Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My 10 best free cloud storage services

With the increased use of mobile devices we are all heading to the cloud for storage solutions. Cloud storage is both easy to access and easy to use, in the majority of cases. Cloud storage is a simple way of backing up important files so they can be share securely between devices wherever you are.  So instead of taking a CDR, DVD, USB or external drive with you a safer method of taking your files with you is to use the cloud.  If you have ever had a hard drive failure or needed to reformat a computer you will be aware of the need to back up data in advance so you can restore everything. In the age of computer attacks from all sides, putting your data in the hands of other as a backup is a very sensible idea.

I have been a regular cloud user for a number of years now and present my ten favourite cloud providers. They are ordered in my own personal order based on convenience, ease of use, free storage amount and security.  Most providers give a certain amount of storage free but you can top this up by using apps or recommending friends. Most cloud storage providers also provide apps and desktop software for Windows, Linux and Macs. A consideration is whether you install the desktop client which gives you a Windows Explorer view. You might want to specify which folders you want to download to the desktop client as you can easily fill your computer heard drive with files from your cloud clients.

1.      Dropbox ( the first and possibly the most widely used cloud provider. It gives you a basic and poultry 2GB of space but this can easily be added to but is enough to store key songs, books, photos and documents.

2.      Copy ( My surprise second favourite provider gives you a hue 15GB of free storage. Copy also shares your storage space when you share file space with someone else.  So this is ideal for business use as you only use half both parties involved in the share.

3.       Box ( A close third. Box gives 10GB of free storage and a reasonable desktop client. A solid performer which I use regularly.

4.      Google Drive ( Google Drive is a useful cloud provision, as you can work in the cloud through Google Docs and save them directly to your cloud storage.  You get a generous 15GB of space when you open a Google, but this also includes the space taken up by your Google mail provision.

5.      OneDrive ( Microsoft’s venture into the cloud is a good effective and stable platform offering 7GB on signup. This is a useful place to put your documents and photos. If you have a Microsoft computer this is a good bet.

6.      Tresorit ( Tresorit is a useful edition to the top providers. Offering 5GB as standard and expandable to 16GB. This is worthy of inclusion as it is the place to store really important files as it uses using AES-256, TLS and RSA-4096 protocols to encrypt your data. Although all the other providers encrypt your data and will keep it safe Tresorit adds further layers of encryption so is ideal for the files you cannot afford to be without. (2015 update: Having used Tresorit for a few years this is my number one provider for work related storage).

7.       MediaFire ( Another provider offering a massive 50GB of free storage but with a stipulation that individual file sizes cannot exceed 200MB. So a great place to backup and store your precious photos.

8.       SurDoc ( SurDoc offer 100GB of free space! It claims military security so your documents should be safe. I have used this for a while and find the Windows app ok but uploading 100GBs of data might take a very long time. One issue With SurDoc is that after 12 months you have to renew your storage, which means that users are sent renewal notices requesting them to advertise SurDoc on Twitter, Facebook and through other methods in order to retain the storage offered.  Consequently, many people will use this for minimum storage rather than the whole amount available as this would require 100 adverts retain it annually. (2015 update: I stopped using SurDoc as after a year they require you to renew by tweeting or advertising their service.  I have little objection in doing this in principle if I believe I want to do this but to be forced to do so is unacceptable. I have since pulled almost everything from SurDocs).

9.       Shared ( I include shared here because it offers 100GB of free storage but has no apps of desktop software to go with it. So it is just a web based share system, which places certain difficulties with uploading files and folders.

10. Amazon Cloud drive ( Amazon offer 5GB of free storage for your music and photos. There is not a lot to say on this one you either like or hate Amazon. (2015 update: Amazon have rescinded the free storage and only allow a paid for option. This is a shame and consequently I have removed all items from their storage.)

Cloud storage is here to stay and whilst other physical media such as CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear in the future, virtual data storage is going to grow. If you want to share data such a photos with friends and family or want to collaborate in business with associates’ securely sharing documents then the cloud is the place to be. 

One other provider I did not mention but deserves a mention is Bitcasa ( who offer 20GB of free storage which is supposedly secure. I use to use this provider a lot as they offered a photo backup for my phone and computers, which most other providers now do. What I liked was their “infinite drive” which appears as a new drive on your computer. It is easy to drop things into the infinite drive so storage is easy. What I do not like though is their software seems to want to clone your whole hard drive in a viral way. When you install the desktop software the default is to upload your whole hard drive to their infinite drive. I also noticed that the resources for this drive were excessive so have removed it from all my devices and use it online only.

If you download all the cloud providers mentioned in this article you have the potential of a staggering 329GB of free cloud storage.  

Cloud storage also disproves the adage, ‘size is everything’. Good software, ease of access to files and good security are all as important if not more. 

What is your favourite and why?

Update: PCloud ( offers 20GB of storage and seems to have good apps to download to upload and download your files. This could be one to watch and a possible alternative to SurDoc.

