Giving big files the room to move

Storage: Services that offer easy access and a way to transfer files too large for e-mail are finding favor with users.

August 12, 2004|By Doug Bedell | Doug Bedell,THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Today, cheaper, larger computer hard drives are filled with all sorts of space-hogging multimedia and business data files, but e-mail is failing as a mechanism to move those files.

Users are finding value in alternatives like Iomega's iStorage/WhaleMail, Xdrive, Znail, MagicVortex and Yahoo's Briefcase. And the ways people utilize these for-rent Internet hard drives are as unique and inventive as the Internet itself.

For some, a free 5-megabyte Znail.com account is big enough to store small documents or their browser bookmarks online so that they can be accessed from both home and work. But services are gaining niche users who require massive amounts of disk space for more specialized tasks.

Most services offer a range of rental plans that can meet more complex needs. The developers of MagicVortex.com, for example, found a demand for a $3.95, one-day pass for 50 MB of online storage.

"There happen to be a lot of people sending their Quickbooks databases to their accountants for review," said Brian Mullin, president of Sage Analytic Technologies LLC of New Jersey, founder of MagicVortex. "They only need it every once in a while around tax time."

Xdrive's chief operating officer Steven O'Brien said he has seen growth in medical applications. Doctors are employing transcriptionists who may be located hundreds of miles from their offices, he said. In many cases, physicians' secretaries use Xdrive's ability to create shared access to Web folders, where they upload long audio dictation files from doctors' digital Dictaphones, then retrieve finished Word documents the next morning.

And mobile music lovers have taken to using online hard drive services to hold copies of favorite MP3s so they can be piped to their ears at home, at work or on the road. O'Brien said this option has become so popular that his service is developing ways to help users manipulate playlists.

The use of hard drive rental space for storing copyrighted digital video and music has presented some problems. Some services have limited the amount of downloading activity permitted from their servers, mindful that widespread dissemination of copyrighted works through shared accounts could draw the wrath of the recording industry. At Znail, users are allowed to download only twice the size of their accounts in files per day and five times the amount per week.

The largest segment of online storage users are simply seeking a way to make work at home and office more fluid. Many want to work on small files in both locations. The size of the file may fit under e-mail attachment caps, but other problems develop.

"You wind up e-mailing yourself back and forth from home to office, office to home," said O'Brien. "And that can get very, very confusing."

Space for rent

Services providing ways to transfer and access large files include:

ISTORAGE/WHALEMAIL www.iomega.com/istorage

Price: Free 50 MB 30-day trial. Ranges from $2.49 a month for 50 MB to $17.95 a month for 1 GB.

Advantages: Can drag and drop files to storage area. Easy file-sharing.

Disadvantage: Getting support not always easy.

MAGICVORTEX magicvortex.com

Price: Free 30 MB 30-day trial, options to buy more space. Ranges from $3.95 for a one-day pass with 50 MB of storage to 2 GB for $75 a month.

Advantage: Innovative software keeps track of file transfer progress.

Disadvantage: Basic Plan (100 MB for $9.95 a month) is steep for size.

XDRIVE xdrive.com

Price: Free 50 MB 15-day trial. 5 GB of space for $9.95 a month or 10 GB for $19.90.

Advantages: Easy to share files, entire folders. Can be accessed via browser or desktop client. Some options good for business work groups in multiple locations.

Disadvantage: Possibly too feature-rich for casual users.

YAHOO BRIEFCASE briefcase.yahoo.com

Price: Free 30 MB with options to buy more space. Ranges from 50 MB for $2.95 a month to 110 MB for $34.95 a year.

Advantage: Simple, spare interface.

Disadvantage: It's advertising-driven.

ZNAIL znail.com

Price: Up to 5 MB of free storage. Ranges from $1 a year for 20 MB to $10 for 50 MB; up to 200 MB can be purchased based on the Web site.

Advantage: Cheap, bare-bones.

Disadvantage: Limit on amount of downloads.

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