Google: Partially Cloudy by Design

Larry Dignan at ZDNet says that Google’s cloud storage price-break is a big missed opportunity, because Google “can’t figure out a lightweight desktop client that would back up your entire computer.”  I suspect that Google could- and probably secretly has- done that.  But by making the storage Gmail and Picasa only, Google stands to steal market share from its competitors.  Market share that lands on Gmail and Picasa pages where ads can be displayed.

image No one makes money hosting files in the cloud for free or close-to-free.  But force more of the herd to the application front-end, and you can serve more ads.  That’s where the money is.  Or, at least, that’s where Google and 99% of the rest of the internet believes the money is.

As I noted months ago, I think Google’s failure to dominate the cloud storage space is by design, not by inability.

Having said that, I’d love to be proven wrong.  But I’m not holding my breath for a full featured GDrive at these prices.

Compute Easily and Cheaply With Cloudy, Free Software Alternatives

My computer was getting a little long in the tooth, so when Windows 7 was released, I decided to buy a new one.  I also decided, following my earlier move to Google Apps, to create my application toolbox with as many cloud applications and free software alternatives as reasonably possible.  Here’s what I did, for those who want to simplify their computer toolbox and put some extra money in their pockets.

The Computer

image I bought an HP Pavilion Elite e9280t.  I’ve had good luck with HP computers, both laptops and desktops, so I decided to stay with what was working.  Plus, it seems to me that you get more bang for your buck from HP than other PC makers.  I went with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, because it will give the computer a longer lifespan and I’ve only rarely had problems getting my software and hardware to work under the 64-bit versions.  I also bought 9GB of RAM, because I do a fair amount of video editing and music mixing and the extra memory will make the computer faster at that sort of resource intensive activity.

When the computer arrived, the first thing I did was to remove the bloatware.  HP has gotten a lot better about bloatware, but there is still some clean up required.  I would rather bathe in computer viruses than use anything Symantec/Norton related, so I immediately uninstalled Norton Internet Security and Norton Online Backup.  Rather, I’ll use the free Microsoft Security Essentials and my HP MediaSmart server.  I was a beta tester for Microsoft Security Essentials, and I think it works very well.  Plus, it’s free.  I deleted the screen litter for eBay (which I use, but I don’t need a shortcut on my desktop), and the various online services.  Finally, I deleted all those HP games.  It’s absurd that HP makes you manually check every one separately during the uninstall process.  I interpret that to mean that some of these game developers are paying HP to pre-install this junk.  Regardless, they’re gone.

My Data

Next, I copied over the data I need from my old computer, via an HP Personal Media Drive.  Photos, MP3s, videos, in process song mixes, and some, but not all, of decades worth of Word files I have accumulated.  My new documents are created via Google Docs, but I have some old documents I want to save, just in case.  I like the Libraries feature in Windows 7, which basically lets you use multiple folders for your music, photos, etc.

I saved my old Outlook emails, now uploaded to Gmail, as PST files, and copied them to my new computer’s “Old Files” Library, just in case.

Software and Applications

Now for the fun part.  Here’s what I elected to use in lieu of software I used to pay for.

My first download, of course, was Firefox.  A quick install of Xmarks allowed me to import my bookmarks.  I’m trying to go relatively light on add-ons.  So far I have installed the mandatory Adblock Plus, Better Gmail 2, PhotoBucket Uploader, Read it Later and Xmarks.  All of the foregoing are free.

No more Microsoft Office.  I now use Google Apps (the “standard” or free version) for my email, calendar and documents.  The Gmail interface, with (but not without) Better Gmail 2 is an excellent email application.  Google Calendar is far superior to the Outlook calendar.  And of course, I can now access all of my data from almost anywhere.  And, again, for free.

For my task list, I use Remember the Milk.  It works flawlessly within Gmail and Google calendar via a gadget.  I have a premium account, but there is a free version.

Next, I installed my beloved Windows Live Writer, for blog posts.  Yep, free.

