Free Online Storage: Where can I put my stuff?

Everyone with a computer has stuff. Lots of it, from videos and pictures to plug-ins. Eventually, the question becomes “Where do I put all this?” More importantly, users with a little experience say “Where can I put all this where it is safe and easily accessed?”

There are free online storage locations, and even some free cloud-based services that offer software to sync your computer with the cloud. Some of these are easier to find than others. What follows is a cheat sheet of useful resources.

First, the classic email storage gambit: MSN Hotmail offers 25GB of virtual space and their Microsoft Sync software. Sync is in beta, but the space is available with each email registration. Importantly, Sync will set up folders to upload to your MSN Hotmail archive; be careful changing your system around, and double-check your settings. You want to make sure that things are being stored on MSN properly before any accidents, not afterwards.

Google Docs is a great online suite. Unfortunately, it falls a little short when compared to MSN’s vast 25GB offer. Google Docs can store numerous drafts of online documents. Most standard formats are supported, and it is possible to sync files with a little brain work. On the other hand, things outside of documents seem to be verboten to Google right now.

Next, the actual online storage applications: Box.net offers 1GB of free storage, but no files over 25MB. While this is suitable for most users, there are quite a few techies who are not going to fit this plan. 25MB can be one small video file. On the other hand, Box.net is easy to use and the Lite account is free.

Mozy wins hands down for easy access: Mozy will offer anyone with an email 2GB of free space and the software to sync the system with Mozy’s servers. As well, the software takes care of backing the system up automatically, with minimal or no user input. Mozy is almost plug-and-play: sign up, install the software (Macintosh or PC), and you are done. Mozy also offers an incentive program for signing up your friends, which gives you more storage space.

Mozy comes with a few important points. They retain an archive for a 30-day period, so if your system implodes, you can download everything for a month. Running Mozy on a laptop will kill your battery, as Mozy will turn on while the computer is not in use, therefore draining the battery. Change the default settings to avoid this. Lastly, Mozy’s security is straight from 1990. Anyone with your password and minimal access to your computer/email can log in and download your hard work. It is a double-edged sword, having cloud archiving.

Idrive is possibly the most desktop oriented service. The free account is 2GB, and Idrive also requires downloading a program that runs on your computer. The difference is subtle, but important: Idrive updates every 10 minutes, and does not delete archives until you manually delete them or all storage is used. What does this mean? If you are just storing documents, not much. If you are storing larger files, then Idrive may require more maintenance, with the benefit of longer and controlled archiving (think back to Mozy’s 30 day storage policy). Lastly, that 10 minute backup means that Idrive is almost mandated to be desktop only – any laptop will run itself down. While there may be ways to avoid this, Idrive seems to be the designated desktop cloud-based archiving application.

Screencast.com offers 2GB of free storage space, as well as sharing capabilities. Notably, Screencast is part of TechSmith, a prime software developer for Jing, Camtasia, and other media capture/manipulation programs. The 2GB package offers a slick media-sharing system. TechSmith specifically combines their free Screencast accounts with Jing, a free software program that can record your screen and put the video on Twitter, Facebook, or (with a Pro account) YouTube.

Lastly, anyone running Linux Ubuntu is entitled to 2GB of free online storage, and Ubuntu comes with an easily configured auto-archiving function built in. This is the plus and minus of Linux: Every Linux box has storage space automatically assigned to it. On the other hand, many other applications are not supported by Linux. This will change, but for now Linux is possibly the most limited system for cloud archiving.

With the changes in storage methods, new applications, and technological innovations, the Web is sure to have upheaval. Given the graphics standards and storage-intensive requirements of high-end software files, being able to dump data to a secure and constantly available space is becoming a greater necessity. Data centers have become the new factories, with Google and Facebook building their own dedicated facilities within the last year. Storage is at a premium, and is sure to be for the foreseeable future. My honest recommendation: Save yourself a huge headache and get ahead of the game with cloud-based storage now.

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