Free online storage – what I’m doing now

Back in 2012 I wrote about a few cloud storage options I was exploring. Well a few years have passed so I thought I’d update / annotate the old one. So here goes. New comments will be coloured red.


UPDATES Wow, another one today (Thursday, April 12, 2012). LogMeIn has entered the ‘cloud storage space’ space by announcing the invite-only beta of Cubby — which gives you DropBox-like access to 5GB. I’ve requested an invite and will post about it when I have some hands-on time. Meh. Cubby’s nothing to write home about. LogMeIn has been a bit of a disappointment since they significantly changed their remote desktop application and left iOS users in the dust.

DropBox has doubled the amount of free space they’re giving out through referrals and Spider Oak is also in my testing suite. It starts out with 2GB free, and I’ve just opened my account so I’ve just started testing, but you can expect I’ll write about it in a week or two. If you want to check it out, here’s an affiliate link (which will get you one extra GB of storage!).

Dropbox is still cool and still used by me on multiple computers and mobile devices. Well worth it if you’re looking great storage and 3rd party app support through services like IFTTT and many mobile apps.

Currently, the latest buzz is all about a possible April launch of Google’s much-anticipated free cloud storage app called dubbed GDrive.

GDrive is clunky – not as elegant as Dropbox or Copy.com (more on that later).

Reports say it’ll come with a local, desktop client for most operating systems that will enable you to store and access about 1GB of files in the Cloud. Nice.

But it’s not here yet, and there are already other excellent cloud / drive solutions that offer the same or better. While it’s hard to compare apples to apple (different providers offer different storage and utility packages) here’s my thoughts on the current leaders:

Dropbox
The current market leader, offers 2GB free, desktop and mobile clients for all leading hardware. Recently, DropBox has become more active in the enterprise space offering solutions for groups and teams.
Affiliate program allows you to expand your storage space by signing up friends etc. Nice that it’s pretty seamless. Install the app on your device, log in, and your files are instantly accessible. I’ve written before about Dropbox here and here.

My affiliate link is here, if you want to check out Dropbox.

DropBox is still best-of-class. If you’re not using it yet and want to explore, please feel free to click my affiliate link (we’ll both get small bonuses 🙂

SugarSync
SugarSync ups the ante a bit by offering a free 5GB account. They also have a nifty desktop client, great web interface, and the ability to extend your storage capacity through an affiliate program (signing up your friends, blogging about it, etc). Here’s my affiliate link if you feel so inclined to check it out

Stopped using it recently. Not so much of an improvement over any other and the client wasn’t working well on one of my desktops.

Box
Recently made the news by announcing Box OneCloud — a collection of mobile apps designed to work with Box’s cloud storage systems:

Signing up to Box gets you an initial 5GB of storage, but they often run promotions with prizes up to 50GB.

While Box does offer free clients for mobile devices, if you want to have the seamless integration of Dropbox or SugarSync, you’ll have to upgrade to the $15/month Box business plan.

I’m still using Box. More of a slow online backup of some documents and stuff. It works well, has a very robust business model and support.

Microsoft Live SkyDrive
This is the big surprise — Microsoft is offering 25GB of storage, Mobile apps, online MS Office integration (and you don’t need to have Office installed locally), group collaboration, and public file sharing.

For example, here’s a public link to an Empire Avenue promotional video, stored in my public SkyDrive space.

Currently there isn’t a desktop client available, so you will need to use the web interface (which is quite slick, even in Chrome and Firefox) to manage your files. But a Windows and OSX desktop client is rumored to be available shortly.

Now called OneDrive, you get 15GB free cloud storage, and MS Office online too. Not a bad setup if you use the Office suite of apps.

New Entries

Copy.com
Starts with 15GB free storage, and you can gain an extra 5GB per new user you invite using your unique invite code. Feel free to try Copy.com out by using my Invite Code 😀

iCloud.com
Apple’s cloud storage entry is interesting. You can store documents in iCloud, then access them from any other iCloud-connected device. One thing, you only get 5GB free, and that iCloud storage space is also used for your iOS device backups, if you have iCloud backup enabled. Still, a cool option from folks at the fruit stand.