In lieu of the bloated Nero, I installed CDBurnerXP.  It works great, and it costs nada.

For photo management, I couldn’t decide between Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery.  So installed both.  Both are free.

Photo editing may be a challenge.  I use Picnik for basic (read easy) photo editing.  I may try Gimp as a Photoshop replacement, but I am a long-time Photoshop user, and I have a license already.  So at the end of the day the one expensive software program that finds its way only my computer may be Photoshop.  We’ll see.  If anyone has a recommendation, please send it along via a Comment.

For video editing, I installed Windows Live Movie Maker.  I’m a long-time Ulead VideoStudio fan.  Corel bought it, though, so it’s only a matter of time until it dies a painful, bloated death.  Since I have a license for the current version (VSX2), I may install it on my new computer.  I doubt, however, that I’ll buy any upgrades.  Hopefully, Windows Live Movie Maker or some other free or open source program will work for the long haul.  If anyone has a recommend
at
ion, please send it along via a Comment.

image Of course, I installed Evernote.  I am a huge Evernote fan, but the developers’ failure to add folders- or to even respond to my repeated inquiries about the possibility- are dampening my devotion.  Either they need to listen to my good advice or I need to move on.  Let me take a moment to digress.  I have written about issues with HP and Microsoft products in blog posts, and been contacted within hours with offers of help or information.  I have written to Evernote at least twice and asked about the plans, or lack thereof, for folders, and have never received a reply.  That is simply bad customer management.  For now, there are no better alternatives, but at some point there may be.   We’ll see, but for now, Evernote remains one of my most used apps.

For FTP, I use FileZilla, which is free and superior to every paid app I have ever tried.

For radio, I use Pandora and Slacker Radio.

Web site development and HTML editing proved to be a problem.  I installed the free and wonderful Notepad++, which is great for text editing.  I read good things about WYSIWYG editor KompoZer, but I hated the way it reformatted the text in my HTML files when I opened them.  I uninstalled it immediately.  I may not need a WYSIWYG editor, but if I do, I don’t know of a free and powerful option.

The Cloud

For backups and large data storage and redundancy, I use my HP MediaSmart server.  While I was immensely frustrated with my old server, the newer models have more memory and a much better GUI.  I love the media collector feature, that automatically grabs media files from the various network computers, backs them up and allows network access to them.  While I have not done it, you can easily configure your server to allow remote access over the internet.  There’s even an iPhone app.

image For general cloud cover, I use Dropbox for most of my needs.  I also have a Box.Net and a DivShare account that I use from time to time.  If today’s Google news is any indication, all of our cloud needs may eventually float over to Google.  I want GDrive and I want it bad.

For online photos, I use Flickr for my family photos, etc., PhotoBucket for other image files I want to save, and Picasa for reference-related graphics (e.g., maps, reference cards, etc.).  For online videos, I use YouTube, Qik and Vimeo.  All are free, though I pay for a Vimeo premium account so I can upload larger, HD videos.

And of course, I share certain things with friends via Facebook and Twitter.  Both free.

The Result

I have a lean, mean new computer with mostly free, web accessible, organized applications.  It feels really good- and the change in my pocket jingles when I surf.

Pogo-plugging into a Private Cloud

My Pogoplug came today.  I opened it about 15 minutes ago.  Here’s the skinny.

imageSetup was almost as simple as advertised.  I plugged the Pogoplug in, connected it to a network switch in my study, and got an immediate green light (that’s good).  I connected a new Seagate Free Agent hard drive, and activated my Pogoplug via the Pogoplug web site.  With a couple of minor exceptions, it was as easy as could be:

1. It was hard to read the tiny Pogoplug identification number on the attached sticker.  A quick look with a lighted magnifying glass revealed that what I thought was a letter was in fact a number (no big deal- it took maybe a minute longer to reenter the number); and

2. I had to right click and “safely remove” the hard drive from my computer after I formatted it before attaching it to my Pogoplug.  I never, ever do the safely remove thing, but the help box in the Pogoplug activation window suggested I do so (also no big deal, though it cost me an extra 10 minutes or so).

