This is Day 7 in a 12 Day series: 12 Days Of Paperless Gifts. If you know someone who could use some help going paperless, or if you deserve to treat yourself, this is the place. If you don’t, feel free to ignore this series. Normal DocumentSnap posts will still be coming!
Since yesterday I talked about external backup drives, you had to know that today I’d be talking about online backup.
I always recommend having your data in at least two places: local and offsite. Online backup services are a great way to make that happen. What happens if you have theft, a fire, or a flood? If your external hard drive goes with it, there goes both your computer and your backup.
Instead of listing a bunch of different services that are all fine, I will just list the service that I use and have been extremely happy with:
Who is it for?: Mac, PC, and Linux users that want to be able to backup to their local computers and their friends’ computers for free, and an unlimited amount of data online for a pretty low fee if you ask me.
A nice thing about online backup services is that they are automatic. You install the software, let it run, and then it should take care of everything for you.
The hands-off nature of any good automated backup program is a plus, of course, but from time to time I get questions from readers that can be summarized like this:
This online backup sounds great, but how does it know what to back up? Is it searching through my files? That seems kinda creepy. Also, how do I make sure that it is backing up what I want it to? Also, how can I tell what it is doing? All I see are my cable modem lights blinking.
Excellent questions. Every online backup service that I am aware of has a way that you can control what is being backed up, and you can see what is going on.
I am going to show you how to do it in CrashPlan, which is the service I use. The steps will be a bit different if you use a different service like Mozy or Carbonite, but the general concept will be the same.
If nothing else, I recommend that you take a look and make sure that your backup is actually protecting the files that you think it is.
Default Backup Settings
Most online backup services have a default set of folders that get backed up automatically. Nothing creepy here – this is done so that you can get started without the annoyance of going through and setting everything up manually.
By default, CrashPlan (and I believe most online backup services) will back up the files in your home folder. This is good for most users, but if you keep important information in other locations, you’ll want to modify what is getting backed up.
Choose Files To Be Backed Up
If you want to change (or see) which files are being backed up, you will want to go into the application for your software.
Using CrashPlan as an example, start up the software by clicking on the CrashPlan icon in the menu bar and choosing Show CrashPlan… (on the Mac) or double clicking the CrashPlan icon on your Desktop/Start Menu (on Windows).
Once the software has started, there is a Backup tab, and you can click Change to bring up the list of folders.
You can choose which folders and/or files should and should not be backed up by checking and un-checking.
Again, your specific software might be different, but the general concept should be the same. Click the icon to start up the user interface, and you should be able to check/un-check your folders.
See What The Backup Is Doing
Most backup software will let you see what it is actually doing. There is often an indication in the menu bar or system tray that the software is active. In CrashPlan, you can see that it is doing something because the little “house” is glowing. When it is done, it will show a checkmark.
If you want to see more detail, you can start up the CrashPlan application. If you click the little i icon beside Backup running, you can see how many files are being backed up, and even which specific file it is working on.
Become Familiar With These Settings
Even if you are sure that everything you need to protect is in your home folder, don’t be complacent. Go in and make sure that there is a checkmark beside your critical information.
Also, from time to time, make sure that you can actually retrieve some files out of your backup. The time to discover that something isn’t working is not when you have a failure.
As we were talking, he asked a number of questions/brought up a number of points that will be great for future blog posts and newsletters. One of them can be paraphrased like this: “When you are using online backup, what do you do when you start to hit your storage limit?”
I thought this was an excellent question and something that I am sure a number of people run into. Whether it is hitting the free storage limit or the amount of storage you are paying for, how do you manage your storage?
Here are a few ways:
Choose what you back up
Most online storage providers have a default set of folders that get backed up, and I would suspect that most people never change that.
Go into the settings for your software of choice and take a look at what folders and files are actually being backed up. It may be that it is backing up a bunch of junk that you don’t really care about (or even worse, it may not be backing something up that you thought it was!).
If you are 150,000% sure that you don’t want that folder backed up, un-check it in the settings.
Scan at a smaller resolution
When you are scanning, quality is measured in dots-per-inch, or dpi. As a rule of thumb, the higher the dpi, the bigger the file will be. This can add up over time as you do more and more scanning.
I personally scan at 300dpi, but if you want to save space, you can drop your scanner settings down to 200dpi or even 150dpi. Just take a look at the output and make sure it looks OK to you, and remember that the lower quality that you scan at, the less accurate OCR may be.
There are ways to reduce the size of existing PDFs if you need to do that. Here are a few resources:
For my scanned documents, I prefer to have them look as close to the originals as possible, but that is just my thing. If you want to save space, you can scan as black & white instead of color. Here are instructions to do it with the ScanSnap, but your scanner should be able to do something similar.
Versions and deleted files
Your online backup provider may keep a history of different versions of your files, and it may keep deleted files around for a certain period of time.
This is obviously a good thing: if you mess up by deleting or changing a file, you can go in and get it back. However, if you really really need to save space, you may be able to dial down how much of this history is kept.
Be careful with this one!
Pay for more storage
Your online backup is your protection. You can go crazy trying to stay under your limit, but at the end of the day, you don’t want to compromise your protection just to save a few bucks a month.
Do you have any other tips for saving space on your online storage? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
I always mention that Mac users have a great built-in option called Time Machine that they can use to back up their important files. It is not infallible, but for a built-in application it is quite good.
In that episode, John made a point which literally made me stop in my tracks: of all the Mac users out there with Time Machine enabled, how many of them actually let it finish and complete the backup?
Now that he has said that, I can imagine a scenario where someone buys a Mac, plugs in an external drive, allows Time Machine to start, and thinks that they are protected from that point forward.
Time Machine can take quite a while to finish, especially on the initial backups. While it should only back up files that have changed, sometimes there can be a surprising amount to transfer. This is especially true if you use applications like iPhoto.