Mega.co.nz
Kim dot com’s file sharing and storage site. Free accounts start at 50GB, but you have limited file sizes and transfer bandwidth. I use it lightly.

One or many?
Well, for me, I’m actually using a mixture of these. Dropbox is my daily go-to storage solution, simply because I’ve been using it for so long.

SugarSync I’m using to keep some backup files stored safely. Box, well, I’m not consistent in my use of it, and SkyDrive, well that’s my new darling. I’ve neglected it for a while but now will be trying to integrate it into my workflow wherever I can. And yeah, you’ll here from me if there’s problems.

So, did I miss anything? What’s your online storage solution look like?

How your mobile phone or tablet could save your life

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Believe it or not, there are many ways your mobile smart phone could be used when you find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation,  aside from the obvious — making a phone call for emergency assistance, I mean.

The recent events in Japan and New Zealand have shown that when disaster strikes, getting the most accurate information is likely the best way to make choices that could save your life.

Browser
Provided the event hasn’t taken out the local mobile network, your mobile phone’s browser will help, linking you with many local, national, and international news services, as well as many different channels of communication (email, voice chat, twitter, etc).

Hardware
f1.jpgBut there are other ways your smart phone can help. For example, many smart phone’s display screens are bright enough to be used as a makeshift flashlight when the power goes out. Color Flashlight is a leading Android app and Flashlight 4 is one of the most popular ones in Japan right now.

As well, most phones these days know where they are in the world, either by triangulating between communications towers, wifi sources, or built-in GPS systems. Tie this in with any of the popular mapping applications and you have a good visual understanding of where you are. Helpful when you have to find an alternate route or transportation system in an unfamiliar city.

An app for that? You bet!
As you can imagine, there are many things that you could need in an emergency. And, of course, there are some apps that can help.

During the Tsunami warnings following the Japan earthquake, information like that provided by this Hawaiian-developed Disaster Alert app helped keep islanders informed about the impending waves.

And after an event, finding people and shelter is a priority.

Google launched their Google Person Finder during the Christchurch earthquake, and updated it for the Japan event.

And the American Red Cross has released their free Shelter View app.

So as you can see, with just a few bookmarks, perhaps an hour of app-store browsing, and a few dollars investment, you can have a pretty good emergency preparedness kit all tucked neatly into your mobile data phone.

I think it’s time I started on mine, what have I missed that I should add?
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Emerging Tech: This magazine app knows what you like

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You’ve got an iPad and all the popular magazine, content, reading apps like Reeder, Flipboard, Pulse, and FLUD. Well now there’s a new one using technology from the University of British Columbia’s Laboratory for Computational Intelligence.

It’s called Zite, and is it ever cool. But first, the video.

Why I like it
It’s a learning app. Log in to your Google Reader and Twitter account, let Zite perform a bit of analysis, and you’ve got content that Zite thinks you’re interested in. And it’s free 🙂

Speed up your Internet experience by using the right DNS server

Last week I saw this LifeHacker article (via AppleInsider) about NameBench, a window utility that tests the speed of your system’s DNS servers.

And I was wondering if my DNS was as fast as it could be…

Previously, I’d switched my DNS services over to OpenDNS, a free alternate DNS Provider that adds value as:

  • Ultra-reliable, globally-distributed network
  • Industry-leading Web content filtering
  • Easy to use for families, schools, and businesses of all sizes

Google also has free public DNS services available, which NameBench scans and includes in the results.

But recently I’d noticed that often videos and other streaming media just wouldn’t play back smoothly, so after reading this bit in the life hacker article I thought I’d give NameBench a try.

“When millions of users all tap into the same DNS server addresses to resolve domain names, as Google DNS does by design, Akamai and other CDNs route content to those users along the same path, preventing the network from working optimally. This causes problems not only for Apple’s iTunes, but also any other media streaming or download service that uses a similar CDN strategy to distribute downloads.”

