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Maintaining Accessible and Sharable Data

English: Dual disk drive (Combo Floppy drive) ...
English: Dual disk drive (Combo Floppy drive) for 5.25 and 3.5 inch with floppy disks Deutsch: Duales Diskettenlaufwerk (Combo Floppy Drive) für 5 1/4 und 3 1/2 Zoll Disketten der Firma Canon Modell MD5511-V6 mit Disketten (Kombilaufwerk), Herstellung ca. 1995 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
March 1, 2015 Deadline
April 2015 Issue

Sharing files and collaborating elevate computers beyond being glorified typewriters, ledger books and filing cabinets. I appreciate the convenience of using a word processor compared to typing on my old manual Smith Corona and nobody wants to trade spreadsheets for paper, but it is the portability of data that makes computing revolutionary.

Beyond automating and improving the efficiency of tasks, moving data allows us to collaborate and develop better ideas.

Today, we use “the cloud” to share data via the Internet. We upload files to servers operated by Google, Microsoft, Apple and several cloud-specific companies like Dropbox and Box. Most of these services give you the option of interacting via the Web or creating a “sync folder” on your computers that mirrors data to and from the servers. A small application runs in the background on your computer that verifies the newest copies of files exist on your computer and in the cloud.

I recommend installing sync folder applications because you can work on documents when a network connection is unavailable. Some older buildings at the university have dead zones, without reliable network connections, but I still need to work on projects. Avoid storing any important file only on a cloud service.

If you are a Microsoft Office user, especially in a business setting, Microsoft OneDrive is the best way to store data to the cloud and share documents with collaborators. Microsoft’s Word and Excel for the iPad might be the best productivity tools available for iOS. Using OneDrive, you can easily create, edit and share Office documents without converting the files.

If you want to collaborate with others, agree on the applications people will use and stick to those applications. If you want to use Office, use OneDrive and the official Microsoft applications for various devices. Converting Word documents to Apple Pages or Google Docs and then back to Word is imperfect, at best. Too often, I have lost section breaks, running page numbers and other important layout elements when opening a Word document in another application.

My students love Google Drive because it is easy to use and includes online applications. The Google Apps aren’t as powerful as Microsoft Office, but they offer the basic features many people need. I understand that some people prefer Google to Microsoft, for whatever reason, but Office really is the standard for business files.

To share other files, businesses and organizations might also consider Box or Dropbox for better control of data security than Google Drive offers. Dropbox is better known than Box, and supported by more mobile applications. However, I do prefer Box and have found that the sync tools works seamlessly with my phone and tablet.

I also use Apple’s iCloud service with Keynote, Pages and Numbers, providing access to my documents via a cell phone data plan. However, sharing the documents via iCloud isn’t convenient. Basically, I use iCloud across my devices because it is “baked-in” to Apple’s operating systems.

Online services do vanish, including services offered by tech giants. It would be a mistake to assume data on Google Drive or Dropbox will always be available. That’s why I still insist on a local, physical, hard drive or solid-state drive attached to my computer.

Every computer should have an external backup device, even if you use cloud storage and online backup services. When using sync folders, a copy of the data on the cloud is also on your computer. Because of this data mirroring, when you make a backup of the computer’s drive, you’re also making yet another copy of the cloud data.

For Apple computers, use Time Machine to backup data to an external drive. Windows users might try the “Backup and Restore” feature in the Control Panel or the “Sync Center” in the Accessories folder. However, I prefer the backup applications included with external drives from Seagate and Western Digital. These are more like Time Machine, allowing you to search for previous versions of files.

In 2012, I wrote a column suggesting copying old data files to DVD-ROM discs. That advice is outdated. I can’t recall the last time I inserted a disc into a computer.

As we update our computers, it is easy to leave data behind or on media that can’t be accessed with newer systems. To be valuable, data must be accessible. This spring, I’m using external drives to copy data from diskettes and discs to my computer. Once done, I’ll copy the data to my network drive and an external hard drive.

When backing up old data, also check any USB flash drives, SD cards and other media that might not be supported in the future. My colleagues recently found Sony Memory Sticks and xD cards with photos of student projects. It is time to get those files into the cloud. Also, a neighbor recently asked if I might own a 3.5-inch floppy drive because she wanted to recover documents and images created by her daughter during elementary school.

Many computer users forget to migrate older data from one media format to the latest format.

When I was in college, the complete collection of papers I wrote during the school year fit on single 5.25-inch floppy disk. The 1.2 megabyte “high-density” disks stored dozens of WordStar or WordPerfect documents, the most popular word processors during the late 1980s. Thankfully, I did copy my 5.25-inch disks to 3.5-inch disks. In the 1990s, I copied my school projects and creative writing to Zip disks and CD-R discs.

Good luck finding a computer with a 3.5-inch disk drive. Newer computers also lack CD and DVD drives, so I encourage users to copy any discs now. As people stopped buying software, music and movies on disc, there was no reason to include the drives in computers. Your data belong on both external drives and in the cloud.

Getting data to new storage devices and the cloud isn’t enough. Remember, if documents or data files were created in an old application you should convert the data to a standard format if possible. The programs we use to create documents go away, just like storage technologies.


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Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
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