Kiplinger's coverage of Online Backup Services
Use the Web as Your Backup Drive - Sacha Cohen
It's the golden rule of computing: Back up your files. Unfortunately, that advice tends to get shelved along with "floss every day" and "get eight hours of sleep each night."
The problem is three-and-a-half-inch floppies just aren't big enough, keeping track of multiple zip disks and CD-ROMs can be cumbersome, or you're just so busy or distracted that you forget.
The solution: storing your files online. It's completely automated and you can't run out of disk space. Plus, your files will be accessible from any Web-enabled computer.
Plenty of choices, and bugs
The downside: If you have a dial-up modem, uploads can be time-consuming and cumbersome. And these Web services are still relatively new, so lock-ups, lost passwords and slow connections are common.
With the online services we looked at, once the software is installed, users can select the drive, directory, folder, and files they want to backup at user-selected intervals. @Backup and iBackup run automatically on your computer everyday or at scheduled times. See the sidebar for basic cost information.
@Backup claims to maintain up to 90 versions of your files, as well as a 90-day history of your backups. Files older than 90 days can be archived through an add-on CD-ROM program ($39.95 for a 650 MB CD, plus $8 for each additional 650 MB CD and $6 for shipping).
IBackup offers browser, wireless, FTP, and software-based applications; customized scheduled backups; and password-protected file and folder sharing.
Connected.com is slightly different than the other two services. The basic service ($6.95 per month for 100 MB) is designed to back up files located in your Windows "\My Documents" folder. The $14.95 software edition lets you choose automatic or manual file selection. In automatic mode, the software will search the entire hard disk for data files - including documents, e-mails, preferences, etc. -- and include them in the backup set. You can save up to 4 GB of individual files or entire folders.
FreeDrive lets you backup data without having to download additional software but doesn't offer enough features or space to make it a good primary backup service. Members get 5 MB of free password-protected space and can also purchase SmartDrive ($4.95 per month; 65 MB of space) or PowerDrive ($9.95 per month;150 MB of space). The major flaw with the free service is that you have to deal with lots of ads. I might recommend this service if you have to save a few select documents that you'll need while traveling, but I wouldn't use it as a primary backup service.
Worried about security and privacy? The larger online storage companies go above and beyond to make sure your data is safe. "Information that is collected is completely encrypted, not only at the data center but also when it's traveling over the Net," says Salvador Valles of @Backup. "…There are multiple levels of security, for example, even our customer care reps can't see the data."
If you're still uncomfortable with the idea of virtual data storage, or if you want to archive your data, most online backup companies offer add-on CD-ROM service.