5 Services for Data Portability

Let the "Cloud" Help!

My girlfriend worked at the computer labs at New Mexico State. She said students were constantly losing their USB sticks in the labs. Imagine their horror at having lost a term paper or perhaps some important business document.

There’s a better way. Much much better.

Whether you’re a student writing a paper or a singer who needs access to your resume or headshot while traveling, it’s dangerous to transport using a USB stick or laptop. There are safer ways to access your stuff on the go.

Here are five free or cheap services to help you. Most of these are also accessible on smartphones and tablets, and those that aren’t are accessible on a friend’s or organization’s computer. You can store any type of file in these, and those files will be available and safe.


Dropbox is an amazing program that lets you sync files across multiple machines and access those files from a web browser on any machine.

It works like this: install Dropbox, drag files into the Dropbox folder, and that’s it. From then on, those files will be synced across multiple machines (where Dropbox is installed of course). This includes several smartphones like iPhone. Yes, these files are accessible from the internet if you are on a friend’s computer.

Downside: You must have programs installed on whatever machine you want to work. So if you have a Word file, then you will need Word on the machine you want to work on.

Cost: Free for 2 GB, 50 GB for $9.99/month, 100 GB for $19.99/month

Google Docs

Google is trying to completely change the way we use computers and the Internet. They want us to use applications inside of a web browser (like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome).

With Google Docs, you can write a document online, and it will stay there without you having to worry about moving it from machine to machine. Imagine the heartache you won’t feel if your home computer dies and all of your documents are stored in Google Docs. Sure, you’ll need to get access to another machine, but you can start where you left off.

Google Docs will also let you store any type of file there. I’ve used it to store entire albums of music.

Downside: It’s not as fully featured as MS Office is. Also if you upload an Office file (.doc or .docx for example) there will be formatting problems. This is constantly getting better though.

Cost: Free, Google Storage (for files that aren’t Google Docs) is free up to 1 GB, more than that will cost


Evernote is an excellent way to capture information and access it anywhere.

Basically, it’s a note taking program. But you can save nearly anything to it including PDFs and pictures, and it will be accessible from the Internet, most smart-phones, and most computers.

I use it to save research like song and aria translations so that I can access them on my computer or my iPod Touch. I can save web-pages and images, and it scans those for words and let’s me find them by searching for them.

It can do more though: I once read of someone who’d forgotten to bring a document to his doctor. It was stored in Evernote though, so at the doctor’s office he emailed the document to his doctor from his phone.

Downside: Keep your formatting simple because formatting text is miserable in Evernote. If you need a word processor, then use a word processor and save that file to Evernote. Otherwise, you’ll just want to pull your hair out.

Cost: Free with 60 MB/month of uploads or $5/month for privileges and 1 GB/month of uploads


Microsoft has a way of making great products and then not advertising them. Skydrive is one of those products.

It’s a free 25 GB storage space online. That’s it. You can store any file there, and if it’s a Word, Excel, Powerpoint or OneNote file, you can edit it there as well.

All you need is a Windows Live account, which you probably have if you’ve ever used Hotmail.

Downside: Editing Office documents online works, but the editors are not fully featured yet. You’ll still want to have Office installed somewhere if you want to do any heavy editing.

Cost: Free.

Windows Live Mesh

Another great MS product, Windows Live Mesh is best for people who have two or more computers and want to bring one along.

Basically, Mesh lets you sync your primary folders across multiple machines. This means that everything in your My Documents, My Pictures, My Videos, and My Music folders appear identically between two or more machines. It’s amazing.

Some of this (5 GB) can be saved to your Skydrive account to be accessed if you don’t have your computer with you.

Downside: The 5 GB that syncs to Skydrive is – currently – unable to be edited online. It’s like there’s a separate place for this synced content. To work with it you must download it, edit it, and upload it again. It feels inelegant.

There’s also no way to access these files on a smartphone like an iPhone or Android phone.

Cost: Free.


Again -and I can’t emphasize this enough- there is no reason to lose important data by losing a piece of hardware.

It is becoming increasingly rare that there won’t be an internet connected computer wherever you go. Any of these services can make your life way easier when you have to travel or just move from one of those computers to another. Yes, there are some kinks in each service and learning curves, but the alternative is much worse.

Save yourself the heartache.

Cloud photo by Michael Jastremski


  1. says

    Hmmmm… I’ve been saving photos onto a USB, and having so much of my life history on a tiny plastic stick makes me nervous.

    Also, I save a lot of photos to my desktop— could I be parking those someplace like Evernote?

    Thanks for the ideas!