Sunday, September 20, 2009

Storing files on the Internet

This post is a response to a comment that was left on my post Google OS is already here. I don't usually post responses to comments in such a way, but the answer to this comment ended up being rather long (I though initially that I can split it into two comments, but in the end it is almost as large as two regular posts) . Also, while the initial comment was about Glide, in order to properly answer the points raises I needed to give a little summary of the ways I use to share and store files on the web. This post can be thought of as a list of services that provide the functionality that is provided by Glide, but are not "packed" in an online OS. (This obviously brings us to the following question - Why use many services if there is one that provides all that functionality? The answer to this will be given in the end of the post).

Firstly, concerning the main point of the comment, I agree that Glide has features that a remote desktop doesn't have. I didn't say it clear enough in the previous post so I will say it in this one - the part that Glide cloned from Windows is the visual aspect. The functionality that it has is close to what one would expect from an online OS, but the problem is the "frame". As I see it, Glide attempts to easy the transition from other operating system to itself, but by doing so it is bound to compromise on the visual aspect and thus on the user experience. With this in mind lets look on the features Glide provides that were mentioned in the comment and what alternatives to them are available (if any).

The first point to consider is compatibility. I must say that I have been using Linux for about 3 years and I never had a problem opening any file I got my hands on. I did have some problem with a .gbi file a few weeks ago, but in the end I found a way to open it is well. In the latest Linux distributions there is more then enough support for main file formats, and unless you happen to live in a country with draconian copyright laws, there is no problem to install support for many other file types. In Ubuntu, there is an official package that installs all the needed programs. Besides, there are sites (like Google Docs and DivShare) that automatically convert files to a format that most devices don't have a problem with. If your files are on the web anyway, it doesn't mater what site they are on exactly. All you need to do is to send a link.

The second point is synchronization. I never had real need for synchronizing files between many computers. However, I am aware of some programs that allow easy synchronization as long as the operating system is the same. For Ubuntu you have a nice program called Ubuntu One. It offers a free 2GB online storage that is automatically synchronized across all of your computers (right now it is in beta, but I doubt it will stay like this for a long time). I don't think that it is a good idea to use it for large files, but as long as the files are small enough (lets say under 5mb) it is a perfect solution. For Windows, Diino offers similar functionality. They provide much more space (100GB and more), but it is a paid service.
It is also worth mentioning that Picasa allows to sync albums. The free account is rather small, only 1GB, but as you are probably aware it is possible to buy more storage space. I personally prefer not to sync files across computers, but to store them on the web and if I need them to access them on the web. In this way, my files are scattered around my computers, but they are all available on the web. Although, even there they may be on different sites. For example right now my files are distributed in the following way:
1. Google Docs - for small documents. Most of my documents are well within the size limit.
2. DivShare - for large Documents and Video/Audio. This site provides 5GB of free storage (you can buy more). It works well for storing large (but not huge) files.
3. Picasa and flickr- for photos. They both don't reduce the photo quality and allow an easy enough privacy management.
4. Photobucket - for photos that I use on my SU blog. Photobucket is excellent for monitoring bandwidth use, so since the photos I post on SU are usually small, it is a perfect solution for me.

The third point is accessibility. As you all know it is possible to use Glide from any device that has an Internet connection and a browser. Thus, all your files are always accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. But using an online OS is not the only way to get this. This is another thing that I apparently didn't say clearly enough in my previous post - my example with a phone. It is well known that it is possible to store files on a mobile phone. But you can do more than this. It is possible to install an operating system on it. A modern mobile phone can act as an USB drive. And it is possible to boot a computer from such a disc and thus it is possible to install a full operating system on the phone. Then, for example, if you installed Ubuntu like this, you can add it to your Ubuntu one account and all your files will be synchronized. In addition to this, you don't need an Internet connection to use the OS. This means that all the programs you have on your computer are always with you. The only downside to this is that you need to connect the phone to another computer to use the OS, while Glide is possible to use from the phone itself.

I was asked in the comment: "How would you share a 1GB video with someone in a distant location when you were traveling with your mobile phone away from all of your computers?" - The answer to this depends on the location of the file. If it is on my phone, I would probably use Filemail. It allows sending files up to 2GB for free. If I have the file somewhere on the net, I would just send a download link. Obviously, if the file is only on my computer I would have no way of sending it, but I try to have an online copy of all the important files I have on my computer. The fact that my files a scattered around the web makes it a little disorganized, but I don't think that this is a bad thing. Moreover, did you hear about a site named eggdisk? They offered a really nice online storage service and delivered it for sometime. But then one day (without any warning), they stop providing the service, turned the site into ads and didn't even allowed the people to get their files. Because of this case I prefer to keep my files scattered like this around the web.

The forth and last point is integration of services. About this I agree completely. Right now the level of integration between Google services is rather lacking. However, it is probably worth mentioning that too much of integration will effectively force the user to use only the services provided by Google. But this is just a remark, I most certainly hope that the level of integration will increase. This point is, I think, an important one for those who want a system "that just works". Because of this, Glide is better for those who need to use an online OS for work.

To wrap it up, for different people and situations different solutions are needed. For me Glide fails to be anything else but a remote desktop. Since I don't want my staff to be in only one location on the net, I cannot use Glide in a way other people do effectively. Also, because of this I prefer to use all the services I mentioned in this post, and I am always looking for new sites that provide functionality useful to me. However, since this leads to a loss of time, there are people who prefer their files to be centralized and they want to have one simple way to access them all. For such people an online OS like Glide is clearly the perfect solution. Even the fact that it clones Windows appearance is only a bonus to them.

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