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On backups and sharing files

03 Nov

Let’s talk about backing up files.  When I was growing up with a 56k modem and small hard drives (I think I got up to 60GB at one point) this seemed to involve taking all the big files I had, TV shows, music, Starcraft mods, etc. and burning them onto CDs. Anyone who actually works with secure data and data backups is probably cringing at this, and for good reason too.  Backups are not supposed to involve clearing off your hard drive by moving off files that are too big and not likely to be used for a long time.  That’s just freeing up space and in no way does it make your data “backed up”.  What I should have done is focus on the files that I used regularly or couldn’t easily replace.  Even on a 56k modem that large Starcraft mod is still just a download away.

So after losing numerous saved games, important documents and university assignments I’ve finally learnt how to keep my stuff backed up fairly safely.  Coincidentally the same method also lets me share files with people fairly easily too.  It’s called Dropbox.  In short, it’s a program that lets you create a folder on your hard drive, and any other files or folders you drop into it will automatically be uploaded to their servers.  You can then access these from the web interface or, if you have a second computer, they will updated on any other machines that you have it installed upon.  So you don’t need to remember to copy that one file onto a USB stick before you take your laptop to uni, you just need to have access to the web.  Since switching over I just do all my work out of one of the folders within my Dropbox one and leave music, TV shows or whatever on the hard drive.  If I know I can get it again easily enough without too much effort then I’m not too fussed about making it all that difficult for me to lose it.  And since the sharing tools are built-in to the interface it’s fairly easy to just share an entire folder with anyone else who’s using it.  It’s quite a bit cheaper too.

This may be starting a bit like I’m trying to hawk their software, but frankly I’m a little tired of hearing about people complain about losing saved progress/work when they don’t do a damn thing to prevent it.  These things are so simple to use now that there’s really little excuse.  It automatically backs up, automatically uploads and downloads files and keeps a history of any files edited recently so you can roll back if you accidentally delete the wrong folder.  I wouldn’t really recommend paying for it though unless you have a LOT of files that you need synced across several machines or shared amongst your friends/colleagues.  You’d do a lot better with a service like Carbonite which backs up your entire machine, then installing Dropbox on top of it to sync/share just the files you really want to.  It’s cheaper too.

There’s another little trick I discovered a few months back too, which I mainly used to let me sync saved games for my Steam games that don’t already take advantage of Steamcloud.  It involves creating dynamic links to either the files or folders in question, but I can’t easily explain how to do that while typing from a phone. It really needs accompanying screenshots and a few copy&pasted commands for the command prompt.  That’ll be a post for another day, when I finally get internet access back up at home (just got an email from Sky saying it’s won’t happen until the 11th now!).

There’s other programs out there, such as Evernote and even Google Docs, but they just don’t have the same ease of use when it Congress to blending in to the system you’re using.

Oh, one other thing that Dropbox do is let you increase how much space you have, regardless of whether you pay for it or not.  All you have to do is get other people to sign up for it using a referral link or email.  It’s 250MB each for a grand total of 8GB for a free account.  So to take advantage of the link whoring that everyone else who uses this product does, I’ve included my own referral link below.  If you do sign up, please use it.  You get an additional 250MB for your own account too.

Click here to sign up for Dropbox and also give me 250MB more space.

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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Computing, NaBloPoMo

 

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