Filing options

Today I was asked on the Facebook page: "Gadget Girl, I have a couple of questions, one around best practice. I'm stripping two laptops for resale. I'm transferring files I want to keep onto USBs and discovering numerous duplicates because, at various stages in the document's life, I've saved to stick so I could work from a different PC, then failed to delete the older version from my laptop at home. Because I work from a number of computers, should I really just work on my docs on USBs? And not save anything to my PC? Or should I just save in the cloud? It's time to revise my methods. How should I best manage my files going forward? Thanks!"

Funnily enough, I too have been busy tidying up files on various drives and will be sharing some tips, tricks and tools next month but in the meanwhile I can at least give you a guide on what to do going forward.

I am not a fan of USB drives and would never advise anyone to work solely on portable media. They're fine for backups or files you're not professionally or emotionally wedded to but never, ever use them as your primary workhorse. You risk that files might corrupt, the drive is lost or physically damaged, ends up in the wrong hands, or gets left plugged in on one machine when you're wanting to work on another. Additionally, porting across operating systems can occasionally be problematic — plug into a Mac for example when you haven't properly ejected from a Windows machine — and because it's not part of the normal operating environment you lose some useful native functions such as the ability to get files from the recycle bin or retrieve previous versions from disk (if version snapshots are enabled on the computer).

I recommend that you go Cloud.

There's a few options out there — a great many of them are free for the minimum amount of storage — that you could select from based on your requirements and how you prefer to work. Some things you should consider:
  • How secure do I need the information?
  • How automated do I want synchronisation to be?
  • Will I want to have some form of version control on documents?
  • Do I need to be able to share files?
  • Will I always be connected in some way or do I need local copies that synchronise when I'm next online?
  • Is it important to me whether there is only one instance of a document or am I happy that it synchronises all the different instances?
  • What devices (other than my computer) will I want to access this from?
  • What other functionality do I need - e.g. do I want the option to edit Word documents online, for example?
Microsoft OneDrive (previously SkyDrive) and Google Drive have the benefit of allowing you to edit documents as well as store and synchronise files. They both have applications across a generous share of platforms which will allow you to access local copies of files. Local copies can be useful performance-wise or when you're not connected. I use both of their offerings but for me Dropbox is the tool of choice.

Dropbox has been around long enough that it is supported on most operating environments and for many apps is used as a mechanism for platform-independent cloud synchronisation. Although it doesn't have online editing functions that doesn't matter to me. Access to previous versions is, however, and Dropbox certainly allows that. It synchronises the majority of my files without issue; the odd conflict is clearly marked and I'm provided both copies to review. Certainly for my writing, including this blog, it all happens on Dropbox. I also use it to transfer files between my plethora of devices and to share with others (who do not necessarily need to be Dropbox users) for the odd collaborative endeavour. I can even make files public for download: useful since the Blogger website I use doesn't store files. I can configure which files I want to synchronise to which devices, can access them online, and for the most part it all happens without me watching it.

Of course Microsoft, Google, Dropbox and even Apple's iCloud service have free offerings which would suit most people dealing in files which aren't individually very large. For more sophisticated services, particularly if you're wanting a cloud backup service for all you files, you may be best to hunt down a fee-based provider who can give you better pricing large amounts of storage.

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