Working With My Head In the Cloud

On September 15, 2011, in Carrie Cuinn, Tech Nerd, by CarrieCuinn

Once you begin to work with multiple computers, smart phones, and other devices, you might find yourself needing a file on one system that you last opened on another system. As a writer, I find this happens to me all the time. I often start a story on my desktop computer but later need it on my laptop if I want to work more on it while I’m out of the house, or even on my day job computer if I want to sneak in some extra words on my lunch break. There are a variety of ways to make your data accessible wherever you’re working, including transferring it via email or on a flash drive, but those methods have their own problems. None of my computers share the same operating system, which can make using a portable drive more difficult, and email limits the size of the file you can transmit. There are times that security concerns prevent me from accessing my email as well. For these reasons, online storage is a better option for me.

“Cloud storage” means that you keep your data on the server of a hosting company, who allows you to upload and download that information whenever you have access to the Internet. You can often find these services for free, and the file you upload can be whatever you need to use later: a word document you’re editing, a .pdf you need to read, a graphics file you haven’t finished manipulating or drawing on. Let’s look at a few of the free options which are readily available:

Dropbox: has a mobile app for Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry; works with Windows, Linux or Mac

Dropbox allows you to upload your data two ways. You can add data directly through your browser, the same way you’d upload a picture onto Facebook of Flickr (by selecting the file when prompted and clicking on the “upload” button). You can also download a Dropbox program which will sit on your computer’s desktop and lets you move data back and forth. The mobile apps let you view your data from your phone when you’re away from a computer. Dropbox boasts that it has “simple sharing” which means that you can allow other users to get your information too – great when you’re collaborating on a project with a friend. You will need to create a user id, which is tied to an email address, but that’s standard for any of these cloud sites.

Note: Though Dropbox strongly encourages you to download their software, even giving you bonus space for doing so (you can also get extra space for getting friends to sign up), you can create an account without downloading anything by clicking on the “Log In” link on the upper right-hand corner and selecting “Create Account”.

Evernote: has a mobile app for Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry; works with Windows or Mac – does not have a Linux download

Evernote is designed to be something like a collection of sticky notes, saved on the Web. You can also save links, news articles, images, and more to your account. One of the fun things about this service (free, though there are premium options) is that within the site you can find applications which further adapt Evernote to your needs. Soft Sign allows you to sign .pdfs from your iPhone or iPad; while Skitchallows you to draw on an image from your Android. You can organize your notes by tags or by color, and Evernote connects to Twitter. You can even use it to store voice notes and with products like the Livescribe smart pens. Like Dropbox, it has a sharing option. It also recommends you download their software, but the option to simply create an account is right on the front page.

Sugar Sync: has a mobile app for Android, iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry as well as Windows Mobile and Symbian devices.

Like the other sites, Sugar Sync lets you back up data on the web. It also lets you create links for public files (the ones you’re OK sharing with everyone) for Facebook, Twitter or your blog, in case you want to offer a free .pdf copy of your newest book or artwork but don’t want to host it yourself (up to 25 MG). It has options for paid upgrades and also can be viewed in different languages than English.

Ubuntu One: has a mobile app for Android, iPhone, iPad, or Ubuntu (it’s a default download if you have this OS) but does not have a Windows or Mac download, though the site says Windows is “coming soon”

The free Ubuntu One account includes 5 GB of cloud storage, more than Dropbox or Evernote, and also has options to sync/stream music to your Android or iPhone for a fee. Your storage can be increased for $2.99 per month per each 20 GB of storage extra you want, which is also less expensive than the others, though I’ve never needed to expand from the free service. If you use the service from within Ubuntu, it will also sync your Tomboy Notes and Firefox bookmarks. The Android app will automatically sync your photos to your UbuntuOne account so you have a backup of your images for free.

There are other services, such as Amazon’s Cloud Drive, which offer a decent amount of storage space but primarily are set up to sync your music. The sites listed above can hold music, data files, images and more. Depending on your needs you might be more interested in simple uploads (Dropbox or Ubuntu One), smaller files but more flexibility to include other kinds of information (Evernote) or a simple way to share files with the public (Sugar Sync). Since they all have free services, at least at the basic level, can be accessed through a web browser without needed to download a program, and have mobile apps, these services are accessible to anyone. You can try them all out to see which one will work the best for you.

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4 Responses to Working With My Head In the Cloud

  1. So I take it you are you a linux user, Carrie. Have you always been or did you “convert”?

  2. Carrie Cuinn says:

    Paul – I’m a Linux user in the sense that I use Ubuntu on my desktop computer (which I also built myself, something I should probably put in another post) but my netbook is a Mac and my other netbook is dual-booted Ubuntu/Windows. I use PCs at work or at the library and I do a bit more work on my iPhone. I don’t avoid Mac or PC products but if I have a choice, yes, I love the functionality of a Linux OS because it is so customizable and there are a lot of great, free, open-source softwares available.

    I first learned to use DOS as an elementary school student and though I went into tech support after high school in an Windows NT environment, I’ve always been interested in Linux. I think that’s what got me into Macs to begin with – that they were based on Linux and initially were more of a geek toy than PCs were. Over time they’ve become a company at the forefront of the Plug and Play movement, and my interest in them has dropped considerably. I’m all for ease of use but the idea that we should spend more money to get something that seems to work without having to know why bothers me because it’s encouraging us to trust in the device to work like “magic”, cutting out our need to think for ourselves (which is kind of the point of this column).

  3. I don’t avoid Mac or PC products but if I have a choice, yes, I love the functionality of a Linux OS because it is so customizable and there are a lot of great, free, open-source softwares available.

    That’s what I meant. Given a choice, you use Linux.

    My best friend is very much a DIY Linux sort of guy. He’s been giving me advice the last couple of days because my SSD (with Windows) is dying and I was looking at getting Linux as a second boot option on my PC (on a different drive) as a backup…

  4. I use Drop box right now but I have noticed a limitation when you share files with someone else. Let’s say that you do all the stuff they ask you to do and you get the 2GB free with a little extra for installing on multiple machines/devices – so you’re at 2.25GB. Someone decides to share one of their folders with you – the size of that folder cuts into your 2.25 GB. I can’t wrap my head around why they do it that way. The whole thing kinda annoys me.

    I’ve also used Evernote – was an early adopter, actually, In the early days of my solo podcast, and then when we launched the Functional Nerds, I used Evernote to tag interesting tidbits from across the web, which usually made it into the podcast as a topic of discussion. But I got away from using it and haven’t really gone back. For me, it was more about organization than anything else.

    Great post – keep em coming!


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