You've just finished an iMovie documenting your family reunion, and you'd like to show it to your beloved Aunt Mildred. But there's a problem: she's behind a corporate firewall that won't allow e-mail messages over 2MB to cross its borders. The solution? Serve it from the Web, free of charge.
Apple iDisk, MySpace, and Xdrive are all Web sites that provide server space for your files at no cost to you. Whether you want to share files with friends and family, cut down on Zip disks, or access your files on the go from any Internet-equipped computer, there is an online storage solution out there for you.
Since each site offers free space, price isn't an issue. Instead, we looked at which sites offer the most storage space and ease-of-use. Xdrive starts you off with a moderate 50MB, but it's relatively easy to earn enough points to go all the way up to 100MB by accumulating referrals. iDisk gives users only 20MB of free space, although users have the option to purchase up to 400MB at the hefty annual rate of one dollar per MB. Although 20MB is fine for storing documents, pictures, and certain types of data files, it's not nearly enough to share movies or other multimedia files. In contrast, the generous 300MB that MySpace offers is plentiful enough for even the biggest QuickTime movies or several full albums of your favorite MP3s.
Each site allows for file sharing in a slightly different way. MySpace lets users hyperlink directly to the files they want to share, while keeping other files private. For example, if you're a fan of the group Built to Spill, you can create a Web page with permanent links to your favorite live MP3s, while keeping your Excel spreadsheets safe from prying eyes. In other words, you can serve space-consuming multimedia files from outside of your Web account. The only drawback is that in order for visitors to access your files, they too must create user accounts at MySpace.
Similarly, iDisk lets users create permanent links to shared files, which are automatically compressed in order to save space. A unique advantage of iDisk is that it allows you to stream QuickTime movies, which means that users don't have to wait for huge movies to completely download before viewing them. It also provides you with stylish HTML templates that present movies and other files in eye-pleasing formats. However, both the host and guests must be running OS 9. Furthermore, you should be aware of a clause in Apple's licensing agreement, which states that the company can use your files to promote iTools. It reads: "You hereby grant Apple a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive license to reproduce, modify, adapt, and publish any such public area content solely for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting the area on which such content is posted."
Xdrive lags behind in convenience of file sharing, forcing users to send out e-mail invitations that expire after only seven days, making it impossible to permanently link to files you want to share. The best solution for sharing on Xdrive is to hand out your username and password, but that's not an attractive option for anyone who wants to keep some of his or her data private.
If you're using an online storage site for backup, Apple's iDisk is the only realistic choice among the three sites. Unlike the others, which rely entirely on Web interfaces, iDisk creates an icon on your desktop, allowing you to drag and drop files just as you would to any other type of hard drive. Although Xdrive and MySpace have similar features -- called Xdrive Desktop and MySpace Drag and Drop, respectively -- both technologies are available to PC users only. While it is certainly possible to use MySpace or Xdrive for backup, it's not very practical when compared to using iDisk.