As an added benefit, NameBench checks to see if your DNS servers are vulnurable up to security standards, and if your DNS requests are being censored or redirected (WikiLeaks, for example).

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WOW.
According to NameBench, By switching back to my ISP, I’d get an amazing DNS speed improvement of over 100%!! Remember, this doesn’t speed up my internet connection, just the speed that the Internet translates domain names into those cryptic Internet IP addresses.

So, by making the recommended changes to my systems DNS settings, NameBench was happy with my settings. Now to see if I actually notice any improvement…

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In Real Life.
Well, I’m not too sure if I am noticing any difference yet or not. There’s so many different factors that can contribute to network speed that one change rarely makes a huge difference.

But still, every small improvement you make adds up, and contributes to a more efficient online experience.
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Keeping your holiday photos safe

fz50.jpgThe holiday season is upon us, which means that we’ll be enjoying time spent with family and friends. Many of us will grab our handy camera-enabled data phones and snap priceless shots that we’ll want to share, and keep for posterity.

But that’s where the tech can get a bit tricky. Sure, we’ve tried sharing to our various Facebook, Flickr and Picasa accounts, but what about the ‘saving for posterity’ part.

Photos in the Cloud
Well, two of those three services mentioned above are a great start. Here’s the four that I’ve seen and used that will offer solid photo service over the holidays and into the future:

  • Flickr offers a Pro level account (about $25 per year for unlimited photo and video storage) that will keep all your photos online and available. Free gives you unlimited storage, but only your most recent 200 photos are viewable. Online image editing provided by Picnik.
  • Picasa has a free account that offers 1GB of free photo storage and basic image editing tools.
  • SmugMug is pricier, offers three levels of service, and is geared toward the more serious photographer.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express gives you access to basic online photo editing and organization tools, and 2GB of free photo storage. Additional storage space can be purchased annually.

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So, what’s so great about storing your photos online anyway?

  1. Backup — you don’t have to worry about keeping your images safe; the service you’re using does that.
  2. Sharing — easy to embed the images into blogs, email and twitter messages. Each photo usually has a public URL that’s sharable (or private, if that’s your thing).
  3. Printing — a few of the services are offering partnerships with professional printing labs which lets you produce photobooks, custom prints etc.
  4. Integration — some of the more popular services are already integrated into your iPhone camera applications (such as Instragram). Push a button and your latest shot is uploaded to the service, ready for you to edit and share.

Local storage?
Yep, you can keep your photos on your own computer, but you do run risks should your computer crash or worse. I do keep the majority of my images at home, stored on a network attached storage device that’s got two drives, one a mirror of the other. So if one should die, I’ve got a copy of my data on the other.

Also, I backup my photos weekly, and move the backup drive to an offsite location for even greater safety. Yeah, a housefire would ruin a lot of things, but I know my photos and other important data would be safe.

Your needs?
It depends. Take a solid think about what you plan to do with your photos, how you want to share them, and how important they are to you (can you afford to lose them?). I’ve likely given you some ideas to try and experiment with as we head into the holidays. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it worked (or didn’t).

Reinventing the Walkie Talkie

walkie.jpgBack in the day, this kind of thing was what people used to talk to each other over distances, using radio waves. You were limited by the power of the unit and the type and number of obstacles between you and the person you were talking with.

And generally, your conversation could be overheard by anyone else using a similar device.

Fast forward to this century and the digital dataphone. And this nifty Android & iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app called HeyTell, brings the Walkie Talkie concept up to date.

Simple, but it works
HeyTell is a simple app. On an iOS device (I assume it’s similar for Android), HeyTell uses your contact list to manage contacts and invite others to the app.

Using HeyTell is drop-dead simple:

1) Select the contact to speak with

2) Push the ‘Hold and Speak’ button
That’s it. The voice message is beamed to their device. They can talk back to you immediately.
And that’s the way it works. It’s not real-time two-way communication, rather staged delivery of voice messages… a great way to check in, update someone, when it’s not convenient or practical to send out an email.

And it’s free (excluding Internet charges).



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.