Storing your digital life in the Cloud

No matter what your profession (or unprofession), chances are you’ve heard of The Cloud. Chances are also that you’ve wondered about it – how it works, how safe it is, and how to use it. I can tell you it works, it’s safe, and it’s the best thing since sliced bread. It’s so good, in fact, that within the first month of using it I was taking it completely for granted, and could not imagine life before it. Or, I can, but I’ve blocked it out, because it involved carrying an external hard drive and USB cable with me everywhere I went, dealing with USB connection issues, hard drive incompatibility and worrying about viruses, physical damage and theft. The Cloud has changed my workflow, and my efficiency, especially since becoming a freelancer; and it gets better the more Cloud-based services I subscribe to. Here’s my take on 5 Cloud services and how awesome they are:

1) DropBox for working file access
Literally like dropping things into a box. DropBox works in 2 ways: You can either access your files online in a browser, or download the app to any computer, install it and use it like a normal set of folders on your local machine. If it’s local, any changes you make to files in the DB folder will sync to the Cloud automatically, and the same file will be amended on any other machine you have the same DB account set up on. If you make changes to files online, you have to re-upload them, but the same changes will be made across all your devices.


For a simple example, say I’m creating a PowerPoint presentation at home, on my PC. I’m halfway done when I have to go to a meeting about said presentation. I upload the file to DropBox, and leave for my meeting. At the meeting, we decide to make some changes to the file, but I didn’t bring my laptop with me. omg don’t worry – I can just go onto ANY computer near me with an internet connection, or if I have an iPad or an iPhone I can use that too, go to the DB website and access the file I was working on, make changes, and save it back to the DB Cloud, ready for me to carry on working on when I get home again.


I use DropBox to access the files I am currently working on for all my clients. On the free account you can get up to 16GB for free by referring friends (I’ve only managed to get 5GB), or 2GB for doing nothing but joining. This is already plenty for some, but I work with Video and PhotoShop files, so I use it only for current work, and regularly delete unnecessary files. It is invaluable for moments (and there are many) when clients need emergency work done on a project I’ve already finished off, or wasn’t planning on working on that day, or simply don’t have the files for with me (maybe I trashed them because i wasn’t particularly fond of the project). I can go to the website (, log in and access my files in the same folder structure as I’ve set up at home. Even more awesome, if I did decide to trash even the DB copy of my file, I can retrieve it, because DB stores deleted files for some time too!


Sending large files or sharing folders
I also use DB for sending large files to clients or collaborators. From the ‘Public’ folder I can copy a ‘Public link’, which is a URL I can send to anyone to access a specific file without them seeing all the files in the directory. If I am collaborating with someone, I can share an entire folder with them, and we can all make changes to the contents.


2) Google Docs / Drive

The next thing I started using to was Google Docs, now called Drive (as in External Drive). I already have a gmail account (which has become one of the most useful, FREE accounts I have), so this was almost automatic. It is one of the options on the top menu when you log in to your Google account, and there is no setup required – your online docs are just there. You can upload any files from your machine to store in Google, and where relevant (MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Open Office docs), it will convert it to a corresponding Google Docs format, which will allow you to edit docs online. This means you can open and create MS Office files and PDF’s without MS Office or Adobe.   It will even allow simultaneous collaboration between multiple viewers, to the point where you can literally see your colleague in Singapore making changes in real time on screen. You can also save attachments from gmailstraight into Drive, edit them and email them back, without having to open another program.

If you need to go offline, you can download the document in a number of formats, including the original Microsoft or Open Office formats and PDF. And it’s all free. You get 5GB of space, and your docs are accessible anywhere you can dream of with an Internet connection.


3) Apple iCloud
Unlike the others, I found this one to be a little more limited. It is still useful for me, as an Apple user, but it has very little to offer anyone else. Upon activating iCloud, the things I found most useful were that a) my Notes sync automatically whenever my devices are hooked up to the Internet, and b) my photos do the same via PhotoStream. This means I don’t have to email myself stuff from my phone anymore. Unfortunately, it does not mean I can access it from anywhere. I have to be on an Apple product with iCloud activated. In light of all the other amazing services on offer, I feel this is a major short-coming, and I even own said products.


4) Adobe Creative Cloud
When I first learned about this service, I didn’t believe that it was true. The web contains a lot of free / cheap stuff that is really good, but this takes the cake in my books. It’s not free, but for £47 a month (£29 if you already own an Adobe product), it’s great value for money, especially considering that it’s Adobe. Creative Cloud not only offers a whopping 20GB of online storage for huge files, with proper thumbnails of PSD, FLA and other Adobe file formats, it also allows immediate downloading of the most up-to-date version of any application in their Creative Suite to any computer with Internet and your username.

Creative Cloud Apps

This means I can be sitting in a new client’s office in Covent Garden, with limited resources (say it only has PhotoShop installed), and if a request comes through for an emergency amend to a Flash file, I can log in, download Flash (takes about 10 minutes on a good Internet connection), and start working on the file straight away, in the latest version of the software. I will also never be caught out again with not having the right version of an app to open client files (this used to happen often).


5) Spotify for music
Last, but not least, there’s the mother of all awesomeness, Spotify. I resisted Spotify for years, being hung up on the fact that Pandora was no longer available to us, and bemoaning the state of services like Last FM. Then I gave in and gave it a try. It’s free, after all!

Oh glory be. Spotify is like the Angel of Music. The free version is ok and all (you get adverts and limited space, and you can access your tunes anywhere, anytime and create and share playlists), but for £10 a month, you can skip to your heart’s content through their catalogue of millions of tracks, make tracks available offline (note, this is not the same as downloading for personal, unrestricted use, although its pretty damn close!) and never have to listen to Mr Wonga ads ever again. You can upload your entire music library to Spotify, and it will keep a copy of it for you in the Cloud, ready to access from everywhere. Everywhere? Everywhere.   Now go play in the awesome white puffiness of The Cloud! For a different take on available cloud services, check out this link.

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