I have been storing all kinds of data onto all kinds of physical storage devices since as far back as 1989. My first memories of digital data storage come from those prehistorical 8-inch diskettes on which I carried dBASE and WordStar documents created on MS-DOS machines. I have used 880 kByte floppy disks where, believe it or not, I was able to carry a fully functional streamlined Amiga Operating System, together with a fully functional Scala presentation program and several animations running on top of it. Its successor, the 2-holes 1.44 MB floppy that fitted in a shirt pocket, was my transportation medium for many a printing job during the early DTP years, when Ventura Publisher ruled the game. As my software tools evolved into Macs, QuarkXpress, and Photoshop, so did my storage devices into Zip drives, Jaz drives, SyQuest drives, LaCie SCSI external drives and several others, that were all superseded by recordable CDs and DVDs, and later on by USB sticks with capacity for storing full-color magazines, websites made of thousands of pages or high-res multimedia material.
The common characteristic to all them was (and to some extent still is) unreliability. I have lost all of my digital collections from all those early years. All of them. True, my background is hardly an example of sedentary life, rather resembling a modern version of a Tramp Printer, but I always tried hard to carry and maintain a digital copy of the best work I had done for presentation purposes when applying for new jobs, and I had always hoped to immortalize them somehow, some day. By the time the Internet was in full swing, it was too late for me, as my last SyQuest cartridges onto which I dumped everything I had from a dozen other storage sources, became damaged beyond repair after having been submerged in salt water for several hours. Long story involving a sailboat used as a home, soaked home.
Having a computer, in spite of what most people are led to believe, doesn’t help much either, as many of us have learned the hard way. Just about anything can happen to it, from an electrical shock the renders your hard drive unreadable, to simply having your laptop stolen. Did I mention salt water? All this goes to show the frugal nature of digital media. One moment you have millions of kilobytes worth years of hard work and irreplaceable memories, and the next you have nothing. Gone forever.
Enter The Cloud. Truth is, it has always been there since the very beginning of the Internet, if by Cloud Computing we refer to any computing service delivered by a cluster of web servers that are remotely accessible. Those web servers run software which presents the remote user with an interface through which commands or instructions are collected. An e-mail server for example, is in the cloud by definition, but until the term was coined around 2007, nobody knew. And most of us didn’t really notice, because the limitations in terms of allowed storage size and bandwidth provided by the available free services were too restricting anyway, and the commercial options available were far too expensive, simply unaffordable to most mortals.
All that has changed in recent years, storage has become cheaper and bandwidth has exponentially increased over the years due to Moore’s Law and its equivalent for storage devices and networks. Along have sprouted a number of storage services “on the Cloud”, many of them with basic free plans. And for the first time in my working life I have the near complete assurance that all my stuff is properly stored, and what’s even better, available for download and synchronization from anywhere with a computer and Internet access. And since they are free, I’m uploading duplicates to several of those services for redundancy purposes, and also to test their offerings and quality and then write articles reviewing them.
Below we link to some of the cloud storage services available as of 2011. There are many more, but we have restricted this list to those that offer a free option. We probably missed quite a few, please do not hesitate to let us know what those are, by leaving a comment.
One of the most popular cloud storage services, Dropbox gives away 2GB of online storage for free. Dropbox is very easy to use and works on all major OSs including Windows, Mac, Linux, and an array of mobile devices such as Android, iPhones and Blackberry. Just drop files into a chosen folder (box) and they will keep synchronized with its equivalent on the cloud.
Microsoft’s alternative is only available for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. No Mac or Linux versions, not even XP compatible. 5 GB of free storage space and integration with Windows Live Mesh, allowing you to connect to your computer remotely using any browser, again only available for Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
SpiderOak offers 2GB of storage space for free. SpiderOak works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhones and Android powered smart phones. SpiderOak allows an unlimited number of computers at no additional cost.
ZumoDrive also supports Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhones, Android and Palm Pre mobile devices. Just 1GB for free, but no local copy is necessary on your computer, which saves precious hard drive space, but also means you need to be online to access your data
Windows and Mac support, but no Linux. OpenDrive free offer include 5 GB Storage, 100 MB Max File Size, 1 GB/Day Bandwidth and unlimited computers access.
Windows and Mac support, but no Linux.
Also offers 5GB of storage for free. (Update: No longer free, all they offer now is a 30-day free trial). SugarSync includes solid versioning support so that older versions of files can be retrieved at a later point.
A Linux-based storage service (Windows support in Beta at the moment), with paid options for Android and iPhone clients. Their basic 2GB package is free.
Although not usually associated with Cloud Storage, Google Docs users are in fact able to upload a file as large as 250MB and they get 1GB of free storage for all kind of files that can be shared in a number of ways using Google services.