Backing Up to the Cloud for Free

Using a cloud backup is an important strategy to a successful backup plan. If you don’t want to pay for your online backup, you have other options. Backing up online using CrashPlan is simple and extremely low maintenance, and that’s what you’re paying for: the convenience and ease of use.This weekend in the Weekend Series, you are going to organize your backup system for FREE. For more information about this simple and paid service, see Organize Your Backups This Weekend. If you’re willing to do a little extra work, you can get around it and back up to the cloud for free.

Use CrashPlan for Free (Recommended)

The simplest workaround is to swap backups with a friend. This will require that you both have space for the other’s data. Both of you must have CrashPlan installed. (The free version!) Then you can back up to each other’s computer. This is particularly a good idea if you live in different cities or states. It’s probably best if you don’t live in the same neighborhood. (Think of tornadoes or other localized disasters.) And don’t worry about your friend browsing through your personal data. They will see the backup file but won’t be able to see your folder names, much less access your files. You can also Encrypt Your Data with TrueCrypt before backing it up.

Backing Up Separately for Free

If you don’t want to involve others in your backup process, you can break up your backups to different services to take advantage of the free storage.


Documents are your most often-accessed files. You should keep a local copy on each of your computers. The simplest way to do this is using Dropbox. You can even have Multiple Dropbox Accounts syncing on your computer. This website is not recommending that you get multiple accounts to get around the data limit. But this may be necessary if you are managing data for a business that is shared among several people. That account needs to be separate from your personal Dropbox account, but you need to access and sync both. Dropbox only gives you 2GB of storage for free, but you can get add to that storage by paying attention to promotions that they run and by getting friends to sign up with your referral link.

The best thing about Dropbox is the fact that it syncs to a folder on your computer, and it syncs across ALL locations – online, your mobile device, your laptop, and your desktop. You won’t have to connect to your network to get the updated file. You can work on a document in Starbucks, then go to a meeting at work where you can access the file on your laptop. If you leave your laptop at work, you can access the file at home. You can create a shopping list at work and view it on your phone in the grocery store.

If you have more files in your My Documents folder than will fit into your Dropbox account, you’ll need to reorganize a bit. Hopefully, you’ve organized your documents and have already moved your files out of the default documents location.

Author’s Note: I had a huge folder called SoftwareDownloads. If I had to download software (the increasingly prevalent method of software purchasing these days), I put a copy of the installation package into this folder. This isn’t something I need to access often, so I moved it out of my Dropbox folder and into my external hard drive.

We’ll discuss the local syncing and backup process further a little later in this article.


Your photo collection could be huge. Especially if you have scanned your old photos and have saved them to your system in the Digitize Your Photos article.

Let’s be realistic. What are you really going to do with those 10,000+ photos you have? When you take new pictures of the kids or your vacation or an event, you might want to share them. Most people share photo albums using either email, Facebook, their personal website, or a combination of those. As for all of those old photos, you will rarely access them, but you don’t want to LOSE them. Likely, the next time you’ll want them will be if someone dies or graduates. Those are the top reason for making those fabulous slideshow presentations of a person that we all love. Or you might want to go back and look at vacation photos from years back. Regardless, if you’ve organized your photos, you will be able to do a quick and easy search to find what you want. So how do you protect your precious photos? Create duplicates locally and off-site. And how can you do this for free or cheap?

Credit: Information about personal websites, Flickr, and Picasa came from a 2008 article on Lifehacker.

Personal Web Site

If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and you’ve got some hosted web space, you can host your digital photos on your own web site. Granted, it might seem like a lot more work compared to the other options, but hosting your photos on a personal site means that you have complete control, and some (free) open-source options for rolling your own hosting solution can be as robust on features as their counterparts. If that sounds appealing, here’s a Lifehacker article to walk you through how to set up the free Gallery2 on your hosted web server. You may also want to check out Jalbum.


Flickr was originally conceived in 2002 as a video game-screenshot sharing web site, but it quickly blossomed into a full-fledged photo sharing site with a bustling community. The now Yahoo-owned site offers free accounts with limitations placed on photo uploads and other features, while the $25/year Pro account promises unlimited uploads, storage, and sets. Flickr, like many of the others, also recently added video sharing to their repertoire.

Picasa (Google) Web Albums

Picasa Web Albums are the online counterpart to Google’s popular, Windows- and Linux-only desktop photo organization software, Picasa. Despite its late entry to the photo sharing game in mid-2006, Picasa Web Album’s seamless integration with Picasa and Google accounts quickly gained the service a large following. A free account with Picasa Web Albums gives you 1GB of free storage space, and you can buy extra storage that’s shared with your Gmail account starting at $2.49 a month for 25GB and $4.99 a month for 100GB. If you’re lucky and purchased extra storage through Picasa around a couple of years ago, you are grandfathered in for $20 a year for 20GB of space.


Shutterfly was founded in 1999 and remains competitive today. A free account with Shutterfly gives you unlimited free storage and sharing. The downside is that they make their money by selling prints. This is handy if you share your album with Grandma and she wants to buy a photo to put on the mantle. It’s one-stop-shopping. Also, you will have to upload your pictures one folder at a time. Most people have hundreds of folders. But again, this is free.

Suggestion: If you’re willing to pay for backup service, just backup your entire system as described in Organize Your Backups This Weekend. Otherwise, to get free online photo storage and sharing, you’ll need to use Shutterfly. If you use Shutterfly, it’s going to take a LONG time. You’ll have to manually backup each folder. And it won’t be synced.


There are 2 reasons to back up your music online. The first is to protect it. The second is to have the ability to stream the music. Check out this Lifehacker article on Cloud Music Comparison: What’s the Best Service for Streaming Your Library Everywhere? to learn more about the streaming services. (Prices vary for desktop and mobile use.)

The purpose that we are addressing here today is a simple backup with no need to access the files except to restore a backup. And we’re looking for a free solution. That solution is Google Music. Click on the link to take a tour. And if you’re ready to run it and get set up, here’s a great tutorial from Lifehacker on How to Make Google Music Your Secondary Media Player (and Why You Should). Note that this could be time-consuming, but you will have the ability to stream your music for free as well.


Not to be obvious, but just upload your videos to You Tube. Unfortunately there’s no automatic sync, but the normal consumer doesn’t do a lot of editing of existing video. So just upload a video after you finish it.


If you use Gmail, you might recall that there was a problem with people losing emails in their Gmail accounts a few years ago. You can export your data from Google (and likely from other services) at any time. Check out the Google Blog for the latest instructions to Download a copy of your Gmail and Google Calendar data.


I’m throwing in SyncBackPro because I have previously suggested this software and it offers a backup feature for all POP3/IMAP4 emails.

For more information on how to use this software go to my tutorial for doing a Full Backup Using SyncBackPro.

Paying for Your Cloud Backup

If you’re willing to pay $4-$5 a month, you can use a simple and automated cloud backup to make the process easier. For more information about this simple and paid service, see Organize Your Backups This Weekend.

(Unmodified Image: Retro Halftone Clouds, CC license by Nick Merritt)

Author: Steph

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