Once you get everything connected, you can log in to your private cloud via the Pogoplug web page.

The interface is perfectly acceptable, even if not perfect.

pogoplug1

The only semi-bummer is that you can’t drag items into a new folder via the web interface.  If you download the Pogoplug software (see the link at the top), your Pogoplug drive will appear in Windows Explorer, just like any other drive.

image_3

There is software for Windows and OS X and a beta version for the four people who actually use Linux for this sort of thing.  From there, you can presumably drag and drop uploads and drag items into folders.  Very nice idea, but I couldn’t get it to work.  It could be another router problem.  If so, this is getting old fast.

image

Sharing via your Pogoplug is a mixed bag.  You can share entire folders with selected people via an email authorization procedure.  A neat feature is the ability to share the contents of a folder via an RSS feed.  Here’s mine.  You can’t share items individually (only via sharing an entire folder), and you can’t generate direct links to serve media in blog posts and web pages.  At a minimum, Pogoplug needs an embeddable media player, like the elegant one at divShare.

There is a free iPhone app, which installed quickly and allowed instant views of the files on my Pogoplug, over wi-fi and 3G.  I could easily access my photos and MP3s.  Uploading a photo from my iPhone to my Pogoplug was easy and fast.  I didn’t see an option for uploading anything other than a photo.

photo

Overall, I am pretty impressed with Pogoplug, and it will definitely replace my current private cloud setup.

Another Horse in the Online Storage Race: divShare

While working on tonight’s Evening Reading post, I came across a story about the recently deceased Eddie Bo.  The story mentioned his song, Check Mr. Popeye and had the song queued up in an embedded player.  From divShare.  The player was compact, with volume control, and seemed reliable and stable.  I was surprised that divShare hadn’t previously come across my radar.

So being a web scientist and all, I felt compelled to take a look at divShare.

The front page says free account users get 5GB of storage and 10GB of monthly bandwidth.  That’s not bad at all.  The sign up form is right there on the front page.

ds1

That’s pretty easy.  Once you sign up, you’re presented with your “dashboard,” from which you can upload and manage your files.

ds2

It’s not the cleanest interface I’ve ever seen, but compared to Photobucket, which I use all the time, it is a work of sheer, unmitigated beauty.  Let’s see if it passes my two-part online storage test.

Test one: does it have a drag and drop uploader?  Why, yes it does.

ds3

Test two: does it allow direct links to files, to make it easier to share them on social networks sites, like Blip.fm, etc.?  No, the free accounts don’t.  But otherwise it has pretty flexible sharing options that almost make up for this deficiency.  As noted above, I particularly like the compact embeddable player.

If you need more storage or bandwidth, divShare’s paid accounts look reasonable and generous.

ds4

And paid accounts have no ads, branded flash players, and direct file links (yeah baby).

All of this looks pretty doggone good.  I’m still going steady with Dropbox (you and I get extra free space if you sign up for Dropbox via that handy link), but I have to admit, divShare is making my eyes wander a little.

I’m going to use divShare a little over the next few weeks and see how it goes, but on first impression- I’m impressed.

Related posts at Newsome.Org:
The State of Online Storage
ZumoDrive vs Dropbox
Bringing the Cloud to the People: What Does Google Know that Yahoo Doesn’t?
Tech for Grownups: My Online Toolbox (Part 1)
Creating a Private Cloud
Choosing Dropbox

Scoble Puts His Head in the Clouds

This is going to be all over the web, so I better go ahead and get my take out of the way.

TechCrunch has reported, and Robert Scoble has confirmed, that Robert’s new venture will involve building a “content and social networking community” for his new employer. . . Rackspace.  No, that’s not a boob-oriented porn site.  It’s an IT hosting company based in Austin, Texas.  I’m interested in the content part, because as much as I don’t like most video blogs (simply because time is precious and I can always read faster than you can talk), I think Robert has a unique position in the blogosphere- he’s loved by the oligarchs and generally trusted by the content-reading class (mostly because unlike many of his friends, he didn’t turn into a prick when he became semi-famous).  On the other hand, the “social networking” thing sounds like a mandatory toss-in to up the SXSW buzz.

