Last week, Erica wrote about her new crush the Roku, which lets you watch movies from your computer on the TV – read about it! This week, she’s saving her precious photos and files in the cloud. What’s the cloud? Read on…
“There are two kinds of computer users – those who have lost critical data and those who are about to,” my techie friend Toni told me disdainfully a few years ago when I told her I never backed up my computer.
You know market crashes – now let me tell you about computer crashes
I must like to live dangerously, because I’d heard more than my share of horror stories about hard drive crashes. The worst was from Arlene, an elderly writer friend who lost years of work when her son, a web designer who supposedly knew what he was doing, transferred all of her stuff from her old computer to her new one without backing up first – a classic case of overconfidence. She was ready to either kill herself, kill him, or both, until she found a firm that specializes in recovering what you’ve lost during a crash. She sent them the old hard drive and they restored everything for a mere $2,000. That’s what it costs when you really screw up.
If you have a lot of photos or emails you like to keep, or anything else you wouldn’t want to lose, then you don’t want to experience a hard drive crash without a backup.
It’s not like I hadn’t tried backing up – I had the best of intentions, I just kept forgetting. People said I should buy an external hard drive, plug it in and copy everything to it, but I knew I’d forget to do that too. Plus, what if there was a fire and I lost the computer and the external drive? What then? Since there were no guarantees, why bother to back up?
The answer is in “the cloud”
When I discovered the concept of a “cloud” storage service, also known as the lazy computer user’s solution to backing up, I knew I could finally get a good night’s sleep. The “cloud” simply refers to the internet. My precious photos and files are out there in cyberspace on computers, or “servers,” that are much larger than mine and hold a lot of data from a lot of different people’s computers. Theoretically they could crash too, but then the world could end tomorrow. I trust that they won’t and you should too.
There are many different “cloud” storage solutions, but Dropbox is my favorite. Or at least it’s the one I know how to use. It’s easy and “syncs” my files on all my drives – so if I put a photo in Dropbox on my computer, I can access it from Dropbox on my tablet, wherever I am.
Here’s how it works. You go to the Dropbox site and download the Dropbox software onto all the computers you use, as well as downloading the app to your smartphone or tablet. Then you go to the start menu and open Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer, which is an Internet browser like Firefox. Blame Bill Gates for coming up with such a confusing system where there are two different Explorers. Windows Explorer lets you copy, move, rename, and search for files and folders.)
Once you’ve downloaded Dropbox and created an account (simple) you just drag and drop all the files you want to back up right into your Dropbox, where they will be saved, both on Dropbox.com and on your computer. From then on, as you update those files, Dropbox will be silently – sneakily some might say – saving your updates in the background.
This article is being saved to Dropbox as I write it. If I want to keep working on it in my bedroom on my netbook, I just open that computer, connect to the Internet through my WiFi, and voila! There it is. If I want to work on it at the library on their computers, I can go to Dropbox.com there and work on it on the website.
Dropbox for sharing – plus…
Dropbox has other perks, like file sharing. If you want to share photos or other files, just give your friend your Dropbox password. It also solves the annoying problem of how to transfer photos from your old phone to your new one. Use their camera upload feature by following the (relatively easy) directions on the Dropbox site. (All directions are relatively easy until you try to follow them.)
You can put photos, folders, files, graphics, just about anything into your Dropbox all for free up to 2 gigabytes of data, which is a lot. I haven’t reached 2 gigs yet, and I’ve used Dropbox for about five years – but I don’t take a lot of pictures. If you’re constantly uploading photos to your computer, it will fill up fast and you’ll have to upgrade; $9.99 per month will get you pretty much unlimited storage.
If you want phone support
The only thing I really don’t like about Dropbox is the lack of phone support we seniors rely on in a pinch.
There are other backup services with phone support. Carbonite, which many of my writer friends swear by, is $59 per year for unlimited data storage plus it backs up your entire hard drive (called mirror imaging) – but it doesn’t automatically sync your files to all your computers, tablets and phones. If you rely on one computer (and especially if you have a lot of photos) it might be the right backup service for you. Or you could go for the newer SugarSync, which is recommended by PC World. It does the same thing as Dropbox but gives you 3 more gigs free, phone support if you pay extra, plus other bells and whistles.
There are many others, but I’m not even going there.
Why do I stick with Dropbox? It’s the most reliable since it’s been around so long but, more important, learning another program means another anxiety attack.
Hey, if it ain’t broke I’m not fixing it.
What aspects of technology mystify you and what do you want to learn more about. Erica will explain in future columns.