How to Get a Boatload of Free Online Disk Space

I thought that might get your attention. Well, boatload might be an exaggeration, although how about 8GB of free storage space? More importantly, how about they support either the Mac or the iPhone?

As part of any backup solution, having offsite storage is pretty key these days to protect your data. Recently, I was looking at free alternatives to MobileMe and/or other paid storage services on the Web. I wanted to see which of these services¬†integrated with Apple’s product line (Mac and iPhone). When I say integrate, I mean drag-and-drop, simple interfaces that do not require me to sign-into a web service to use.

Of the many out there, here is what I found. Please note, two of the four services mentioned here are beta, so please use them at your own risk. Also note that two of these four services are provided by technology startups and you can’t be sure during these economic times just how long these businesses might last. Thankfully, all four services are great in their own way so I highly recommend each.

Box.net

Box.net’s offering is a little different than the others. With their Lite account, you get 1GB of storage, 256bit SSL security, the ability to share folders (for collaboration) and directly connect to your data from other Web services such as Piknik, Scribd and Zoho. One of the negatives to this service is that there is no Mac client. All file uploads must be done via the site.

However, what makes Box.net unique is that it supports the iPhone with a free application via the App Store. Thus, you can manually upload documents to the site and then view them on your iPhone. Very handy, when compared to some of the other paid iPhone applications that allow you to copy files from your Mac to the iPhone. In addition to viewing your files, you can also upload photos from your iPhone to Box.net.

Although the Lite account is great, as mentioned you only get 1GB of storage. Further, there are some other restrictions to this plan, including: 25MB file size limit, advertisements, no version history and a 10GB/month bandwidth limitation.

Box.net offers other plans for semi-reasonable prices. Their Individual plan is $8/month which includes 5GB of storage, unlimited bandwidth, removes the ads and provides version history. Unfortunately, this service is much more expensive than the alternatives below so I can’t say I recommend paying for the additional storage unless you really need it.

Dropbox

Dropbox (currently in beta), offers a very simple online storage service. Using Dropbox, you get 2GB of free storage. To start, you sign-up for an account on their site and then download the Dropbox software.

Dropbox installs a menu item and via a simple wizard asks you to specify where you want to store your files. Once you specify the folder, Dropbox is ready to go. You can then drag-and-drop files that you want to backup/sync to their service. It is that simple.

Similar to Box.net, you can specify files/folders to share with others. This can be done via the Dropbox web interface. I wish it could be done with their Mac client, although maybe that is something they will offer on their roadmap.

Dropbox has a unique feature in that if you store your photos on their service, they provide a URL for others to view these photos. This is similar to Flickr and other photo sharing sites. Here is an example:

In my case, I created the Dropbox folder on my desktop on both my home and work Macs. I then began to drag-and-drop files I wanted to backup. When the files were finished uploading on one computer, the other computer immediately began to download the files. Dropbox’s simple synchronization works extremely well. And, if you have Growl installed, you can see when changes/updates have occurred.

With the free account, you get 2GB of storage, photo sharing, 256bit AES security and no advertisements. If you want more space, there is a 50GB option for $10/month (or discounted to $99/yr). I highly recommend Dropbox as it is a great tool for online storage (and photo sharing). To round out the service, I hope that Dropbox adds backup software to their offering.

Mozy

Of the online storage sites mentioned here, Mozy is the most comprehensive. With their MozyHome free account, you get 2GB of disk space. Further, it isn’t a service just about providing disk space in the cloud, it is also a free backup tool. In fact, that is Mozy’s primary purpose — offsite backup. Once you create your account, you then download the software which installs a menu item.

Next, Mozy initiates a wizard to help you define which items you want to backup. As you can see in this screenshot, one of the neat things Mozy provides is pre-configured backup sets. You can also define the files and folders you want to backup as well. Mozy’s UI is very flexible.

Once you have selected the options you want to backup, you click Save Configuration and Mozy begins to backup your files. You can define a backup schedule as well. Mozy supports Growl status updates, which is pretty handy for seeing when a backup has completed. And, if something goes wrong (hard disk failure, etc.), you can restore your files with ease using Mozy’s simple interface.

As you can see, I specified quite a few items to backup, as 2GB goes a long way when storing files and office-like documents. I did not specify any media files because my Aperture library is over 10GB by itself!

Of course, with all of this positive stuff, there is always a trade-off. You do not get to manually drag-and-drop files into a folder and have them automatically backup. Instead, you must always use this interface. And, your files are not available on other computers. You might be able to install the software on another computer, sign-in with your credentials and then initiate a restore process. However, I haven’t tried it so your mileage may vary.

Included with the 2GB of storage is 448bit blowfish security (or 128bit SSL security) and the great backup software. If you choose to upgrade to the MozyHome Unlimited plan, the cost is approximately $5/month with unlimited storage and no bandwidth constraints. If you need online storage with automated backup, then MozyHome is your service.

Live Mesh

A newcomer in the space, Microsoft Live Mesh (Beta) just announced support for their Mac client. Live Mesh is Microsoft’s all-in-one synchronization service.

When you sign-up for Live Mesh, you get 5GB of free storage. Live Mesh works very similar to Dropbox in that you install a client, select the folder for storage/synchronization and then begin copying files to the folder. Again, like Dropbox, I installed the software on both my home and work Macs to synchronize/share files.

With the Live Mesh account, you get 5GB of free storage, no advertisements and 128bit SSL security. There are currently no upgrade plans available.

Of course, Live Mesh isn’t just about syncing files, it’s about syncing files and data across multiple devices (PCs, Macs, Phones and more). We’ll have to wait and see how this evolves and if Microsoft plans to support the iPhone in their grand synchronization plans.

8GB for Free

With these offerings and utilizing their free accounts, you get a total of 8GB of free storage! For any Mac user looking for some offsite storage that leverages the Apple platform, I recommend using all of these services as you really can’t lose.

If I have missed any other free offerings that have Mac/iPhone clients, please comment below.

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