There's a lot that's been said about the need to back-up computer files, but if my experience of friends ringing me to say their computer's crashed and is there anything I can do about it, more has been said than has actually been done!
There are several ways in which a back-up of a PC can be executed. For one thing, you can create a whole-disk back-up using a utility, either built into your operating system or from a proprietary source of software. This does of course involve having another disk with the potential for being the same size as your main 'boot' drive, either a second (D:) drive or an external drive.
Effectively, that takes care of total disasters, but unless you do it very often, it can lead to any re-built PC being out-of-date, vis-à-vis the latest files added by yourself and other users.
Another subject that's had a lot of air-time recently is 'The Cloud', that intangible ether-like 'somewhere' that's nowhere really - well, it is; it's on someone's servers but the beauty of it is, you don't have to worry your pretty little head about such technical fripperies.
Of course, to access any kind of storage that's 'elsewhere' requires an internet connection, but surprisingly, not all the time. I'll touch on why later.
There are currently three well-known players vying for your 'free' custom at the moment, well there are for PC users. Apple users have a slightly wider choice.
The longest standing, Dropbox, has been around a few years, and I've even written about it elsewhere. New users get 2-gigabytes of storage for free, although if referred by a friend, this is immediately pumped up to 2.5. You can earn extra half-gigabytes by successfully referring your own contacts, the deal being that they each get the extra half and so do you! This is currently subject to a maximum of 8 gigabytes. They're not silly these people. They want to convince you that it's a good service, but once you realise that backing up all the photos from your lovely new 16-megapixel camera is never going to fit into your free allowance, you'll then see the light and pay for more space.
Secondly, there's the Google offering, which seems to be changing its name from Google Docs to G-Drive as I write.
Microsoft Skydrive, of which I finally get round to writing about today, offers a seemingly more generous 7 gigabytes to kick off with - they used to offer 25 gigabytes, but it seems that no-one was buying any extra!
Having said that, it still only gives me about the space for 1,000 photos, so unless I want to start paying, I need
a) to find another way of backing up my photos (and, incidentally my music)
b) to find a new and sensible use for this new-found free 7-gigagbytes of storage.
What I've opted to do is shift my documents, i.e. the real ones, including Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, and God-forbid that I should write any, Powerpoint presentations to the SkyDrive directory, which in the case of Windows 7 will be found in the c:\Users\[yourname]\Skydrive directory.
Rather than be constantly copying new files from the more traditional 'My Documents' folder to the Skydrive folder, I've copied them all once over, and then 'told' MS Office that this is where to look for and save files to in future.
That way, anything I write from scratch, including this, or edit will be backed-up within seconds.
IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT BACK-UP
No it really isn't.
Synchronising your 'stuff' (god how I hate that word) between PCs, tablets and smart phones is also a highly desirable function.
Having signed up to Microsoft SkyDrive, using an existing Microsoft Live/Hotmail account sign-on (or take this opportunity to get a new one), you can download the same system to any other PCs in your grasp.
I find this useful when using my net-book whilst away, and anything I write or edit on it will be reflected on my desktop PC when I get home. I've had plenty of recent experience in country cottages during wet weather to know that being able to write an opinion or three is a useful way of passing the time, and if I don't finish it there, the draft will be waiting for me at home.
Of course, it doesn't have to be only MS Office output that gets backed-up/sync'ed. I direct the back-up facility of my Quicken banking software to the SkyDrive directory for extra security. It also means that if I cared to install the banking software on my net-book too that I could carry on where I left off, keeping my accounts up to date whilst on holiday, instead of the usually unpleasant shock two weeks later!
No-one is suggesting that you should back-up your entire computer, software and all to 'the cloud'. However, we're always told that time is money, so anything into which you personally have invested time (or money), is a worthy candidate for remote back-up.
For example, you might decide that since you've still got the CDs that you used to rip into mp3 files, you don't want to waste good back-up space on them. However, any music that you have downloaded and paid for is another matter. Likewise any software that you've paid for and downloaded is well worth backing up. Not so the software for which you hold the original CDs.
If you go down the route of installing SkyDrive (or Dropbox for that matter) onto more than one PC, you have effectively created a physical back-up of your vital files, as well as the more nebulous 'cloud solution'.
Yes, these directories exist even without an internet connection - it's just that any new or altered files can't be referred to the central server until you connect.
Here's a typical sequence of events.
