systems look clunky and their application is available for the Mac, Windows and Linux.
Sign up for your 2GB of free space, download and install the software and you’re more than halfway there. You’ll have to override the software’s defaults to create its folder it where it’s most convenient for your workflow.

If all you want is a backup of your documents that you can access anywhere, move your working documents to the new DropBox folder and quietly, behind the scenes, the software begins to synchronise it with an online folder.

Want to share a private folder? Right click on it and select ‘share folder’ from the contextual menu. You’ll be taken to the web to set those options, the only clunky part of the whole process.
The heated competition in this market sector has delivered a range of services, one of which is likely to fit your file transfer and backup needs perfectly.

Cloud drive services
Apple Mobile Me: US$99 per year for 20GB disk space.
Microsoft Skydrive: 25GB of disk space (part of the Microsoft Live services)
Dropsend: Basic service free, US$9 per month for 10GB disk space.
YouSendIt: Basic service free, US$10 per month for 2GB disk space.
Box: Basic service free, US$9.95 per month for 10GB disk space.
Dropbox: Basic service free, US$9.99 per month for 50GB disk space.
blog comments powered by Disqus