Slowly but surely the world is migrating away from software running on your computer to services hosted online. The only divisions at Microsoft that are profitable rely on sales of software – Windows, Office, and Windows Server – but even Microsoft has begun to acknowledge that the future belongs to web-based services. Here’s an article about some recent vague announcements about “cloud computing” that will power future Microsoft services, according to CEO Steve Ballmer.

There are two problems commonly faced by small businesses today: moving large files from place to place, and making files accessible online for collaboration. E-mail is inefficient for large files; many of the online portals for large companies are only practical with expensive hardware and full-time tech support staff.

There is no shortage of companies to fill these needs! Here’s a list of eighty web-based companies offering online backup services, sending services for large files, and online storage and file sharing. Many are free or have basic free services; prices are typically low on the rest. I haven’t sampled more than a handful but so far I haven’t found services that have the right combination of features, ease of use, security, and longevity. Things to consider:

  • Does it work? When I tried Mozy’s online backup, it did not work. How much time do we have for testing?
  • Is it so easy that busy people can figure it out intuitively? Services for sending large files typically put a copy of your file online, then send a link by e-mail for a specific recipient to download the file. Will the recipient know what to do when that message arrives, in an age where we trust nothing that arrives by e-mail? There are a lot of businesspeople and lawyers whose lives revolve around their e-mail but have only a rudimentary knowledge of what to do with anything more complicated than a file attachment.
  • How can security be arranged for the online file so only approved people can get to the file? Services that facilitate setting up little areas with password-protected access quickly become too complicated for small businesses without an onsite tech person.
  • And last, an intangible but important consideration: how long will the online service be in business? Using any of these services regularly requires an investment of time and emotion to learn them and trust them. When one of them disappears, it feels like a betrayal.

All of the eighty services in that article are worth looking into, but I haven’t found any that I’m actively recommending yet. My guess is that a few of them will rise to the top in the next few years.

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