Running out of hard drive space, but don’t want to buy (or install) another drive? Then take advantage of the plethora of online storage tools. The current batch of cloud storage providers offer services such as document depositories, data backup and online collaboration, just to name a few.
Here’s a rundown of four online storage sites, along with some tips on how to use their features effectively:
1. Microsoft SkyDrive: (Free for 25GB storage)
For storage and sharing, Microsoft’s SkyDrive (free with a Windows Live account) allows you to store up to 25GB of files. When coupled with Office Web Apps, you can have real-time collaboration in Excel and OneNote. Though Word and PowerPoint don’t allow multiple users real-time access to the same files, the programs do keep extensive track of editing history so that you can easily “roll-back” to previous versions if needed.
Tip: If you work with Microsoft Office 2010, you can map a local drive letter to SkyDrive. This will allow you to easily save to and access files from SkyDrive using Windows Explorer. For more info on how to do that, check out the tutorial here.
2. Box.net(Personal: $9.99 for 25GB & $19.99 for 50GB; Business: $15/user for 500GB)
Still using WordPerfect? Google Docs won’t read native WPD files, but Box.net does. This cloud storage platform also easily displays formats such as Adobe PDF, AI and PSD, as well as Open Office and MS Office. Its strongest feature? Integration with 3rd party vendors. From within Box.net, you can post files to most popular blogging formats, send faxes with eFax, have a file printed and shipped with FedEx, plus you can easily work with documents from LinkedIn, as well as access marketing material from Salesforce.com.
Tip: An important part of the collaboration process is for each user to know what their role is in regards to the documents they’ve been given access to. Box.net makes this process easier by allowing you to assign tasks when sharing a file. The options are “Approve or Reject,” “Review” or “Update” or you can add custom instructions. Use the customs instructions box liberally, spelling out in detail what the editors can (and cannot) do with the file.
3. GoogleDocs: (Free for 1GB; $5 for 20GB)
There are few freelancers who aren’t familiar with Google Docs. But did you know that the behemoth of the online world is now allowing you to use the Docs app for more than just documents and spreadsheets? Google recently made it possible for users to upload almost any file type (including video) to your Google Docs account. (Note: This doesn’t mean you can open any type of file in Google Docs; just store it there.) Apparently an incarnation of the once rumored gDrive app, Docs now allows you to share large files among collaborators with just a click of the upload button.
Tip: Make file organization a priority. It’s easy to get carried away uploading everything from JPGs to PDFs, but without a method to your madness, you’ll soon find files difficult to easily locate. First, don’t leave spare files sitting around. Put them in folders as soon as you’ve uploaded them! Second, use a consistent naming strategy. Third, keep folder names as short as possible so they’re easy to read. But keep those names logical too, so all collaborators can easily discern a folder’s contents from its name.
4. Dropbox.com: (Free to sync 2GB; $9.99 to sync 50GB)
If you use multiple computers for working on projects, Dropbox is an innovative tool that allows you to keep files synced between each system. The program puts a Dropbox folder on each of your computers. Anything you place into that folder on one system will be uploaded to the Dropbox server, then synced with your other Dropbox enabled computers.
One of Dropbox’s nifty features is that it keeps past versions of synced files so that you can easily restore any version from the past 30 days. If two similar files are uploaded from two different systems, the program will keep the most current one and tag the other one with “conflicted,” the name of the editor and the date.
Tip: Share a folder with other users by “adding” them to it. Once you have shared a file or folder with them, Dropbox will automatically sync that file with those coworkers’ Dropbox folder, just as it does with yours.
Tell us about your experience with online storage in the comments below. Got a favorite?