Help Yourself to Free Cloud Storage!

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"The Cloud" may be the latest buzzword in computing, but you've been using it for years. If you were a WebTV user, your favorites, scrapbook, and email were "in the Cloud." They appeared to be in your WebTV box, but they were actually in your account on the WebTV servers. WebTV and MSNTV users will remember that, when they got a new box, all the stuff from their old box was magically already in it!

GMail, Outlook and Yahoo mail, and web apps like Google Docs are all Cloud-based. They're all things that you use on your device, but which are actually located on a remote server. iPads and iPhones can automatically back themselves up to Apple's iCloud; lose or break an iPhone, or upgrade to a new iPad, and all your stuff is still there!

What's New with Cloud Storage

What IS different and better now is that you can use Cloud storage for any kind of data you have. When you install a cloud data app on your computer, you can save files to it just as if it were any other drive. On tablets and mobile devices, many apps are already configured so that you can save your camera roll or your writings directly to your favorite Cloud storage service instead of to your local hard drive.

How the Cloud Works

This picture, courtesy of Dropbox, shows how it works. You might save a file into a Dropbox folder on your Mac. As soon as you do, your Mac "syncs" the folder with your account on the Dropbox servers -- that is, it uploads it, so now your Dropbox folder on your Mac and on the Dropbox servers contain exactly the same files.

Then, the server notifies the Dropbox app on the other devices connected to the account -- here, a Windows PC and some mobile devices -- that "we have a new file!" When those answer "I'm ready," the file is downloaded to the app on the device. This happens every time a file is added or changed, even a tiny bit. Everything you own where you've installed Dropbox always has all of your stuff!

Ways to Use Cloud Storage

I have Dropbox, and so do our Crossword makers. They share puzzles they're working on with each other, and when one is finished, they drop it into the Dropbox folder they share with me so that I can publish it.

My iPad and iPhone are set to upload any photo or screen capture directly to Dropbox, so when I'm ready to use it, the file is already on my computer. When I was at my mom's scanning old family photos, I saved them directly to Dropbox. They were here when I returned, and I shared the folder so everyone in the family had them.

Here at Games4TV HQ, our team mostly works from home, and sometimes we use artists who are far away. But with Dropbox and Instant Messenger, we actually can share more easily than when we were all in the same office.

I also have Google Drive. I used it for everything on my Chromebook, and the Chromebook shares with my PC. Once, I was making a presentation on my PC for a conference, but I ran out of time.  But everything was saved to Google Drive. When I got to my destination, I connected my Chromebook, finished the presentation, and then went to the conference. There, I pulled out my iPad, loaded the presentation from Google Drive, and gave my speech. That is the power of using the Cloud!

I've just installed OneDrive, and that's what I'm using for backup. The free storage option is generous, so I'm taking all the documents and emails from the past ten years and copying them to OneDrive. If my hard disk crashes or the house burns down, I'll still have them all.

Which One to Get? Any or All!

You don't have to limit yourself to just one Cloud drive, but it's a good idea to start with one, become accustomed to using it, and then add more as you wish.

If you were on MSNTV and your scrapbook pictures and other materials were saved to SkyDrive for you, that's now OneDrive. If you're using Outlook for your email (even if it's "@webtv.net" or "@msn.com"), you'll use the same account for OneDrive. So that would be a good place to start.

If you have Chromebook, use GMail, or have an Android device, you'll probably want to start with Google Drive. It's already set up on your Chromebook when you sign in and with a GMail address, you already have the Google account that you'll use.

I've been using Dropbox for several years, so it's really familiar and comfortable to me. Even if it's not quite as generous on free space, I'm still just half full. Dropbox also lets you set a file to be "public" and gives you a special link. That lets you share one file with a lot of people -- even post it on the web -- without the hassle of creating shared folders with each one.

The list below has the most popular (but not all) Cloud drives. Click on the title of each one for more detail about it and the links to download it.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a widely-used cloud storage service that works on every system via an app or dedicated program, or via a web interface. It is easy to master, and blends seamlessly with your computer file system. It's really useful you use different devices, and want to move your files from one to another. It's also handy when you want to share files with friends and family members, or even make a file available for the public to download.

Works on: All platforms

Google Drive

Google Drive is an excellent cloud storage and file synchonization service, and comes with a generous 15GB of free space. While Google Drive also has a paid 1TB tier for the same $9.99 per month as Dropbox's 1TB tier, there's also a 100GB tier for $1.99 a month, if you need just a bit more space.

Works on: Android, Chrome, iOS, Mac, Windows

OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive)

OneDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage service, recently renamed from SkyDrive. It has a generous free level, offering the same 15GB free as Google Drive, plus 3GB extra if you sync your photos from your mobile device with it, and another 500MB per referral. If you use Microsoft Office Online or OneNote, your OneDrive is the default place that your files are saved.

Works on: All platforms

Box

Box is a cloud storage whose initial market was serving business and industries, and only recently has pursued the personal cloud services market. Box offers 10 GB of free file storage with its "personal" service, and syncs across all your devices.

Works on: All platforms

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon offers anyone with an Amazon account 5 GB of free space on its Amazon Cloud Drive. They also provide unlimited free cloud storage for digital music purchased from Amazon, and 5 GB of storage for documents and books that you email to your Kindle reader. Amazon's Cloud Drive offering isn't as robust as some others, and Amazon really pushes it only for image and video storage.

Works on: All platforms

3 Comments

iTunes

Hi, I have dropbox on my laptop and also have a gmail account. I'm wondering if there's a way to store my iTunes Library on one of them, and if so, will it free up space on my hard drive? It takes forever to run a full scan with Microsoft Security-- is there a way to fix or improve this?
Thank you,
Kelly/ mikkiloo

There is a way, but not with Cloud storage

Hi Kelly,

When the content of the Dropbox or Google Drive is available on your computer, it actually does take up drive space and, unless you set your scan to ignore that drive, it will get scanned. Also, I don't know about your library size, but mine (admittedly really large) is about 350 GB, while I only have about 10 GB of free Dropbox available.

Here's are two alternatives for your iTunes library:

  1. Put your library on an external USB hard drive. They are amazingly cheap these days. Eject the drive (unplug it properly) from your computer before doing a scan. In fact, if you have two USB drives and keep them synced to each other, you'll always have a backup of your library.
  2. If you have an old Mac or PC that you can put on your network, you can use it as the "home server" for iTunes for everyone in your home. Basically, your hard disk wlll be attached to the home server, and any computer in the house that has iTunes can use its music. There are two ways to do this.

    One way is to set the server's drive so that it can be shared by others on the network, then "map network drive" from your PC and point to the server drive so that your PC considers it to be its own network drive. Then open the drive with the music and drag it into iTunes so that it knows about it. From then on, it will play from there. This is how I do my iTunes because I have a really big library; the files are on the drive of an old MacMini I have in the living room. To do this, the computer you're using as the server doesn't even have to be able to run iTunes because you're just using its drive.

    The other way, if the computer you're using as your home server can run iTunes, is to put the library in its iTunes, and then turn on Home Sharing in the iTunes. Then, anyone in the house who is on the same WiFi network and that has iTunes with Home Sharing can load the server's library to play. With iTunes, that's a convenient way to have multiple libraries, so if different people in the house have their own libraries, with Home Sharing they can play from each others.

chromebook

just got a chromebook, now what do I do? lol