Hardware follows software on road to Net availability

There are catches, but `infinite' space is closer

February 14, 2000|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Before you spend any money on software, you should check the Internet for a free program or Web site that will do the same job.

I've believed that for a while, and it gets more sensible every day.

What has caught me off guard, though, is that this rule is reaching out toward computer hardware.

For example, you may not need as much hard drive space in your computer now that you can get free disk space through the Internet. Just last week, the i-drive.com company (www.idrive.com) announced "infinite" free space on its disk drives.

There are some catches, naturally.

I've been using I-drive for a while as a backup disk drive. From any computer with a Web browser and Internet service, I just connect to the site, enter my login and password, and soon see my 25 megabytes of disk space. I can upload files to store in those megabytes, and download files for use on my Windows PC or Mac.

Or for use on any computer a world away, meaning I don't have to take my computer or even a diskette with me.

It's called File Hosting and File Management, and it's a lot more service than the 6 to 10 megabytes of free disk space my Internet service provider gives for publishing my own Web pages.

These megabytes can hold word processor documents, spreadsheets, databases, digital pictures, MP3 sounds, even columns like this one.

Twenty-five megabytes isn't enough space for all my files, but it does hold some of the most valuable. And because the idrive servers aren't in the same building or even city as my home office, they make a great backup.

Too many people who do bother to back up their information keep the backup tapes or discs close at hand, where a single robbery or fire could destroy both originals and copies. (Having them close can also tempt colleagues and employees to reach for them when the main set of information is destroyed, only to perform the same mistake on the backup set.)

Idrive is easy to operate, though a little easier on my PC than on my Mac: It offers a "sync" utility that will move a bunch of files at once. But only for Windows.

Idrive isn't just for backup. You use it to "share" files with anyone else connected to the Internet. You determine which of your files and folders online will be open to others. You can let them see files, add files, or have the power to see, add and delete. This means you can put a file up for a friend or colleague, or a group, to access. You don't have to attach it to an e-mail you send to each.

And there's a third use for Internet disk drives like idrive: clipping. This saves you from ever storing the files on your own hard drive. When you see an interesting Web page, you use idrive's "Filo" program to send that page immediately to your idrive space. (There's a Windows version and a new beta-test version for Mac, though this only works with Internet Explorer and not with Netscape Navigator.)

Idrive has also been talking other Web sites -- such as MP3 music file sites -- into adopting a "Sideload" service. This can move your chosen information directly from those sites into your infinite idrive space. You don't have to download a thing. You can even play multimedia files -- such as MP3 or video -- right from their stored site.

In other words, the catches to the "infinite" space are:

1. It's only infinite if you use it for sideloads and clips, not for your own uploaded files.

2. It works best with Windows, not with Mac or Linux or other systems.

3. Even with Windows it isn't as easy to use as it should be. For example, I've had some odd "server errors" with the Sync program.

4. And, of course, Internet disk drives aren't in your control, so you're taking a chance on giving up some privacy and on not having the information available if the Web site or your Internet connection is down.

There's plenty of competition in this market. All offer free use of the disk drive space, and some have easier file-handling tools, though none that I know of yet offers "infinite" space.

X: Drive (www.xdrive.com) offers 25 to 100 megabytes of free space. That's 25 megabytes for free, 5 megabytes more for each friend you sign up and 100 megabytes for direct transfers from other sites such as CNET's Download software page.

X: drive has a Windows Explorer-look for moving files and folders, but it doesn't make file sharing as easy as in idrive, and it doesn't have that Sideload clipping ability.

Driveway (www.driveway.com) has 100 megabytes for you, while FreeDrive (www.freedrive.com) gives you 50 megabytes with similar features.

DocSpace (www.docspace.com) also provides 25 megabytes of storage. It's hard to use, but it does include other business collaboration tools and features. For example, you can track when a shared file was accessed.

FreeBack (www.freeback.com) allows only 10 megabytes of space but automatically compresses files so that you'll fit in more than you might expect. You can't organize your files or share them with outhers.

These sites are following the new Internet business model of behaving like a TV channel-cum-magazine. They want you as a viewer, ideally as a viewer whose e-mail address they know. Then they can send you e-mail offers and possibly trade your address to other e-marketers.

Whenever you sign up for services such as these, know what you're giving up: some privacy in return for the free stuff. Read their privacy policy and make sure to remove the check mark from any box in the sign-up form that says "I like to get special offers and deals."

Another good idea is to get a secondary e-mail address -- one you don't use for personal or business e-mail -- and sign up for free services using that as your ID. Then you can just ignore the e-mail offers -- and spam -- that come your way. (Use this same e-mail address when you're discussing things in newsgroups, and you won't suffer spam from them either.)

E-mail Phillip Robinson at: prr@earthlink.net

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