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01-27-2011, 03:10 AM
January 26, 2011
For Your Files, Lots of Room In the Cloud

By JOHN BIGGS

In the old days of computing, you could carry only as many files as you had floppy disks. Then came hard drives and thumb drives, allowing those so inclined to carry entire digital encyclopedias in their pockets. Finally, thanks to new services that store data in the cloud, yet another stage of storage evolution (maybe the final one) has been reached: the celestial hard drive, a storage medium that exists solely in the electronic ether.
Called file hosting services, these online systems allow documents, images and files to be stored on distant servers rather than on a PC. Most of these services store a local copy on your own PC or Mac, and many offer a special folder on your computer that will mirror your selected files on multiple computers. Other services are Internet-only and allow you to upload and share files with multiple users in a few minutes without resorting to dropping CDs in the mail.
But practically, how helpful are these services for work or for home? First, they are a great method for backing up important files off-site. They also allow regularly used files to be shared with friends, family and co-workers. For example, new parents can upload a high-resolution collection of baby photos to show the grandparents, and workers can exchange graphics and frequently used documents with their colleagues.
The services also let you share a public link to the document with anyone or even share the entire folder, which will appear as an exact duplicate on another person’s desktop.
Most of the services offer a few gigabytes of storage free; that will accommodate a few thousand photographs, with enough room for thousands of Word documents. And many allow users to make automatic backups of important files free.
Here is a look at a few popular services.
DROPBOX Like many file-sharing services, Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/) creates a folder on your computer that holds all your mirrored data. But behind the scenes, the service has a sharing component that allows you and a group to distribute a set of files or folders, as well as a version control system that keeps older copies of selected files over time, which means you can revert to older versions of those documents.
Dropbox has a simple Web interface and appears on a computer as a folder called “Dropbox.” Drag files into the folder, and the service sends them automatically into the cloud for safe-keeping. Since these folders are also available through a Web interface, files can be moved, duplicated and deleted even when away from a home PC.
The service automatically uploads any files you’ve changed in your Dropbox folder, provided there is an Internet connection.
The service offers two gigabytes of storage free, 50 gigabytes for $10 a month and 100 gigabytes for $20 a month.
SUGARSYNC SugarSync (https://www.sugarsync.com/) has a few interesting features, including a “Sync from e-mail” system that allows you to upload a file through e-mail, a useful trick for storing photos or documents that others have sent you.
SugarSync allows you to save special folders on all your computers and get into those folders when you are connected to the Internet. SugarSync also has a “Magic Briefcase” that keeps copies of the files synced across devices. SugarSync has a dedicated iPhone (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/i/iphone/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) app for viewing and sharing files, as does Dropbox.
SugarSync costs $5 a month for 30 gigabytes of storage, and up to $40 a month for 500 gigabytes, enough to store 40,000 photos. The larger accounts allow for almost complete backups of your home computer or laptop, although the smaller five-gigabyte plan, which is free, offers enough space for a few essentials.
For those with less strenuous storage needs, there are also single-use file-sharing services that allow files to be stored temporarily in the cloud.
CRATE Crate (http://www.letscrate.com/) is a new service that allows a user to simply drag a file onto a stylized crate icon to upload it. A moment later, the service spits out a unique link that can be shared with friends and family. For example, upload an archive of family photos or a recipe and store it in the cloud for either 30 minutes anonymously, or permanently after logging in. It’s a quick way to share one or two files without the fuss of creating an account or paying a monthly fee.
YOUSENDIT For corporate users, YouSendIt (http://yousendit.com/) is a free service that lets you upload and send files to others through e-mail. Businesses of two to 10 employees pay $15 a month to send files of up to two gigabytes. More extensive plans, including up to 12 gigabytes of storage per user, are available.
YouSendIt offers a free trial service, meant for regular users, that lets someone upload a file and identify a few e-mail recipients. The intended recipients get an e-mail with a link where the file can be downloaded instantly. Like Crate, YouSendIt offers one-shot sharing of one or two files at a time.
ZUMODRIVE This service (http://www.zumodrive.com/) gives users remote access to music and photos, no matter the device, including smartphones like the iPhone and BlackBerry. ZumoDrive, like the other services, also allows you to share folders with multiple devices.
ZumoDrive’s real value comes in sharing entire music libraries, allowing you to listen to your MP3s on the go. Music uploaded to the service can be played on almost any device that supports MP3 playback. You can also browse and share photos stored on your main PC over the Internet. And ZumoDrive lets you share single files or folders with e-mail recipients and even post links to certain files on a blog or Twitter (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/twitter/index.html?inline=nyt-org).
Dragging files off a desktop and into the cloud runs a few risks, including the possibility that the storage provider will go out of business or suffer a huge failure. Still, given the state of most PC backups, it may be worth that risk to depend on the kindness of strangers when it comes to data sharing and storage.