TECHNOLOGY

PRODUCT WATCH

USING ONLINE STORAGE TO MAKE YOUR MOBILE LIFE EASIER BY NERINO J. PETRO, JR.

Lawyers are becoming more and more mobile while wanting to stay connected to the office in every way possible. Having access to key files at all times is now seen as less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Luckily, there are a number of online storage services that enable you to access and share files from a Web browser. Here are a couple of popular ones.

Dropbox provides 2 gigabytes of free online storage as well as file sharing and synchronization services. It allows users to synchronize files placed in their online Dropbox accounts, but—by installing the Dropbox desktop application—they can automatically synchronize new and changed files between their online accounts and each Dropbox folder created on their desktops, too.

Plus, a unique feature of Dropbox is the ability to perform a Delta sync, which transfers only the parts of a file that have changed. This increases synchronization speed and lowers bandwidth requirements. Because Dropbox places an exact copy of the file found in the online storage on your desktop, you can work on these files even if you’re not connected to the Internet. Once you reconnect, any changes made offline will synchronize to your Dropbox account and from there to any other Dropbox folders you’ve created on other computers.

Dropbox doesn’t restrict the file types you can add, and it works with Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as iPhones and other Internet-capable devices. Moreover, sharing files in Dropbox is easy. Once you’ve added a file to your Dropbox folder, just right-click on “Copy Public Link” to copy a unique URL that you can then e-mail to others to give them direct access to that file. You can also share new or existing folders to facilitate collaboration. Once you share a folder with someone, it gets added to that person’s Dropbox and any changes will be synchronized.

Among its security features, Dropbox uses SSL security protocol in your browser to create an encrypted link between your browser and the company’s servers, with AES 256 encryption to secure the files. Accessing your online files requires your username and password. According to the company, public files and folders can be viewed only by people you’ve given the specified URL to, and the company’s employees are not able to view any user’s files. One potential downside to Dropbox, though. If you have limited hard disk space, you’ll want to avoid installing the Dropbox desktop feature since the synchronization process places the actual files on your computer, thereby taking up your disk space. For those who want more than the free Dropbox service with its 2 GB of storage, you can get Dropbox Pro with 50 GB of storage for $9.99 a month or 100 GB for $19.99 a month.

MobileMe is a service from Apple that’s designed to make life easier for those who use both Mac products and PCs. A MobileMe account costs $99 a year (a 60-day free trial is available) and comes with 20 GB of online file storage. MobileMe provides synchronization of e-mail, contacts, photos and calendars across your Mac, PC, iPhone or iPod touch and your online MobileMe account. However, the feature we want to consider here is the MobileMe iDisk.

MobileMe iDisk places an icon on the Mac desktop, which, when opened, shows you all the files and folders contained in your iDisk online storage space. You can upload and download files from any computer with a Web browser or by using the iDisk application for Macs or iPhones. iDisk also lets you create public folders so you can share iDisk files with friends and colleagues via Web browser.

Another feature, similar to file-sending services like YouSendIt , allows you to upload an oversized file and send an iDisk link to that file to others via e-mail. Using that link, they can download the file and avoid any e-mail attachment size restrictions imposed by many law firms or e-mail providers. A very nice adjunct to this feature is that you can set a password for accessing the file, as well as set the number of days the file will be available for download.

One thing missing from iDisk is the ability to have automatic synchronization between files on a desktop computer, or an iPhone, and the files in the online storage folder. However, if storage space on your desktop or mobile device is limited, this avoids the issue created by installing the Dropbox desktop application—i.e., there’s no downloading unnecessary files that will suck up your storage space. You control when and where you transfer files between your desktop, iPhone and iDisk.

On non-Mac machines, you access your iDisk and other MobileMe records using the MobileMe control panel application—this, however, requires that iTunes version 9 be installed on the PC. Like Dropbox, MobileMe uses SSL to create an encrypted link between your Web browser and MobileMe servers. Also, access requires providing your username and password. But otherwise, I’ve been unable to locate any information regarding encryption or other security information for files placed in MobileMe iDisk.

Other online storage services. While Dropbox and MobileMe iDisk are two popular options, they are not the only ones available. Microsoft SkyDrive, which can be accessed by most Web browsers, is a free 25 GB online storage and sharing service. Access and security are controlled by a Windows Live ID and a password, but SkyDrive doesn’t use the SSL protocol when creating the link between your browser and its servers, and there is no encryption on the files. Microsoft also offers Live Mesh Beta , which is similar in some ways to Dropbox, allowing for online storage and desktop synchronization between multiple computers, including Macs and smartphones with mobile Web browsers. Live Mesh is free and comes with 5 GB of storage courtesy of the Microsoft Live Desktop, which is part of the Live Mesh sign-up.

Other options include DriveHQ, 4 Shared, Google via its GoogleDocs service, Box.net and SugarSync, to name just a few.

So which service is for you? Go ahead, compare features, and sign up for one of the free accounts and start to see if your mobile life is easier once you do.

Nerino J. Petro, Jr. , is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at www.compujurist.com.

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