One of Robert’s goals will be to:

[H]elp the entire cloud computing industry get more adoption, users, customers. We’ll cover technologies from Rackspace’s competitors like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, GoGrid, IBM, and others. Our philosophy on Building 43 is a rising tide lifts all boats, so we’re going to look to get you the best advice on both how to build your business better on the Internet as well as have fun, too.

As Newsome.Org readers know, I am interested in the Cloud.  However, I think the Cloud will have a hard time gaining the trust of the corporate IT departments and their bosses when it comes to proprietary and confidential information.  I’m going to invite Robert and the head of my company’s IT department to discuss this on one of our future podcasts.

I’m also not sure this qualifies as following my suggestion that Robert become the brand, as opposed to promote the brand.  But there’s no way to tell just yet.  At first blush, it sounds like Rackspace is paying Robert to be a newer, more social-networked and subtle evangelist- like he was during his glory years at Microsoft, in return for the web presence boost Robert can deliver.  On the other hand, if Rackspace is paying Robert a lot of money under a long contract to do what he loves to do, maybe this is the best thing in the world for Robert.  I’m pretty sure it will be good for Rackspace, though I wonder how they will quantify the tangible results in this horrible economy.

In sum, I’m not overly jazzed by this news, but we won’t know how good or bad it is until we see the sort of content Robert produces.

It should be interesting to watch, figuratively and literally.

(Photo by Robert Scoble)

Choosing Dropbox

After looking at a number of online storage providers, I have settled on Dropbox as my primary online storage service, for a few reasons:

1. You get 2GB of space for free, and the cost for additional space is reasonable.

2. Sharing files is easiest with Dropbox, particularly if you want to share files via a direct link.

3. The service seems reliable.  I have not seen any downtime or other network problems.

My wife actually signed up for a Dropbox account today, so she could easily provide a large graphic file to a printer.  What was impossible via email took just minutes with Dropbox.

If you’re interested in free, easy to use online storage, give Dropbox a try.

Extra Storage Bonus and Disclaimer: if you sign up via the above links, both you and I get a little extra free storage for the referral.

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ZumoDrive vs Dropbox

zumodrop

Well, no one hooked me up with a ZumoDrive beta invitation the other night (sort of like nobody ever responds to any of my other @Twits, but that’s a topic for another day), but that’s OK because ZumoDrive opened to the public today, which means even lowly outsiders like me can use it.  And use it I did.

Here’s my report and the reason why I prefer Dropbox.

Sign Up and Installation

Sign up is simple and, like Dropbox, involves the installation of a local application to mount the service as a virtual drive on your computer.  Upon installation, ZumoDrive shows up as a removable storage device on your computer.  Here it is, amid the extraneous and empty disks courtesy of my card reader.

zdmycomp

The virtual drive looks and operates like any other hard drive on your computer.  You can drag and drop files, add new folders and generally manipulate the virtual drive the same way you would with your local hard drives.  ZumoDrive installs itself as the “Z” drive on your computer, which worked fine for me, but might be a problem if you already have a disk mapped to the “Z” letter.  I saw a post in the ZumoDrive forums indicating that there may eventually be a way to change ZumoDrive’s drive letter.  This should be a priority.

You can install the ZumoDrive application on as many computers as you want, and each computer can then access the files in the same manner, via Windows Explorer.

All of this works well.  It’s similar to Dropbox, except that your storage space shows up as a virtual drive as opposed to a “Dropbox” folder in your Documents folder.  ZumoDrive has the advantage here.  It also has a slight edge in the web page design category, though so little of my activity will be through the web interface that this doesn’t really matter.  So far, ZumoDrive works as advertised and is a very solid application, particularly for one that went public today.

