Monday, October 18, 2010

Protecting Your Written Words

Michael Salsbury
We've all experienced it at some point. You spend hours at your computer working, then lose the data.  Maybe the hard drive in your Mac died.  Maybe someone stole your Windows laptop.  Or maybe you just accidentally deleted a file.  It's happened to me more times than I care to admit, so I've taken steps to prevent that.  Along the way, I found a great pair of tools that I think every writer should look at.  Best of all, at the introductory level, they're both completely free!


First is Dropbox, an online service that keeps a single folder on your PC or Mac synchronized with their server on the Internet.  Anything you place in that folder, whether it's software, Microsoft Office documents, or photos, is kept in step with the server.  If you install the Dropbox software on another computer and login, your Dropbox data is automatically downloaded there and kept in sync with the other computer.

How does this help writers?  I keep a number of notes in Microsoft OneNote notebooks.  I also keep the current draft of stories I'm writing in word processor files.  If I store these in my Dropbox folder, they're automatically available to me anywhere I have an Internet connection.  If I am at home on my desktop PC, the files are right there.  If I take the MacBook to work and get a brainstorm at lunch, I can connect it to the Wi-Fi in the cafeteria and write up my ideas.  When I get home, those ideas are already synchronized with my desktop computer.  Even my Android cellphone and iPod Touch can synchronize with Dropbox, so my documents are with me just about anywhere I go.  If I get an idea I don't want to lose, all I have to do is put it in my Dropbox and it's protected.

The free Dropbox account provides 2GB of storage, about as much as a common flash drive.  For $9.99 a month, you can increase that to 50GB.  For $19.99 a month, 100GB.  So far, though, I'm living well within the 2GB limit, so it's been free for me.

Dropbox is very simple to use.  You install the software, set up an account, and a folder is created on your computer.  Anything you save or copy into that folder is automatically synchronized.  Go to a different computer, install Dropbox, and login to your account.  All the things you synchronized on the first computer are downloaded to the second.  Anything you add to the folder on the second computer will be synchronized to the first computer, and so on.  Same with your cell phone or iPod.


Not too long ago, a good friend's home was burglarized.  They stole his desktop PC and his daughter's laptop computer, among other things.  That story made me realize that if the same thing had happened to me, I'd have lost many files that I could never replace… things like the video of my late mother, things I'd written over the years, video and photos of friends and family, etc.  That's not good.

I had been doing a pretty good job, I thought, of backing things up to external hard drives.  If someone broke in and stole the computer and hard drives, though, I'd have lost all my data.  If the house caught fire, or some other disaster struck, I'd have lost it then, too.  Enter the MozyHome service.

For around $60 a year, my desktop computer is backing up all the data I care (a theoretically "unlimited" amount) about to the Mozy servers on the Internet.  If my house burns down and my computer is destroyed, I'll be able to recover all those files to a new computer in a (presumably) new house over the Internet.  As an added bonus, Mozy also backs up to a USB hard drive attached to my computer, so I don't have to have an Internet connection to restore lost files unless the computer itself is destroyed or stolen.

If you aren't sure whether Mozy is right for you, they offer a free 2GB account.  You can install their software and backup up to 2GB of your important files at no cost.  Between Dropbox and Mozy, that's 4GB of storage to protect your most valuable files.  For many people, that may be more than enough.

MozyHome + Dropbox:  A Killer Combination!

If I wanted to, I could pay an additional $60 per year and backup my MacBook to Mozy's servers.  However, I don't tend to keep a lot of important files on the MacBook, so that $60 would be overkill.  Instead, I've disciplined myself to save anything I create on the laptop into the Dropbox folder.  Thus, whenever the laptop is connected to Wi-Fi (or any other Internet connection), the Dropbox folder syncs with their server.  It also syncs with my desktop back home, which backs up the data on Mozy's server.  So, in essence, my laptop data is automatically protected as well.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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