Do you back up? This is by far the most used question any IT support person asks when your computer has clunked out, which happens to be the worst time to ask that darn question. I learned many years ago, that “yes, often and repeatedly” is the only appropriate answer to that question. I’m a backup junkie and nowadays if you sell auto parts, you handle all kinds of computer files that need to be backed up.
I’m amazed at the level of knowledge the whole industry has collectively garnered using Excel files to analyze sales, prices and compare brands. Over the years, I have systematically trained myself to save multiple copies of every file I have ever worked on. At any time my computer can crash and I would not even sigh about it. Furthermore, I’m a digital pack rat; seriously folks, I have probably saved every Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF file I’ve ever created.
My peers oftentimes wonder about my file naming practices. I will never name a file something simple and easy to deal with like “June Sales.” No, no, no, my file naming compulsion goes in line with my obsession to back up. So I’ll use file names that are really just a long string of keywords like “Mandy Jobbers Sales Over 4K Month Via Ecommerce Only JUN 2008.” I do this so that later I can search for any file I need within the gigabytes of data I have accumulated. Who knows, in the distant future some alien anthropologist excavating our planet could look at my body of work and come to the realization that I was just some boring and obsessed auto parts selling guy.
What has changed over the years is how I back up files now. I have gone from burning CDs, to mirrored hard drives, to external drives, to USB drives and now to the “cloud.” Along the way, I found two apps that really changed the game for me. Now all my files are not only backed up but also synced across all my computers; and of course, in this day and age they are also available on my smartphone. No need for external drives anymore! And all this happens automatically, every time I create a new file.
Every day we hear more and more about this magical Internet “cloud” that can now hold all of our data and I’ve got to tell you that the folks at Dropbox really opened my eyes to what can be done in the cloud. If you want to learn how to use a super simple “ramp” from your computer to the cloud, make sure to install Dropbox. Like all great apps this one is free, up to 5GB of storage, which is plenty for what most folks need (additional storage space is available for a yearly fee). It is a well-designed piece of software that you will need to install in all the computers and phones that you want to share files with. This is a great service for people that use more than one computer: like maybe a desktop at work and a laptop on the road.
After a simple installation, you will end up with a new folder inside you documents folders aptly named DROPBOX. Like I’ve said before, all good apps need a bit of magic and here is where the magic begins with Dropbox. Simply drag and drop any type of file into this folder and it will replicate across all your devices were you have Dropbox installed.
The magic happens over the Internet so your devices need to be connected to the Web; but, they do not need to be connected all the time. Dropbox will automatically back up and sync files every time you do connect and then, they’ll be available for you offline as well. Not only will a nice backed-up copy be there for you, but no matter which computer you used to work on the file, the magic elves at Dropbox will sync the file for you to make sure that the latest version of every file is in everyone of your devices. Plus and this is a big plus they also will save a copy of all the files on their website which you can then access from anywhere, on any device. Simply visit their site, login and get access to your files.
Dropbox can also be used to share files as well; this is particularly great for sharing files with collaborators. What’s important here is that all users need to have the app installed. Simply visit the Dropbox site and email your colleague a link to the file you want to share. The file will now be available on that person’s Dropbox folder as well. Each user can edit and make changes to the file; both will have access to the latest version of each edited file. This precisely is how I collaborate with my editor right here at Counterman magazine. A neat little gift that the Dropbox folks will share with you is that they will give you even more free storage for inviting new users to the party!
This app is a step above Dropbox in its complexity, so newbies beware and stick to Dropbox for now. SugarSync actually backs up and syncs as much as you want, not just a folder like Dropbox; it can replicate your complete files folder structure across all your devices. To do this, you really need to know where your files are saved and how you set up your folders across your devices. If you feel comfortable with this, then SugarSync will be a sweet solution to take back up and syncing to the next level. On top of this, its mobile component is so robust you can use it to even stream MP3 audio files from your desktop to your smartphones.
And just like Dropbox, they do this for free for users with storage needs under 5GB.
SugarSync operates like a clearing house for your files on the cloud, which then redistributes the latest version of each file across your devices. It uses encryption technologies to protect your files. Properly set up, this app can help you replicate your files without changing your work flow. It’s a virtual hard drive up, up and away in the cloud.
Thanks to these two apps I’ve now shed a geeky trait, as I no longer carry that geek standard: The USB Drive hanging from lanyard around your neck with a copy of all your files. By the way, USB drives do not last forever; they have a limited number of data-write cycles so they were never a long-term back up solution.
But even worse about USB drives, we do lose them, not to mention they occasionally find themselves nicely clean, but useless after an unplanned trip to the washing machine inside your pockets.
So go ahead, shed that USB drive and give this month’s featured apps a test flight just for fun and back up your files up to the cloud.
Mandy Aguilar is a regional vice president for Jacksonville, Fla.-based The Parts House. Visit his blog at www.mandyaguilar.com.