Whatever your opinion on cloud computing (and mine's far from favourable), it certainly does have its uses. Most importantly, from my perspective, it allows you to set up your PC so that all your important files are continually backup up to a remote system in such a way that you don't have to worry about remembering to take regular backups of your PC.
As we approach the 17th year of the 21st century, there's no excuse for not having a proper backup regime on your PC. So if you don't already have one, or if you think that your current system could benefit from a re-think, here's what I recommend.
If you don't already have one, get yourself a free online storage account. The market leaders in this area are Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox. They each work in different ways, and the amount of free storage you get varies wildly. OneDrive gives you 5 GB, Box gives you 10, while Dropox gives you a measly 2.
But there's more to this topic than raw capacity. More importantly, I think, is just how usable the system is. After all, you could pay $40 for an external hard drive and never use a cloud-based system. But you'd have to remember to take regular backups, and not to keep the drive next to the computer, which is why cloud makes so much sense.
If you run Windows 10, which comes with OneDrive already built in, you may be tempted to use that system for your backups. Anything in your OneDrive folder on your PC is pretty much protected, because it is always automatically backed up if you have a reasonable internet connection. But look online in customer support forums for messages from people having problems with OneDrive, and you'll be astounded at just how many there are. Especially from users who find that files in OneDrive on one of their computers aren't getting synced properly with their other PC's.
If you have a Google or Gmail account, you may also find that you have a Google Drive already set up for you to use. Try it out, and see if it will work for you.
In the case of Box and Dropbox (similarly named, but they're completely separate companies), you need to download a special program and sign up for a free account. Once this is done, you'll get a folder on your PC and any files in that folder will be automatically backed up to the cloud. And synced to any other computer or device on which you're running the sync software linked to your account.
My personal preference, out of all these services, is Dropbox. I actually pay for an account that has 1000 GB of storage instead of the basic 2. But regardless of the cost and the amount of free space you get, I find that Dropbox is the simplest to use. It just works. And with backups (and yes, you can argue that syncing to the cloud isn't actually a backup, but it's good enough for most people), anything that just works is what's most important.
If your important files (even just the 2 GB of stuff that you'd be most upset at losing) aren't automatically being synced somewhere other than your own PC, make 2016 the year that you make it happen. Try any or all of the systems I've mentioned, and choose the one that you like best. Any of them are better than nothing at all. Way, way better.
And a very happy new year from me, to the thousands of you that read my recommendations every week. As always, drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if there's a freeware product or online service that you think I should be writing about.
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