You want to make sure that Time Machine has a chance to save all your changes, because you generally don’t know what specific files it has backed up and what it hasn’t while it is running.
How Do You Know When Time Machine Has Finished?
Your first line of defense is to look at your menu bar somewhere up in the top right. You’ll see your time machine icon. If it is still spinning around, that means it is still running.
If at all possible, you want to wait to shut down or sleep your computer until after the spinning has stopped.
For a bit more information, you can click on that icon, and it will tell you what the status of the latest backup is. Check and make sure that your backup is as recent as you think it is.
Mountain Lion’s Dark Wake
Mountain Lion has a new feature called Power Nap which extends an already-existing feature called “Dark Wake”.
Over the past few months, I have had two different external hard drive failures.
Nothing big lost as I am psycho about backups, and neither of them held my actual documents, but still – it hit home how easily storage media can fail.
The folks over at CrashPlan, the online backup provider that I use, put together this infographic showing the lifespan of different types of storage.
Now, obviously the infographic is meant to show that the cloud is better, but even if you disagree with the “Cloud backup is forever” line, it is still an interesting look and for me at least, a trip down memory lane.
Any fellow former 5.25" floppy users out there? Anyone else remember the Click of Death?
Here’s the infographic. You can click for a bigger version:
If you want to see which files have changed in your Dropbox account at a point in time, or if you want to undelete a file that you may have accidentally deleted, you can do both of these things through the web interface.
I hear from a lot of readers that while they like the idea of having files synchronized across multiple computers and devices, they definitely do not like the idea of having their files stored unencrypted online.
Usually in those cases I recommend a service called Wuala, but I have not had a chance to play around with it until now. I wouldn’t consider this post a full review, but more of a quick runthrough.
What Wuala Is
Wuala is an online service that lets you backup, sync, share, and access your files.
Yes, yes they do. But Wuala’s key differentiator is the software will encrypt your files before uploading them to the cloud. That way, if Wuala’s servers ever got hacked into, or they had a bored IT person, your data should still be safe. It would just look like scrambled garbage to them. Only you have the key to unlock your data, provided you keep your password safe of course.
Setting It Up
There is a very famous Quora answer in response to the question “Why is Dropbox more popular than other programs with similar functionality?” The answer goes like this:
There would be a folder.
You’d put your stuff in it.
It would sync.
They built that.
While Dropbox has hitched its wagon to simplicity, Wuala is betting on security. For that reason, there is a bit of setup to be done.
To set it up, you go to Wuala’s site and download the software. Once you install it and create your account, you will be presented with a window with an initial set of four folders.
You can, of course, add your own folders.
To upload files to Wuala, you can drag the files to the folder in the Wuala window, and it will automatically upload them and you will see them in the window.
Integrating With Your File System
If you are on Windows, when you install it, it will default to be able to integrate with Windows Explorer. When you install and run the software, it will add a W: drive.
On the Mac, to add Wuala to your Finder, you need to install the included OSXFUSE application. It’s a little weird that you have to do this, to be honest, and I can’t imagine non-technical people feeling comfortable with it.
Once you install OSXFUSE, you will have a Wuala drive, which is a representation of your Wuala files.
A Note About File System Integration
An important point to note. Even though you see a W: drive on Windows or a Wuala drive on the Mac, it does not mean that the files are on your computer. If you lose internet connectivity or shut down the Wuala software, the drive will disappear until the next time you connect and you can’t get at your files.
If you actually want the files to be synchronized to your computer, you’ll need to set up Syncing which I will cover below.
Viewing On Multiple Computers
Wuala has client software for Windows, Mac, and Linux. When you install the software on another of your computers and log in, you will be able to access your files. Here is a screenshot of my Windows computer’s W: drive.
Accessing Files On A Mobile Device
While the files are encrypted, you are still able to access them with a mobile device. Wuala has client software for iPhone, iPad, and Android. Here’s a screenshot of those same files on my iPhone.
From there you can save files locally to your device, email them, or open them in another application.
Accessing Files Via The Web
One thing that I have always wondered about Wuala is, if you are able to access your files via the web, how can the encryption possibly work?
Now I know. When you go to www.wuala.com/launch, it prompts you to start up a Java applet. From there, it basically looks the same as if you were accessing it on your computer.
Of course, this means that your browser needs to support Java. Why do they do it this way? It is probably better to hear it from them:
You may be asking, “Why can’t I access my data right through the website?”. The answer is simple: Your privacy is important to us. To access data through a website requires that a web server sends data to a browser. In other words, Wuala’s web server would have to decrypt your files so that they can appear in your browser. However, all your data on Wuala is encrypted directly on your computer. Further, your password never gets transmitted, so that no one – not even Wuala as the provider – can open or read your files.
You are able to share your folders by creating a secret web link (the recipient does not need to be a Wuala user), or by sharing it with a Wuala contact.
Unfortunately, you aren’t able to share a single file. You need to share a folder.
If you want your documents saved locally as well as encrypted on Wuala’s servers, you need to set up Sync.
There are full instructions here, but basically you set a folder to synchronize your computer, then tell it where on your computer you want it to go.
Then, any change to the file on any Wuala-connected device will automatically be reflected on your computer, and vice versa.
You can also do a more traditional backup, where files on Wuala’s servers are backed up to your computer. Full instructions for that are here.
Is Wuala Right For You?
Wuala is definitely not as simple as something like Dropbox, but if you want file synchronization, don’t mind some setup, and security is a main concern, it is worth a try. Wuala is free for 2 Gigs, so it doesn’t cost anything to play around with it.
Any Wuala users out there? Leave a comment and let us know how you like it.
Which I just learned today is prounounced like voila, not like woo-ala. ↩