One of the biggest hassles with having multiple computing devices is being able to access your data in the office, at home and when travelling. Back in the 1990s, when I started working in IT, Microsoft had a crack at this with the Briefcase feature that was part of Windows 95 but it was pretty poor.
By the mid to late 2000s, cloud storage services came to the fore, making it easy to access up to date versions of our workfiles wherever and whenever we wanted. But how do we use these services and get the most out of them?
The first step
In order to use one of these services, simply visit their website and install the app that's appropriate for your device. I sync files between a Windows 10 tablet, iPhone and Mac. With the software installed on each device, I can access exactly the same files from any device, confident that any changes made elsewhere will be reflected almost instantly.
What do these services do?
These services all do the same basic function. They synchronise the contents of one folder on your computer to a remote server, elsewhere on the internet. If you have two or more computers, when you make a change on one computer, that change syncs to the copy of your data that's on the remote server and then to your other devices.
Where each of these, and other cloud storage services, differ from each other is in performance, the ability to easily recover old versions of your files you might have accidentally deleted or overwritten, the amount of data they let you sync for different price points, and the ability to control exactly what syncs to different devices.
What these services aren't
It's important to recognise these tools are focussed on making it easy to access a common folder of data across multiple devices. They are not a substitute for a backup system. This is a lesson that was reinforced for me recently.
I logged onto one of my devices recently only to discover about 25GB of data I had stored on a cloud service had disappeared from the computer I was using. When I went to one of my other computers, I found the deletion had been synchronised to all my other devices. Fortunately, I had a backup of all my data that I was able to use to recover the lost data.
File sync services are all about making data available - they are not a substitute for a solid backup regime.
Getting the most from them
I have active accounts with all three of the services I mentioned earlier. This is because I work with different groups of people and each has their own preferred service so I try to maintain flexibility.
The main service I rely on is Microsoft OneDrive. As I pay for an annual Office 365 subscription this gives me 1TB of online storage which is enough for me to sync my workfiles, photos and other content.
These services all allow you to automatically store photos you take with your smartphone, assuming you install their mobile app. That makes you photos available on your other devices easily. It also means you can delete photos from your camera app, freeing up storage space.
When it comes to sharing files, these services allow you to send links to large files rather than relying on email attachments. This will help reduce email clutter.
If one of your devices has limited storage capacity, look for options t only sync specific folders or files. With OneDrive, for example, you can specify that only specific folders sync to each device.