Write new document on home PC. It updates to Skydrive server. Turn off PC
Go on holiday, get snowed/rained-in. Get bored and turn to netbook PC for a bit of light relief. Write something else. During this period, the iffy broadband kicks in whilst a million miles from the nearest exchange, or a phone mast if you're really flash. Your new document uploads to SkyDrive, and the document you wrote at home appears on the netbook.
Get home, turn on main PC, and as soon as it connects, the document that you wrote 5 miles outside of Merthyr Mudsvil appears in your directory.
One thing you will notice is that it takes forever to make that initial upload of all 7 gigabytes, and it took me two complete sessions spaced over two days to get it all 'up there', and I've got a 3-megabyte upload speed from cable broadband. Goodness knows how long it would take with a more typical 516 kilobyte circuit. Don't worry, it's only the once!
GO COMPARE, GO COMPARE!
Should you decide that the 7 gigabytes are not enough for you the comparative pricing of the three main offerings are shown below.
I'll apologise in advance as it doesn't seem possible to format a table and make it stick - the following lines of info are in the same order every time (i.e. SkyDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox)
Free file storage and access SkyDrive Google Drive Dropbox
Free Cloud storage 7 GB 5 GB 2 GB*
Windows Y Y Y
Mac Y Y Y
Web Y Y Y
Add 20 GB $10** N/A N/A
Add 50 GB $25 N/A $99
Add 100 GB $50 $60 £199
*Extendable to 8 GB by referrals
** All prices in USD
It doesn't take a genius to see that Dropbox need to pull up their socks having more or less had the market to themselves for a while. Despite my innate dislike of Microsoft in general, even I'm thinking that backing all my photos, music and documents for about £35 a year for 100 gigabytes seems reasonable.
Of course, you could always get 14 gigabyte for nada, niente, nichts, nowt by signing up for all three, or am I just an old liberty-taking cheap-skate?
As many of you will know, some things need to be backed up from your PC. I've had hard drive failures, my laptop stolen and everytime lost something I didn't have a copy of somewhere else. Most things I don't care about, but some things are important. My number one concern is my photos to be honest, that's why I'm giving a positive review here for Windows Live Skydrive.
What is it?
Windows Live Skydrive is a service provided by Microsoft completely free of charge for storing files online.
You are given 25GB of space (it used to be a lot less and maybe it will increase in the future) to store all the files that you want (if they fit and are under 50MB individually).
How do I get it?
If you have a Windows Live ID (from Messenger or Hotmail for instance) you can sign into the service.
Online backup - You can backup all the files you want, up to 50MB in size per file. Obviously you can't store anything that infringes any copyright.
Online sharing - You can share folders and files with friends (you can restrict it to certain users) or completely publicly. Friends can even make use of the RSS service to see when new files are added. Note that not everything is shared with the world, so it is okay to store stuff that is just a backup for yourself.
Photo Sharing - The photo sharing is much like the file sharing, only it displays the photos in albums according to the directory structure that you choose.
Drag and drop uploads - You are able to highlight a series of files on your PC and drag them into the upload page.
I find it frustrating that you cannot drag a folder to be uploaded. You have to create the folder in Skydrive first, then upload the files to that folder.
The 50MB limit is also a bit awkward, home movies will be difficult to store and any zipped archives of your photos.
The most annoying feature for me is that once a file is uploaded you are able to rename it, but you cannot move it between folders. Very annoying indeed if you uploaded something to the wrong location in your folders!!
The upload tool can be sensitive to slow or flaky internet connections. My upload speed can be quite low, if I leave photos uploading overnight it isn't unusual to see that 3 photos made it and then a page full of errors.
If you use Window Live Onecare, Skydrive is not compatible with this from what I can see, so you cannot take advantage of the photo backup feature in that software here. This is an extra cost feature in Onecare.
Personally I use Skydrive only for photo backups. These are the most important things that I would want to back up, the files are below the 50MB limit and they are displayed well within Skydrive itself. I don't use the sharing features, but maybe that could prove useful to me one day. For now the 25GB is plenty for me, especially as the service is free.
I wouldn't personally use this for sensitive personal documents, banking stuff or anything along those lines. I don't have these sorts of things on my hard drive anyway.
If you're looking for a simple, free, backup solution then this could be useful for you. Sadly it involves quite a bit of manual work, some kind of automated backup tool would be nice!
<review also posted on ciao>