What Is The Cloud?
Like so many subjects, the definition of cloud depends on who is asking, but for most of us who are on the low end of the tech savvy scale, it means a place to store your files on-line. Several companies offer free and paid cloud storage services, so which one(s) should you choose? We will look at a few of them here, to help you make an informed decision.
Why Would You Want To Store Your Files In The Cloud?
1.) To make sure you don’t loose them.
I can’t count the movies I’ve seen where after the house burns down, the now homeless former occupant finds a charred photo of a loved one and cries tears of joy at finding it. Today, most of the pictures we take are of the digital variety and we can print them again should disaster ruin them, so long as we still have a copy of the file. If we only have our pictures stored on our camera, the computer we connect our camera to, or a thumb drive, all of those will go down in the house fire or out the door with the computer thief.
2.) So you can get to them from any where.
So you get to Aunt LuLu’s house for the holidays and you wish you could show her the pictures of the roses you raised last year. If you had those pictures stored on-line, you could access them from Aunt Lulu’s computer, and not only show her, but let her keep a copy for her computer desk top.
3.) To get more from your computers, tablets and phones.
Many apps use cloud storage to synchronize files between your various computers and devices. So, you have to have an account to make that function work.
Storing your files (including photos) on-line is a relatively simple process and it is getting easier all the time, but as with most things computer related, there are some catches. Let’s see if we can get you passed some of those and make the choices easier.
How much does it cost to use cloud storage?
For most of us, it’s free, so long as we are careful to keep it that way. The companies that offer cloud storage are in business to make money and though they hope you will find their service so appealing that you will want to upgrade to a premium level, most offer to let you get started with a “small” amount of space on their servers for free. The term “small” has changed a lot over the last years, Dropbox, perhaps the most well known cloud storage provider, gives new users 2 GB of on-line storage space, with a bonus of another half GB for each new customer you refer.
Two GB is way more space then I had on my entire computer 20 years ago, and is enough to hold the text from several encyclopedias, but today, that 2 GB can get eaten up quick if you try to store your photo collection, music collection, videos, etc. These types of files are large, and on-line storage providers are counting on us finding their service so handy, that we will upload every thing, which will require a “premium” account, which of course, comes at a premium.
Other providers offer more space and each has their own way of tempting us to upgrade to a paid account. Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive and Apple’s iCloud say that they will store the music and video files that you purchase from them for free and those files don’t count towards the limit of cloud storage space they offer you, whether for free or paid, and they do, but they were storing copies of those files before they sold them to you anyway. Then they tell you if you upload all your songs to their cloud, they will automatically upgrade the song file to a higher quality file and synchronize them across all of your computers and devices, for a monthly fee. Watch out, downloading these songs while away from home is a good way to go over the data limit on your phone.
Which Cloud Service Should I Use?
I use more than one, staying under the limit of what they offer for free. Some apps, like a journal I use, store the files on a cloud service in order to keep my journal updated on all my devices, like my phone, my tablet and my computer. In many cases, Dropbox is the default cloud service to use with these apps and you can just enter your Dropbox account information into the app under settings or preferences, if your on a Mac. Since Dropbox offers the smallest amount of storage space, of the services I use, and because it is commonly the default synchronization service used by so many apps, I reserve Dropbox for use by those apps.
Google Drive offers the most storage of the major players, so it makes sense to put larger collections of files there, like backups of your digital photos. Another reason to use Google for photos is the Picasa app, which provides easy to use tools to store, enhance, display and share your photos. Google also offers a suite of office applications that you can use in a web browser, to create and edit documents.
Microsoft will not be left far behind and now offers 7GB of free storage, as well as some office app capabilities, with Skydrive.
Often, when you purchase some device, like a new computer or even a memory stick, the manufacturer will throw in some on-line storage space. Many of these are valid opportunities for you to expand your free on-line storage capacity, just be sure you document where you put what, and those logins and passwords (hopefully, you are using a password manager).
How Do I Get Started Using The Cloud?
Using cloud storage is easy:
- Start by having your password manager handy, you can probably keep a record of what you are going to store where in it, and you don’t want to forget your login information.
- Enter the name of a service you want to try into the search bar of your browser. Click on one of the links that come up, choose one that has the name of the service in the link.
- Follow the easy instructions, documenting the login and passwords you use.
- Download the app that the service offers, this will crate a folder on your computer, any files you place in that folder will be backed up to that cloud service automatically.
- If you have a smart phone or other portable device that can access the internet, there is probably an app for it too, that will allow you to choose any of those files that you wish to keep synchronized to that device. Be careful, as choosing to sync a lot of stuff to your phone can run up your data plan. You can choose to only manually sync your files, this gives you access to them all, wherever you are, but only uses you data plan when you need to.