Sharing

But there lurks a dark lining inside of every silver cloud.

Oddly enough in these social media/sharing crazed days, the ZumoDrive experience breaks down when you try to share your files.  As a test, I uploaded an MP3 of one of my songs (“I Know Better Now”) to ZumoDrive and to Dropbox.  It was an easy drag and drop experience in both cases.  Next, I tried to share that file, so I could link to it, use it on my Blip.fm page, etc.  With Dropbox, it was as simple as right clicking on the file right there in Windows Explorer and selecting Dropbox > Copy Public Link.  The URL is copied onto your clipboard for easy use.  Blipping the song on Blip.fm is as simple as pasting that same URL into the search box.  Easy as pie.

When I tried to do the same thing with ZumoDrive, things got a little complicated.  When you right click on the file, again right there in Windows Explorer, you have an option called ZumoDrive Share.  Click on that and a box pops up with 3 options.  Link, where you get a link that supposedly links to the file (more on this in a moment); Shared file, where you can enable other people to access and modify the file (this looks similar to the way access is granted in Google Documents); and Embed, where you get code to embed the file in a web page, using an iframe (flash would be cooler, but OK).  Unfortunately, the embed feature did not work with my MP3 or another MP3 I tested it with.  That wouldn’t be a big deal, as long as the Link feature worked.

But it doesn’t.

The link that ZumoDrive presented for my MP3 doesn’t link to the actual file, which means that it doesn’t play when you click it, and you can’t use the file on Blip.fm or any other similar service.  Rather, the URL links to a page at ZumoDrive where you can access the file.  If that’s not enough of a buzz kill for you, you can’t even play the song from that page- or at least I can’t.  I get a message that the file cannot be viewed and may be corrupt.  Sure, you can download the file, but that’s three steps to listen when it ought to be one.

zdmessage

Maybe there’s a way to do what I’m trying to do via ZumoDrive, but a half hour of hard looking, a reading of the FAQ and a visit to the user forums did not uncover it.  It took no time at all to figure out how to do this via Dropbox.

iPhone Applications

Of course, to get total love, an app like this has to be accessible via my beloved iPhone.  Dropbox has an iPhone-designed web interface, which seems fast and stable.  It’s easy to select and stream a song right from Safari.  I’d actually prefer a dedicated iPhone app, but it’s hard to find anything wrong with Dropbox’s iPhone integration.

dbox
Some mighty fine music in there

ZumoDrive offers an actual iPhone app called Supersize me (iTunes link), which interestingly turned up as the only search result when I searched the App Store from my iPhone for Dropbox.  Accessing files through this app is as easy and enjoyable as trying to access the files via URL was frustrating.  The app is stable and fast, and my song streamed quickly.

zdiphone
Only one song in there so far, but it’s a good’un

Overall, I’d give both services high marks for their iPhone implementations.  Maybe the slightest of edges to ZumoDrive because it is an app.

Price

You can’t truly decide between the two without comparing their prices.  ZumoDrive gives you 1GB for free and Dropbox gives you 2GB for free (or stated another way, paying customers subsidize a free gigabyte or two on every desktop).  Here’s how the paid plans compare:

Dropbox ZumoDrive
1GB N/A Free
2GB Free N/A
10GB N/A $2.99/mo.
25GB N/A $6.99/mo.
50GB $9.99/mo. $11.99/mo.
100GB N/A $19.99/mo.
200GB N/A $37.99/mo.
500GB N/A $79.99/mo.

At the present, Dropbox only offers the 50GB paid plan, but the FAQ says other plans will be available in the future.  I’d say ZumoDrive is one good reason to hurry that up.

Dropbox is cheaper, at least for the comparable 50GB plan.  If I were to go all in, I think 100GB would be my sweet spot, which is a bit of a drawback for Dropbox.

