I have written a couple of times recently about online backup services. It seems that I barely finish writing an article about one such service when still another company makes an announcement of a new and even cheaper service. Another new announcement was released this week.
Frequent backups are important for genealogists as well as for many others. If you spend many hours documenting your family tree, copying old documents or scanning family photographs, you don't want to lose that work in the blink of an eye. Important files can disappear instantly from a computer because of human error, hardware malfunction, or damage to the computer itself because of some external event. While desktop computers do fail, laptop computers fail even more often due to the extra handling. Laptop computers also get stolen occasionally.
There are many reasons for making computer backups and almost as many reasons for storing those backups "off-site," some distance from your computer's location. Off-site backups are the only insurance against "site disasters," including flood, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and more. Are off-site backups important? Ask any computer-owning genealogist who was in the path of last year's hurricane Katrina! Indeed, many Katrina victims lost their computers and their backup copies simultaneously. If they had created off-site backups, they would have been able to retrieve the files once they started getting their lives back in order.
Today's technology allows anyone to quickly and easily make backup copies and to store those copies at locations hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles away. You send the files over the Internet to be stored in a distant archival server. Best of all, those backups are available to you within seconds; you do not need to wait for someone to send the files by mail or overnight express service. You can retrieve them almost instantly by connecting to a web page and entering a user name and password. A couple of mouseclicks later, the files are transferred back to your original computer or perhaps to a replacement computer. If traveling, you can even retrieve stored desktop files onto your laptop computer.
A number of companies offer online backup services, I have recently written about two low-cost or free services that provide excellent online backup offerings.. Plus Edition subscribers can read those articles at http://www.eogn.com/plusedition. Now a well-known online company has entered the low-end of the marketplace: AOL.
AOL is going through great turmoil these days. The once-dominant online service has fallen on hard times. AOL was once the biggest and most expensive provider of online access with more than 30 million customers. Recent figures have placed the current customer base at about half that number with thousands of AOL customers now canceling their accounts every hour. AOL is very much in need of re-engineering. The company is awash in red ink, and AOL's financial numbers are all going in the wrong direction.
AOL has been losing a lot of customers to broadband ISPs over the past two years. Those who obtain broadband connections soon realize they no longer need AOL to access online content. Of the current AOL paying customers, roughly 6.2 million access their accounts via broadband connections that already include Internet access without AOL. The assumption is that most of those 6.2 million will eventually cancel their AOL accounts as they realize they are actually paying twice for online content: once for AOL and a second time for everything else. When that happens, AOL will lose an additional $90 million a month in subscription revenue.
This week AOL announced a radical change in its business model. The online company that once was the most expensive Internet provider in North America is now going to give away the same content and more free of charge. Even AOL e-mail will now be free, something that has been offered for years by Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail and others. Future revenues will be primarily provided by selling even more advertising. (AOL will continue to charge for dial-up access to a dwindling number of customers who do not yet have broadband access.) The company said Wednesday it will no longer charge broadband users a $15 monthly fee for e-mail and other subscription services as part of a sweeping plan to grow its business by encouraging as many online users as possible to spend time on the company's properties.
To further reduce expenses, AOL also plans to lay off 5,000 of its 19,000 employees within the next six months. Company spokesmen also said Wednesday that AOL is in talks to sell its European access business to French telecom Neuf Cegetel.
There is some good news for computer service consumers in all of AOL's woes. In an effort to attract more users to view the advertisements, AOL will offer several new free services. The purpose is to attract more people to pages that contain advertising. If the company can succeed in getting more "eyeballs" exposed to the ads, the results will include greater revenue from advertisers.
The new free service that caught my attention is online storage. You will soon be able to access up to 5 gigabytes of online storage via AOL's partners. This service will be available for free to any Web users with AOL screen names. Users do not need to be paying AOL members. The AOL service allows users to digitally store any sort of digital material, including e-mail, pictures, music, and documents. The company previously charged $10 a month for the same service. For those who need even more storage space, a premium service with 50 gigabytes of storage will also be available for a fee.
Users will be able to instantly access their files from any PC or mobile device with a Web connection, share the files with others by granting file/folder permission, move them via easy drag-and-drop tools, and auto-upload any e-mail attachments they receive via major e-mail providers (including AOL Mail, AIM Mail, or any non-AOL POP3 or IMAP-compatible mail providers).
AOL's online file storage service is a "low end" service. For instance, it does not include automated backups that are made without user intervention. I also noted that there is no mention of backing up open files or of block level incremental backups. All of these features are available on other free services that I wrote about earlier. Still, given AOL's name recognition plus the price tag of free, I suspect AOL's online backup service will become very popular.
The free AOL online backup service will be available to any users with an AOL or AIM screen name starting in early September.