free storage on the web in 2000

(Roger Frost, Oct 2000)

Some ideas will catch on faster than others. If we’ve pretty much caught onto using the Internet as a place to send mail and find data, the notion of using it as a disk drive sounds like it will take probably take a while yet. But as the examples here show, it’s now easy to use the web as a storage depot – so when people move job, office, computer or country, files – such as their documents, diary and address book are accessible. Those that travel might take a look at this set of mostly free web services.

Raw storage happens at Driveway (www.driveway.com), a web site which offers folders where files can be uploaded. Here 25Mb of ungarnished space awaits for the price of registering some details. If it’s not the service one naturally flocks to, think about it as a trusty floppy disc. For example, it proved invaluable to stash a pile of much-worked-on documents when a holiday beckoned. And since the web is brilliant for sharing things, it’s also a place to stash a pool of resources for colleagues to dip into.

Uploading files is straightforward and happens from a familiar browser window: click to browse to a file on the hard disk and then send it off. More elegantly, there’s an option in Driveway where you can ‘drag and drop’ by making use of the vestigial ‘Web folders’ installed with Office 2000 or Internet Explorer. Choosing the ‘drag and drop’ option puts a folder icon on the desktop so that when you want to store a file, you drag it here. Likewise, files can be retrieved by dragging them to the desktop.

To let others visit the stash you enter their email addresses beside each folder. Each person then receives an email saying where to go get say their pictures. While its possible to buy extra space at a cost of 1$ per Mb per year, Driveway introduces an interesting form of bartering: by recommending colleagues or answering questionnaires, the starting 25Mb allocation can be nudged up to 100 Mb space.

But sometimes having garnish on web space is a good thing – not least when it comes to storing photographs. The Microsoft Network (MSN) Communities (see http://communities.msn.co.uk/) offers a very easy facility to create web photo albums without doing any HTML. You register a Hotmail address and then download a web application that shows thumbnails of your pictures on disc. You select the photos and have them compressed and uploaded in one move – offer it a 300K photo and it’ll send just 30K which saves time. Within 30 minutes, digital camera snaps of the office party can be a web site causing untold embarrassment, a hint surely that putting photos on the web is more useful than a shoebox.

Just out is Online Favourites, a web site that stores favourite places or bookmarks. It’s handy for those that work on different PC’s, laptops even the Internet café – they can add new web sites and tidy their store knowing that it’s a job that they’ll not have to repeat on every machine they use. It neatly works round the situation where one searches like crazy for an old bookmark, only to recall it is on the other machine. It’s also a practical backup or for when it’s time to upgrade a computer.

Online Favourites is a JAVA application, downloaded when you sign into the site. To get started using Internet Explorer you first use the File menu to export the favourites as a Bookmarks file. Next these are uploaded to www.onlinefovourites.com where there are ways to cherry pick from bookmarks that other people have made public. An ‘Affinity Groups’ page looks like a neat way to share bookmarks with colleagues. If the upload procedure is clunky, it takes a few uses for an avid, well travelled surfer to see the benefits.

Having started to share things to the web, one may as well continue. Visto (www.visto.com) offers a place to put a diary and address book and gain intriguing advantages. This online ‘PIM’ will extract contacts and appointments from Microsoft Outlook ((as well as Palm Desktop, the application that’s bundled with the 3Com Palm)) put them on a web site and make them as private or public as desired. The private option serves as a backup for the office PC and for trips away. The public option is where the intrigue arrives: you can send a group of colleagues a link where they can visit the diary to see when you’re free. They’ll not see any appointments (like ‘Anniversary’) that you’ve classified as personal but they will be able to book an appointment date. Doing this fires off a mail to your usual email address together with an attachment that puts the appointment in your desktop diary. The public diary idea, called ‘group diaries’ here at Visto, serve as shared work calendars, resource booking, holiday home bookings, club events and so on. The possibilities they list are invaluable – limited only by the speed at which the rest of the world can handle them.

Delve deeper and there’s enough, paid for and free, to make Visto the centre of office life: file storage, a basic photo album, remote (POP) mail pickup, together with alerts that fire off messages to pagers, mobiles and WAP phones.

The concept of web storage seen here is set to establish itself starting any time now. Microsoft’s just out Exchange 2000 server software is big on it. Amongst other things, it allows network administrators to put Outlook’s personal folders and a chunk of hard disc onto the web. In a nutshell, much as control of one’s own hard disc is to be relished, there’s lots to be said for offloading a Megabyte of the responsibility onto somebody else.

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