When you're as interested in online applications programs, add-ons and accessories as I am, sooner or later your computer will start to slow down because you've got far to many files stored on it. Some of them will have to go. What can you do if you want to keep them, but not necessarily on your computer?
Option 1: Memory sticks
|Sony 8GB Memory Stick Micro (M2)|
I must be the only one of my friends who doesn't possess a memory stick. With prices that range from £10 to £100, I'm not in a rush to get one, to be honest, but it's not even that. I lose things, and the thought of losing a stick with 8GB or more of my work on (Murphy's Law dictates that the more important and irreplaceable the files are, the more likely it is that I'll lose it) puts me off getting one even though they have those handy little loops on that allow you to attach them to your key ring or wear around your neck on a chain.
You can even get dinky little blingy ones like the one below, which I'm convinced are designed to appeal to the teenage female demographic. It's so cute I might actually get one after all. I've seen memory sticks in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Some of the stallholders at the recent Business Show had some lovely ones that looked like little silver robots. I really wanted one!
Memory size on these things vary, and it's not just the decorative features that push up the price: memory sizes can go up to 16 GB or more. It's the portability that makes them so appealing: you can plug them into any computer that has a USB port to either store or extract data of all kinds. The only linit is file size, so if I do decide to get one, I'm more interested in how much storage I can get for my money rather than whether it's pink and/or shiny.
Option 2: Online storage
I've been using online storage spaces since 2009. They're absolutely brilliant, allowing you to store a variety of file types, often for free. Some of them facilitate file sharing and collaboration, which I've often found very handy. I love the idea of being able to store text, images, music and even video files (even the small ones take up a heck of a lot of space!) and either share them with friends via a link or just store them to free up space on my PC.
Like the memory sticks, there are limits on file size and/or total storage space, and sometimes there are limits on the type of file you can store there. Thankfully, for audio, video and large image files, there are other storage options and you can share links to them. Still, it's great to be able to store all your stuff in the same place, right?
Since I've had some first hand experience of online storage, I'll take you on a tour of the ones I've used.
The first one I ever tried was Google Docs, and that was more for collaboration than anything else. Like all Google products, it's great up to a point. Basically, if you're not too excited about customizing your content and you're fine with limiting access to people with Google accounts, you might as well. I know that people with Yahoo and other accounts can access some Google features, but you still have to sign up for an account for a lot of them.
File types for storage are limited, i.e. you can't store audio or video files there, and PDFs and presentations have to be converted to Google's format. This can distort the files' appearance. However, you can edit those files there, so it can be worth it if you're on a shoestring budget. Google Docs is free.
Google gadgets and other features can be integrated into the Docs files according to your needs; I have used the form function (it's actually a kind of spreadsheet you add via a widget) to add feedback functionality to documents. When Fidlers Ferry Sailing Club needed a way of easily storing and editing PDF files, I recommended using Google Docs. They agreed, and I linked their training course literature on a table of contents which I then linked to their website and blogs. It's incredibly versatile. Google Docs can also be used for merchant services: you can run an e-commerce website using the spreadsheet feature and a Google Sites website.
When I went looking for a collaboration service that would allow me to store files of any kind, edit my files there, facilitate sharing either privately or publicly and permit comments regardless of what email provider my friends used, I was delighed to find Box.net. It allows the upload of any kind of file, including audio and video files, and gives you up to 2GB of storage space for free.
You can create folders and either keep the content private or share it with collaborators. At no point does any of it become public until someone makes a link public. There's a mini forum setup (they call it "discussions") where you can chat with collaborators (people you have invited to join that file or folder area) or simply leave feedback. It's got a wide variety of apps, and has recently added Google Docs collaboration as a feature.
I used it extensively for storing files when I had to do a destructive reboot of my computer, for sharing and commenting on documents in collaboration with my friends, and for private editing work for a creative writer. When Ed Andrea of Dash Help discussed options for collaborating online with myself and other associates of his, Google Docs and Box.net were the first options that came to mind. If he goes with Box, he'll have Google Docs as well.
When I found that Box would only store up to 2GB of files (that's a lot: it's actually my PC's memory capacity), I started looking around to see what else was available in terms of free storage. Adrive offers an impressive 50GB of storage space for free. Features are limited and apps nonexistent, even for paying clients, since it's basically a giant online warehouse - but they give you 50GB of storage for free!
Free users upload via a basic uploader or a very slow Java applet. Paying users get to FTP their files. Although you can share your files as a link, there's little scope for collaboration beyond emailing file links to other people.
I use it mostly for storing software files and items I want to keep private that are taking up too much space on my PC, and for disaster recovery.
An alternative to Adrive, ElephantDrive offer 2GB of storage for free, a neater interface, and a faster service. Professional plans start at $9.95 a month. There's a Free Trialoffered on whatever plan you take, with up to 500GB of storage for$199.50 a year. It's easily the best paid deal.
As a personal preference, I'm more likely than not to continue with my accounts on Google and Box for collaboration and Adrive for storing large video files I don't want to share publicly (i.e. those lasting more than five minutes or so - experiments with Microsoft Movie Maker, etc.) or software zip files.
I still rely on specialist file storage sites like Photobucket and Picasa for storing image files, particularly for avatars and other images that can't just be uploaded straight onto a server on a particular site; and Megavideo for my favourite video clips, etc., i.e. things I'm happy to share with the general public. My preferred option for file storage will always be a mix of the above because it's how I'm used to working — and an online storage facility is very hard for me to lose!