And Then Comes the Deal Stopper

It would be a tough call if the URL sharing for ZumoDrive worked as well as it does for Dropbox.  But, at least as of now, it doesn’t.  The jacked up way ZumoDrive handles URL sharing is a deal stopper for me.  If they fix this, it would be a virtual tie: Dropbox’s lower price battling it out with ZumoDrive’s larger space options.

I’m going to watch both of these horses.  When I reach my free space limit, I’ll probably jump on one of them (unless my historical preference Box.Net matches some of these plans, in which case it would have the incumbency and good customer service advantage).  But for now, I’m going to enjoy my free gigabytes and watch those ponies run.

Creating a Private Cloud

After thinking about the various online storage options, and particularly the high cost for those who need or want a lot of space, I started to think there might be a cost savings to creating a private cloud.  Like lots of other business people, I have a remotely hosted, dedicated server to host my web sites.  I could always use a desktop, web based or plug in FTP client to access space on that server, but that would require me to separately configure each computer I want to use to access that space, including borrowed computers.  It would work, but it wouldn’t be fun or efficient.

I could also set up some space through Amazon S3, find a web based front end, and access my data that way.  Again, it would work, but it wouldn’t be ideal.  Plus, the cost formula used by S3, while inexpensive, doesn’t lend itself to certainty.  The fee is based on both the space you have and the amount of data transfer in and out (and out could be a big number if your shared items become popular).

So I decided to experiment with a private cloud.  Here’s how I made one and what I think of it so far.

bls First, the hardware.  I have a home server that I use to serve audio and video content throughout the house, to back up our computers and for storage that I don’t need to access remotely.  Because that box has plenty on its plate already, I elected not to use it for my private cloud, even though it has the ability to permit remote access.  Rather I bought a Buffalo Linkstation Mini.  It’s small (5.2 x 1.6 x 3.2 inches ; 1.1 pounds) and fits easily inside the electronics chest in my study (an old chest of drawers with grommets drilled in the back, so I can charge laptops and other devices in drawers and out of the way).

I ran a network cable from the nearest switch (the one that serves my Mac not-so-Mini) to the Linkstation, ran the power cables through the grommet and out to the the power strip I previously installed on the back of the electronics chest.  Less than 15 minutes after opening the box, the Linkstation was installed and ready to go.

Next, the software.  The Buffalo installation disk is reasonably straight forward.  It identified my Linkstation on the network right away and installed the NASNavigator 2 software, that allows you to manage the Linkstation via your computer.  Like with a router, most of the Linkstation setup is done via your web browser (always change the default password right away with routers, wireless access points and web accessible drives).  If you’ve ever set up a router, this process will be a breeze.  Even if you haven’t, the process is pretty simple and the manual is helpful if you need some hand holding.

You name your Linkserver, set the date and time, assign it to an existing Windows workgroup if you want (though it will be visible on most networks even if you leave the default workgroup name).  You create folders to share via this same web based application.  It’s not hard to do, but it’s not as easy as it would be if you could set up shared folders via Windows Explorer.  You can also switch between a RAID 1 or RAID 2 setup, but no action in this regard is necessary unless you want to switch arrays.

Setting up web access consists of selecting the folders you created as described above and selecting the desired level of access: none; users who have accounts you set up via the setup application; or anyone.  You can (and should) also set access levels- generally read only- for publicly shared folders.

To complete the web access setup, you pick a name for your web accessible space, which is then accessible via a Buffalo owned and administered remote access domain and create a key to give to those who you want to allow access to your “non-everyone” folders.  If you have a firewall or a router, you need to configure it to permit access.  The Buffalo application will attempt to automatically configure your firewall/router, but this did not work for me.  Having some experience setting up routers, I was able to manually configure my router pretty quickly.  This would be a major pain for someone without this experience but it is unavoidable.  Anyone who has ever set up a Slingbox has already been through this process.

All in all, the software is about as simple as can reasonably be expected.  It worked, but it could be more elegant.

Finally, my first impressions.