2015 update: I still use cloud storage a lot but am more concerned with security and longevity of free storage.  With many providers adding stipulations of changing from a free to a paid for service it is wise to choose with care. I now use One drive for photos, Tresorit for business, Copy for other files, Dropbox for everyday storage (short-term) and Google Docs for miscellany which I wish to keep. It is also important to consider the footprint on the storage on mobile devices when using the cloud managers as Dropbox seems to download all of its content to my tablet but not my phone, hence blocking my tablet up. Box is similar but allows you to choose what to download, as does Mediafire.  What is essential is that you monitor the conditions on storage providers for changes and have the flexibility to move your storage to another provider should the terms and conditions change.  I also recommend that you, as a must, keep backups on physical external hard drives as Cloud storage is fine but it always pays to back up things yourself.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Windows 8 Metro screen makes me angry

The stupidity of Microsoft Windows 8 and 8.1 Metro screen.

I, like many others, am not a great fan of the Metro screen of Windows 8 or 8.1. Apart from the childish appearance and buggy apps on a PC (they might work on a phone) the Metro screen is buggy and illogical. Most of Microsoft Windows programmes are. Even the illogical ones something that can be learned and still do what you expect.

I was a little amazed when I first got Windows 8 which I have updated since to 8.1 that the metro screen is illogical. Apart from the obvious difficulties with this operating system (OS) such as the switching between screens, moving from metro to desktop and back again by moving the cursor to the edge corner of the right hand side and all the other modifications that Linux have been using for many years.

So I was left a bit incensed with the update feature for the Metro screen and the presentation of “your apps”. 

Firstly, the update of the metro apps is done automatically, apparently, and can be adjusted in the metro screen by pointing at the right edge and getting the secret menu up and clicking on settings, under settings is update. This is most reassuring especially when you get a notice stating that 2 applications have been installed.  No mention what they are or whether you instructed the installation.  In the age of heightened computer security this is a clear error of programming, which puts Microsoft in control and you the user not in control.

The second annoyance is is just stupid to me.

To get to the store, click on the store tile on the metro screen.

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.58.06.png

You are then presented with the Metro screen store screen:

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.58.25.png

The joy about this screen is there is no information on what apps I have installed, only adverts for more apps to download. So you have to right click on this screen to get:

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.58.36.png

So you need to click on the middle green rectangle at the top of the screen and then you get a few minutes of this:

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.58.51.png

This, like all Microsoft updates take ages, and is nothing like the instant Android or very fast iOS updates.  After a long wait you finally arrive at your desire page “your apps”:

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.59.25.png

So here are “your apps”, apart from they are not your apps after all, they are the apps “not installed on your computer”! Why would Microsoft default to this screen? If i wanted to know what apps I had not installed I would have clicked on a button marked apps not installed.  So I now need to click on the dropdown menu to highlight “apps installed on my computer” and low and behold:

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.59.48.png

I finally get the apps I have installed on my PC… along with a lot of apps I have uninstalled. Why are these there? Why are Microsoft forcing me to look at apps I have not got installed on my Metro screen? Are they under the impression that most people will never uninstall an app because it fails to meet expectations or is buggy?

Screenshot 2014-04-10 17.59.54.png

I know this is a petty annoyance and I should get a life, but it is really very poor design and exemplary of the rather poor overall look, feel and user experience that people updating to the latest Microsoft OS are experiencing. It is also made worse by the user experience of Android and iOS mobile devices. Usability is critical and easy of use and not having to go through hoops to achieve and action are central to design, so why is this still in Windows 8 and 8.1? Let's hope with Windows 10 these issues will be addressed as they are a real bugbear.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The options for XP users

From April 8th 2014 Microsoft has withdrawn support for Windows XP is most popular operating system. This withdrawal of support basically means that security holes will not be patched leaving any user open to potential hacks.  A number of anti-virus companies have promised to still support Windows XP but they will never provide full protection.

So the simple answer is if you have a computer with Windows XP you can use it as much as you like as long as you do not connect it to the internet.

If you are connecting it you have the potential for your computer to be used maliciously by others.
So what are the options?

Option 1: Buy a new computer

In many ways this is the most sensible option.  Certainly Microsoft are hoping that people will do this.  You then have a choice of three operating systems by Apple, Microsoft or Google Chrome.

Currently Chrome is somewhat limited as it ties into everything Google, which for most people will not be suitable especially if you have favourite software you enjoy, which might be incompatible.

Apple is the choice for those with endless pockets as you would get a computer which would be first class, virus free (mostly) and once you get the hang of operating it, a fairly limitless computer. For the majority the option of outlaying this sort of money is a little prohibitive. So this leaves Microsoft.



Which Microsoft Operating System (OS)?

