Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2012

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Gone are the days of floppy disks, zip disks, rewriteable CDs and DVDs for file storage among multiple devices. Free file storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox offer a wide variety of options and significant storage space at little or no cost – but is it too good to be true?

I use Google Docs extensively to collaborate and share documents with groups of people. It is especially convenient that  Google Docs has word processing tools including spreadsheets and polling software built right in to the system that I can access anywhere with an internet connection. Google Docs will eventually be replaced by GoogleDrive, a newer service that allows you to sync documents from your desktop to the cloud, all by using a simple program you install on your home computer. Drag, drop, and access anywhere. It is very similar to Dropbox, with a few extra payment tiers if you need more storage.

Dropbox and Google Drive are similar, and each have a set of pros and cons. You’ll need to choose one carefully based on your needs. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to using either for your documents.

Security

If you want to use either of these services to be able to access documents of a secure nature – there are some special considerations to take in to account. While online file storage is convenient – storing any sensitive content with these services, whether personal or professional – could be detrimental to you or your firm. While both services allow you to make documents “public”, “private”, or shared among a specific group, security on the web doesn’t end there. Both services use a secure connection while transferring files, which will prevent anyone from checking out what you transfer while it is en route, even if you are on an unsecured or public wireless connection. However, DropBox offers some additional peace of mind, as it encodes the files stored on their server, so that if there is ever a security breach at the DropBox headquarters, your files would not be readable to the intruders. However, Google offers convenient backup services to help you keep copies of all your valuable data on your own system or other remote backup services.

Accessibility

Both services are available on Mac, PC, and a variety of mobile devices, so there’s no clear cut winner here based on platform. It all comes down to being able to do what you need with your files. The appeal of online file storage is the ability to collaborate on the same document. Google Drive allows you to edit documents within a web browser regardless of what device you are using. Google Drive can open up to 30 different file types, regardless of the software you have installed. But DropBox really ends at file transfer: once you have the file, it is up to the user to have the software to make any edits and transfer the file back to DropBox. It is also simple to save a GoogleDrive document to your system as a Microsoft Word or Excel document. If you are at many different computer systems, GoogleDrive is probably the better choice to minimize any headaches. But always save a copy to your own hard drive for safekeeping and offline access.

How Much Space Do You Need?

DropBox offers 2GB of file storage for free; Google Drive offers 5GB of storage free. If you need more space, DropBox charges $9.99 per month for 50GB more, while Google Drive has two tiers – $2.49 per month for up to 25GB, or $4.99 per month for 100GB of storage. If you upgrade your GoogleDrive storage, you will also have more storage available in your associated Gmail account. DropBox does offer a referral program, which allows you to earn an additional 1GB of storage for every person you refer to use the service. GoogleDrive is the more economical choice than the two, if that is of concern.

One Last Byte…

Use online file storage for the strong points, which is collaboration and file transfer, not as a backup service. I normally recommend backing up files off-site, however saving a copy to an external hard drive will suffice in most situations. If you need to backup your files, look in to a backup service like MSBA-endorsed vendor CoreVault, which also offers cloud computing services similar to the services I’ve mentioned here. Backing up your data is very important – if you have not already arranged for backup services, do it now!

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2012

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