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July 2000
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Getting More Space for Your Digital Life

By Anthony Paonita

Getting More Space for Your Digital Life REMEMBER the addage "you can't be too thin or have too much RAM?" I'd add something else: You can't have too much closet space.

I don't mean real, "meat space" closet space, the place where you stow the suits you discarded when your law firm went casual. I mean virtual closet space, the kind in which you stow your computer files, whether they're legal briefs written with a word processor or an accident simulation done on high-end 3D software.

The latter kind of file is what's caused our need for computer disk space to explode. Once, hard disks and removable media were expensive, and so computers came with a small hard drive, a few megabytes maybe, plus a floppy drive. Remember those? Now even some word processing documents, if they include some images and fancy formatting, can be too much to fit on a floppy diskette.

So we need serious real estate. Gigabytes worth, and that's just the internal hard drive. Internal storage, however, isn't enough: Now some sort of removable, portable storage is a necessity, and it's got to be high-capacity as well.

Why? Lots of reasons, but most of them have to do with insurance and peace of mind. It's good to keep copies, mainly for backup reasons. (Sorry to inform you of this, but you will have a computer disaster sometime in the future and you will be eternally grateful that you kept backups of important files.)

Plus, you may need to share files with colleagues, or take a demanding print job to a professional service bureau.

Solving Your Storage Headaches

Hard Drive Wannabies

ZIP 250 MB DRIVE (Circle No.: 355)
Iomega Corp.; $150 for SCSI or parallel connection; $180 for USB; Zip disks, about $18 each
Pros: Easily rewritable, easy to copy files, widely used
Cons: Limited capacity, not for long-term storage

IMATION SUPERDISK (Circle No.: 356)
Imation Corp., USB version for PCs $150; 120 MB SuperDisks about $10 each
Pros: Easily rewritable, easy to copy files, widely used
Cons: Limited capacity, not for long-term storage

ORB (Circle No.: 357)
Castlewood Systems Inc.
$230 (for SCSI) to $280 (USB); Orb disks, $50 for 2 BG
Pros: High capacity, high speed
Cons: Unproven long-term durability

Burn Your Own

YAMAHA CD-RW DRIVE (SCSI connection), Yamaha Corp.; $400 (Circle No.: 358)
QPS FIREWIRE CD-RW DRIVE, (Circle No.: 359) QPS Inc., $400
Pros: Fast, virtually permanent storage, high capacity (650 MB)
Cons: Takes longer to "burn" a CD than to copy files to a Zip or similar device

Put It Online

X:DRIVE; free for 25 MB storage, sliding scale for more (Circle No.: 360)
IDISK FROM APPLE; 20 MB storage is free (Circle No.: 361)
Pros: Free or cheap storage; ability to share files in public folders
Cons: Convenience, accessibility depends on speed of Internet connection

Another reason has to deal with plain old good housekeeping. You may not want to keep old files on your computer's hard drive forever, yet you cannot get rid of them, because they're valuable litigation documents. So you need an archival medium that is easy to do yet durable.

It all may sound like an impossible set of demands: Storage has to be fast, easy both to connect and use, and have a long shelf life. Here's a quick rundown on what's out there and how to choose which solution best suits your needs:

The Usual Suspects

A few years ago, Mac graphics types started to flock to Iomega's Zip drive. Its 100 MB (unformatted; a few MBs less formatted) size was big enough to hold a few large photo or page layout files and it was fast enough so that copying those files wasn't a chore. Iomega, once it caught up with demand, produced a parallel port version for people with Windows PCs and in many ways, Zips became an industry standard.

Since then, Iomega has weathered some tough times, the dreaded "click of death" episode calling the disks' reliability into question. (Some Zip disks, when inserted, made an ominous clicking sound before giving up the ghost. In some cases, the drives themselves were rendered useless.)

But that's not an issue now and Iomega has updated the Zip, boosting its capacity to 250 MB and producing a version that connects to your PC or Mac via Universal Serial Bus ports (USB). If your computer cooperates, the new disk drives are hot-swappable; just plug in or out without worrying about powering down.

But life's still not simple for the Zip. Apple, when it introduced the floppy drive-less iMac, sparked a revolution in plug-in devices. The first to benefit was the multitalented Superdrive by Imation. Its slim disks, about $20, hold 120 MB of stuff, but also function as floppy drives. It's worth thinking about if you have lots of indispensible floppy disks and you've bought a new computer that omits the drive -- Apple isn't alone in doing this.

Walk-in Closets

For some power users, Superdisks and Zips aren't enough. They have bigger storage/archiving needs. Fortunately, peripheral manufacturers have been listening.

You may never have thought of yourself as a record producer, but you can cut your own disks. CD "burners" are now cheap enough and easy enough to use to make them a practical alternative to disk-type media. They have another, more important virtue: CDs can hold up to 650 MB of material and are more durable than most removable disks. Most consumer burners allow you to use rewritable disks, allowing you to overwrite previously recorded material. But with blank CD selling for, at most, a couple of bucks a pop, why bother?

The newest burners use the latest connections; if your computer's pretty new you should be able to buy a USB burner, which will be faster than a parallel port model -- but slower than an old Mac's SCSI port. Mac or Sony Vario users have another connection: They can use burners featuring the Firewire or IEEE 1394 standard, which allows blazing speeds and hot swapping, too.

Finally, there the Orb. A spiritual successor to the venerable Syquest cartridges, the new Orb from Castlewood is fast (it's certified as a media for digital video) and high capacity--2 GB for a cartridge that costs less than $40. I've heard varying reports about short-term reliability and it's too new for any long-term prediction.

Rent a Locker

Have a reliable, fast Internet connection? Then you can rent storage space online. Or even get it for free -- but remember, you get what you pay for.

The biggest player is X:drive (www.xdrive.com). You get 25 MB of storage space for free. It works like this: You have to download software that mounts the Internet drive as one of your computer's disk drives, and simply copy over files as you would normally do.

One drawback to the arrangement is that, for the time being, Mac and Linux users need not apply. The company says to check frequently for updates to this state of affairs. While 25 MB may seem like a paltry amount, X:drive will happily sell you more space, from $4.95 a month for another 25 MB to $19.95 monthly for a gigabyte.

In the alternate universe Mac people inhabit, Apple Computer, Inc., offers a limited file storage service for Mac users with OS 9. Register with the site (www.apple.com) and you'll receive 20 MB of space to stash your files.

Squeamish about entrusting your precious files to the Internet? That's an important consideration, and only you can answer it. But keep in mind that you can, with the right software, encrypt confidential material. And you have to factor in the speed of your Internet connection and whether, with a slow, dial-up connection, you have the time to watch your files copy at a majestic pace.

In general, though, computer closet space keeps getting cheaper and faster. Promising new products are being introduced rapidly and some -- like small, pocket sized "Firewire" hard disks and Sony's memory sticks -- may soon be universal enough to render the others obsolete.

Anthony Paonita is a contributing editor of Law Technology News and a senior editor of The American Lawyer magazine.

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