Once you test your settings and happily get the all clear sign, accessing your private cloud is as easy as pointing your browser at the web address Buffalo creates for you, and filling in the shared space name and your name and password.  The Buffalo web access application works reasonably well, though it is not as appealing as the interfaces for some of the commercial online storage services.  I greatly prefer the Box.Net interface, for example.  On the other hand, once you access the shared folders, when you click on a file you are presented with options to link to a file or to email a link to the file.  You can also remotely add files to the cloud if you have the requisite permissions.

I wanted the ability to serve some content from my private cloud to this blog and my other web sites.  To accomplish that, I created a new folder, set the sharing level at anyone and the permissions as read only.  Here’s a cloud theme song (buy this excellent Jayhawks record on Amazon), which is temporarily located in that folder to see if it works.  Initial results are mixed.  It looks like the files can be accessed, but it doesn’t seem to play well with Yahoo Media Player (which I use and recommend to allow readers to easily play embedded audio), and buffering times vary.

It’s too early to tell if a private cloud will do the trick for me, but it might.  More on my private cloud later.

The State of Online Storage

yahoobriefcase

Ever since Yahoo shocked the world by shuttering Yahoo Briefcase, I have been stumbling around, punch drunk, trying to find a new home for my online storage needs.

Not really.

But I do have online storage needs and I have been trying to come up with a long term game plan.  I am a long-time Box.Net user, and the recent site updates made an elegant and easy to use (and share) site even better.  From the user experience perspective, Box.Net is the clear leader.  It has the must have “drag and drop” upload feature, and the sharing options are intuitive and extensive.  In sum, it’s just cool.  But all that coolness comes at a price, at least if you want to upgrade your account.  5GB of space is $80 a year, and 15GB is $200 a year.  If you really want to go all-in on online storage, even 15GB is too little.  I suspect that I will keep my Box.Net account for some stuff, and because I like the interface so well, I may upgrade at some point.

I have also looked at ADrive (here’s a detailed review).  You can get 50GB of storage space for free, and it has the drag and drop feature.  100GB is $140 a year, and 250GB is $340.  These prices are much lower, but ADrive doesn’t have all the features Box.Net has.  The deal killer for me is that you can’t stream audio files from ADrive, though the FAQ says that feature is coming.  See me when it gets here.  Also, I don’t have the history with ADrive that I do with Box.Net, and putting a gigabyte or so of files on Box.Net seems less risky than putting 100GB or so on ADrive.  Still, if I got comfortable that ADrive was here to stay and it enabled audio file streaming, I’d probably give it a try.

wlive Then, there’s Windows Live or SkyDrive or whatever they call it.  The good news is that free accounts get 25GB of space, plus the staying power generated by Microsoft’s pile of dollars and desire to capture a part of the online app/social media/whatever you want to call it market.  Shuttering all these Live or whatever they call it apps would not be conducive to that effort.  So I think we can assume that these apps will be around for a while (though as a Photo Story mourner I should probably know better).  But, gawd, are those Microsoft sites ugly.  Microsoft needs badly to do two things: pick a name and brand build it into the public’s consciousness and turn their web designers loose to create something pretty, with consistent, cutting edge (and not last year’s) features.  Microsoft has the brand (only angry geeks and hardcore Apple fanboys hate Microsoft), the money and presumably the talent to be a major player in this online app game.  I can’t figure out why they have had such a hard time becoming one, but I think it has more to do with presentation than features.  Well, except for one.  Unless it’s hidden somewhere, I don’t see any drag and drop uploading.  No one who values his or her time is going to go through the hell on earth of browse and choosing a bunch of files to upload.  I gave up before I could figure out the sharing and streaming situation.

The elephant in the room in all of this is Amazon’s S3 service.  A lot of the Web 2.0 companies buy their space and bandwidth from Amazon, and users can buy theirs directly from Amazon as well.  You’ll need a front end to manage the file transfers and there are some not entirely intuitive procedures to enable access, sharing and streaming.  But more and more front ends are available all the time.  There’s a good one for redundant backups via Windows Home Server (now there’s an excellent Microsoft product), with more on the way.  I don’t want to have to worry so much about bandwidth (S3 charges based on space and amount of date transferred), but I continue to monitor S3 and the emerging enabling applications.  In sum, it’s not the best choice now, but it may be later.