The current Microsoft OS is Windows 8.1 which is a little difficult for some people to get to grips with as it has the metro screens as well as the desktop.  My experience of this is that as an OS it is ok, but far from great.  It requires a lot of RAM (Random Access Memory) to do task and hangs frequently. The metro apps are goofy looking and some barely work whereas others such as Skype (a Microsoft Company) work very well. From a security perspective I like this OS as it is possibly the most secure.  Also running a 64 bit computer allows for more operations potentially to be undertaken at once. 

Would I recommend it for people to move to Windows 8.1from XP?  Possibly, but I would add caveats. I would add a start menu similar to Windows 7 using something like Start Menu 8 from iObit ( which makes you have a start button and menu system that is intelligent, an also allows you to boot into the desktop thus avoiding the horrendous Metro windows.  I would also recommend at least 8MB of RAM and the best processor and specification you can get. You also have the option of a touch screen, which might appeal to some but for the general user this is more hassle than it’s worth. If you want a touch screen, get a tablet computer (see below).


Option 2 Upgrade your existing computer

Upgrading a computer seems a sensible idea and is, in the short term, a cost effective solution. The choice of which OS to upgrade to will depend on the specification of your old XP computer. 

By the nature of XP, most computers running it will have fairly poor specifications by current standards.  This means low RAM, slow processor etc. Upgrading to another Microsoft Operating system might not be possible if your specification is too poor.  Your Microsoft upgrade options are Vista, which is universally acknowledged as Microsoft’s worst OS ever; Windows 7 (which is like Windows 8 but runs on 32bit computers and does not require the power that Windows 8 does; or finally the other option is Linux.

Windows Vista

I would avoid this upgrade at all costs, it is buggy and not worth paying for.

Windows 7

This is my choice of OS and one I have used on a couple of old computers.  The joy is that it is easy to learn and works in the same way as other Microsoft Packages.  You can also run older programs on compatibility mode, so any XP purchases can still be run on Windows 7. It is a safe and secure option and my clearest winner for upgrade at this time.  Before you make any choice try the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor ( to see if your system is compatible and will work well with it. The downside is that support for this OS will stop soon, but it is more stable and less resource hungry than its later updates of 8 and 8.1. Also if you are use to Windows this is the best option.




I could do a whole entry on Linux and very nearly did. No matter what computer you have you should be able to install Linux onto it and still have a functioning computer.  It is likely you will need a pared down version but you can still install Linux and have a working computer for free complete with free office software to help word process, spreadsheet or make a  presentation. Linux is open source and this means it is free from viruses and updates are regular and plentiful.

I am a Linux newby and have downloaded and installed a few OS’s to tryout. These include Xubuntu ( , SolydXK (, Linux Mint ( , and Ubuntu ( My overall impression of all of these Operating systems is that they are great or even fantastic. They are easy to install, and you can install them alongside your Windows XP installation, but boot directly into the Linux installation of your choice. The downside to Linux for me is the part after you have downloaded your OS and installed it.

Linux is not Windows, it takes a while to get use to certain things not being the way they were. If I were to recommend an install for newbies like myself, I would head for SolydXK which gives a Windows feel to your computer.

Linux requires the user to participate in the system, whereas Microsoft try to stop people doing this by locking them out. In Linux you have to learn to code a little to sort out any issues, such as getting new drivers or installing software correctly.  I have little doubt you could get away with not using code for a while but before long you will be called on to “sudo apt-get” something. The plus side to this is the Linux documentation and support sites are excellent so if you know how to search for your problem, there is a solution out there.  They can be a bit Techie thought.


Option 3: Buy a Tablet computer

Tablet computers are coming into their own and they are easy and cheap to buy. If all you use your computer for is surfing the Internet then a tablet is an ideal choice. If you want to run an office or do presentation they become more limited. iPads have a range of software that can be purchased to help with office functions, so purchasing the latest iPad along with a Bluetooth keyboard might be a short term viable solution.  You would require cloud accounts to upload your documents to as memory on most tablets is limited.  If you were considering a rival by Android the Google Nexus 7 seems a good possibility and something that could be used in a similar way. I would try to avoid tablets that have their own proprietary software built into them (eg Samsung) where the company that produce the tablet put their own version of an operating system in complete with helpful tweaks, which can prove very annoying and can limit your ability to use certain software.


Option 4: Use a Smartphone

This might sound stupid, but these days many Smartphones are up to the same standard of operational capacity as an XP computer.  You can download apps which can do what you could do on your computer.  Microsoft, for example have release a free version of their Office software for phones exclusively so a phone is a real contender but I would suggest you avail yourself of cloud storage for all documents and key material as your phone could be lost, and you would not want to lose all your data along with it.

And so the winner is....

As you would expect, there is no winner. You could upgrade your computer to Windows 7 or run a Linux installation on it.  Your could buy a brand new computer and use the XP computer for off line things such as a media centre to play movies and picture shows on.  You could buy a tablet, a Bluetooth keyboard and some cloud space. Or you could start to use your Smartphone in the way it was designed to be used as a mobile computer.  The choice is yours and only limited by your budget and your computer know how.