How to backup files on multiple cloud storage services
Up to your eyeballs in various cloud services like Dropbox and SkyDrive but can't share your files across all of them? Here's how.
You may use a number of cloud storage services like Dropbox, SkyDrive or Google Drive to backup your files online and access them away from home. The problem is, they (usually) ask you to store your files in the service's own folder on your computer -- not, say, your regular Documents folder where you'd normally keep everything. So if you want to access your spreadsheets on more than one cloud service, you can't. This guide will show you how to get around this.
Cloud services allow you to backup your data online, which is useful if you ever drop your laptop in the bath. They also let you access files on your computer using your smart phone while out and about. But because Dropbox, SkyDrive and Google Drive all sync their own folders, some dilemmas are created. What if your work flow relies on using your Documents or Desktop folders, for example?
Below, I'll look at some tricks to mix and match your cloud services and regular folders.
Cloud Storage Services
To start with, let's look at the major cloud storage services and their relative merits. For the sake of brevity, we won't get into comparing pricing.
Dropbox, which starts you off with 2GB of free storage, is the best known cloud storage system, and as such, it enjoys the most support in terms of the third-party applications that are able to use it. It also has the most robust file sync client of all the services I've tested.
It can handle large file volumes and it's compatible with Windows directory junctions (don't worry, these will be explained later). You can also change the location of your Dropbox folder at any time. Its synchronisation is limited to the Dropbox folder.
SugarSync is a less well-known service, but it offers a comprehensive service and 5GB of free space. Its desktop client is robust, capable of handling as many files and folders as you can throw at it, and it isn't tied to a single folder. Instead, you can synchronise any folder you like, making it available to browse on the web and using mobile devices.
Speaking of mobile devices, SugarSync has the biggest range of official mobile applications, even including the likes of Symbian and webOS. SugarSync's lack of restriction to a single sync folder means this is one cloud storage service that doesn't require the hacks described later in this guide.
SkyDrive is Microsoft's offering to the cloud world, with 7GB of free storage. Unlike the previous two services, its website includes editing tools such as limited web versions of the Microsoft Office applications. It also offers more free space than any of the other three services.
Its desktop sync is limited, however, as it uses its own folder, and the desktop sync client does not scale well to large numbers of files. I have upwards of 10,000 files, for example, and it proved unable to keep up with my changes. Also, it neither supports directory junctions, nor can you change the location of your SkyDrive folder without uninstalling and reinstalling the desktop sync client.
Google Drive is the latest arrival at the cloud storage party and offers 5GB for no cost. Its file sync abilities are on a par with SkyDrive, but bear in mind that any documents created in Google Docs will be synchronised to your computer as .gdoc files, which are simple web links. That means editing with local office applications isn't possible, so if your Internet connection goes down, you're stuck.
Google Drive has the same limitations as SkyDrive in that it isn't friendly to directory junctions, and you can only set a custom location for the Google Drive folder during installation. Even more limiting is that whichever folder you choose for Google Drive, the installer will always create a 'Google Drive' sub-folder in it.
Linking cloud folders and local folders
Depending on your needs, there are several ways we can link your standard file locations with your various cloud folders. The simplest scenario is if you use just one service that has its own sync folder and you keep your standard folders (Documents and so on) inside it.
In this case, go to your user folder C:\Users\[Username]\. Right-click on the folder you wish to move, and click on the 'Location' tab. There you will see a target field with the current location of the folder. You'll see a 'Move' button, which you can use to set the new location of the folder into your chosen sync folder.
To sync your Desktop with Dropbox, for example, move to your user folder and right-click on Desktop. Under the 'Location' tab, click move and navigate to your Dropbox folder, then click the 'New Folder' button to create a new Desktop folder and select it. This method also lets you sync desktop contents across multiple computers. See also how to change default folder locations in Ubuntu.
Change sync folder location
An alternative option is to change the folder to be synchronised. Rather than being restricted to a service's own sync folder, you could change the default sync folder to your Documents or Desktop folder. Dropbox's settings allow you to do this at any time. However, you can only set the location of the sync folder for SkyDrive and Google Drive at the time of installation.
If you use multiple backup services, you can also change the default sync location to nest one service within another. If you want your SkyDrive or Google Drive files backed up on Dropbox, for example, you can set them to be stored within Dropbox (or vice versa).
Use File Junctions
File Junctions, or Symbolic Links for Mac and Linux users, link two locations on your hard drive, allowing you to make a folder or file appear as if it's located elsewhere without actually moving any files. In Windows 7, hit Start and type 'cmd', then press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to run it as an Administrator. Once you have the command prompt up, type in the following command: mklink /J [Path to destination] [Path to Source].