Lastly, of course, there’s the maybe soon to be released Google GDrive.  As I noted the other day, if anyone can bring the cloud to the people, it’s probably Google.  Google has the brand and the money, but after the shuttering of Google Notebook and other apps, we can’t assume (like we thought we could) that all Google apps have staying power.  Still, GDrive will probably become the space leader the day it launches.

There are a lot of choices out there.  For now, I’m sticking with Box.Net.  ADrive is the number one contender.  GDrive is the x-factor.

I bet that list changes significantly by this time next year.

Bringing the Cloud to the People: What Does Google Know that Yahoo Doesn’t?

It looks like the maybe finally more than just a rumor Google GDrive is forthcoming.  Of course it’s looked that way for years, but maybe this time it really is.  I am interested in GDrive because if anyone can bring the so-called Cloud to the people it’s Google.

Notwithstanding all the hoopla over the mythical data migration from our computers to the Cloud that we see in the now institutionally dominated blogosphere (damn I miss all those A-Listers who used to ignore me so good), no one is going to move all their stuff to the Cloud for one obviously not as obvious to some as it is to me reason: people do not trust the big scary internet enough to toss all their stuff up there where someone can steal it.  Or lose it.

Nosiree, web based applications are great.  Storing copies (and that’s an important word here) of photos and MP3s are fine.  But all the important stuff (e.g., the stuff somebody somewhere wants to steal that you really care if they do) will remain on the local hard drives.  At least for our lifetime.

GDrive But that doesn’t mean people don’t need online storage space.  I use the excellent and highly recommended HP MediaSmart Server to back up my home network.  Unlike every single other backup solution I have ever tried, it really works.  Plus it gives me a shared Terabyte or three of space for song tracks, video files and whatever else I and the rest of my family are working on.  But I still need some online space for things I want to either use on this blog or access from other locations.  The Cloud is the obvious place for that.

And even though it didn’t have the cool name, the Cloud has been an option for years.  I’m a long time user of Box.Net.  I like it, but the cost of any truly meaningful amount of online space is high ($80 a year for 5-Gigabytes).  Higher than I want to pay and, in my semi-humble opinion, higher than it ought to be.  If I needed a lot of online space, I’d use Amazon’s relatively inexpensive S3 service.  But lots and lots of people don’t have the knowledge and desire to go to that effort.  They want something easy, delivered by a brand they think they can trust.  Google could be that brand, and GDrive could, without a doubt, bring the Cloud to the masses.

Meanwhile, in another part of town. . .

Yahoo announces that it’s shutting down its Briefcase service.  I remember a trillion years ago, I used to exchange song demos with co-writers via Yahoo Briefcase.  I didn’t know that this service, with its whopping 25 Megabytes of space, was still around.  But what I do know is that if Yahoo thought there was money to be made there, it could have long ago expanded, renamed and re-launched Briefcase, thereby getting in front of GDrive.  Yahoo could have been the first big brand to bring the Cloud to the people.  There would have been much buzz.  All of the tech blogs would write or copy identical blog posts.  It would have been huge.  And, more importantly, when it comes to online stuff, being first is a gigantic advantage.  You can blow it, like MySpace, AOL and Scoble, but it’s better to have to worry about staying on top than it is to worry about being on the bottom.  Right Seth?  I know Seth has my back on this.

Anyway, what I am wondering about tonight is what does Google know that Yahoo doesn’t.  At the same time Google is shuttering some of its bad acquisitions and other services that don’t have clear at least to Google paths to profitability, Google is apparently preparing GDrive for liftoff.  So what does Google know that Yahoo doesn’t?

Or should I be asking what Yahoo knows that Google doesn’t.

Somebody help me out here.

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