April 29, 2013, 10:12 AM — Cloud storage isn't just for files and photos. With the right tools and services, you can do much more: organize data, or automate uploads and downloads. Synchronize, of course. Score extra space without paying an extra cent. Run a basic Web site from a cloud service, manage media, or even fax.
Best of all, most of the following cloud secrets have a similar price tag: zero. Read on to learn how to leverage online storage services in ways you never dreamed possible.
ORGANIZE AND AUTOMATE
1. IFTTT is your cloud-data gofer
The amazing trigger service If This Then That was practically designed with cloud storage in mind. Like your own virtual gofer, you can set it to fetch and carry cloud-based data from one service to another. For example, it has a prewritten "recipe" that will automatically upload to SkyDrive any Facebook photos you've been tagged in. It has another that archives Gmail messages to your Box account. You can even save all your Instagram photos to Dropbox. Of course, those are just the recipes others have created. IFTTT also lets you cook up your own for just about any action/reaction you can imagine.
2. One cloud service to rule them all
It's not uncommon to have different files spread across different cloud services. The hassle, of course, is finding the file you're after. Otixo makes this easier by giving you access to Amazon S3, Box, Dropbox, SugarSync, and other services under one roof. You can search across all your accounts, preview and share documents and photos, and even move or copy files from one cloud to another. Otixo costs $4.99 per month, or $47.90 annually.
3. Email attachments to your cloud drive
Typically, when you want to add a file to your cloud account, you must jump through the hoops of uploading it via a browser or a desktop or mobile app. But there's another way: email. Evernote and SugarSync, for example, assign you a custom email address where you can forward any attachment. Send to Dropbox is a free service that forwards emailed attachments to your eponymous Dropbox folder. And Drv.io (currently in beta) offers a similar capability for Google Drive users.
4. Migrate your files from one cloud service to another
So you've run out of free storage space on Dropbox and want to move to SkyDrive's roomier digs. Just one problem: How do you get all your files from Cloud A to Cloud B? Try Mover, a free app that helps you transfer data from one storage service to another. It supports Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, SugarSync, company FTP servers, and just about every other online storage source. There's a bit of a learning curve, though, so you might need your local IT guru to get started.
5. Make the cloud your default download destination
By default, most Web browsers deposit files in your Downloads folder, and then you turn around and upload those files to a cloud service. You can take out the middleman (i.e., you) by venturing into your browser's download settings and changing the destination to any folder that's already set to sync. Now you've got an easy, automated way to back up or share your downloads.
6. Autosave Gmail attachments to the cloud
You already know that some online drives let you forward email attachments, but that's an extra step. Attachments.me, a free browser plug-in for Chrome and Firefox, offers one-click attachment uploading to Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, or SkyDrive. You can also set up rules so that future emails from, say, a particular contact get automatically routed to a specific service.
7. Sync unlimited folders among PCs
Cloud storage service Cubby operates much like Dropbox and its kind, but with one key advantage: It lets you sync unlimited folders between your PCs. You can use that feature to, say, share photo albums with family members or business documents with coworkers, or to back up important data to a spare PC. Everything you add to designated share folders gets automatically synced to your remote "cubbies."
8. Sync any folder to your SkyDrive account
Microsoft's SkyDrive gives you 7GB for free, but there's one catch: Only files contained in your SkyDrive folder get synced to the service. Software developer Jan Hannemann's SkyShellEx works a little behind-the-scenes magic to let you sync any folder to your SkyDrive account. This trick does require letting it move your files from their original locations, but from your perspective, your folder structure will remain the same. (Read Hannemann's blog post for a more detailed explanation.)
9. Sync browser settings across all devices
You've probably spent years building a library of bookmarks, so it makes sense to back them up. Chrome and Firefox offer built-in bookmark syncing, which preserves your favorites (and passwords) in the event of data loss and also syncs them to other PCs running the same browser.
If you use Internet Explorer or Safari, check out Xmarks, a free sync tool that works the same way, but it also lets you access your bookmarks in any Web browser on any device.
STORAGE AND MORE STORAGE
10. Get extra free space
A free Dropbox account entitles you to 2GB of cloud storage, while SugarSync gives you 5GB. Not bad, but you can always use more. Thankfully, both services allow you to earn extra space without opening your wallet. For example, for each friend you refer to SugarSync, you get an extra 500MB. Dropbox matches that offer, but rewards you with even more space when you complete a "getting started" checklist, connect to your Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, and perform various other tasks.
11. Create your own cloud storage service
If you run a website, you might have copious amounts of spare online storage. OwnCloud helps you turn it into your own private Dropbox, able to sync and share files, calendars, notes, and more. You can use it with an existing domain or even a spare Linux machine in your home or office, and from there the sky's the limit. Setup does require a bit of technical savvy, but Lifehacker has a great tutorial on getting started with OwnCloud.
12. Share some space, get some space
Symform works off the idea that you have to give some cloud storage to get more cloud storage. The service gives you 10GB to start with, and you can earn lots more by contributing extra gigabytes from your own hard drive to its distributed network. Give 100GB of local storage, for example, and get 50GB of Symform storage. It's all secure, encrypted, and totally free. The more cloud storage you share via Symform, the more you can get for yourself.
13. Save Web content to read later
It happens all the time: You notice a great review or feature story on PCWorld.com (or some other site), but you don't have time to read it right now. With one click of a bookmarklet, you can "clip" that page for later viewing. Both Instapaper and Pocket can store your clips in the cloud and format them for easy, clutter-free reading on mobile devices.
14. Stream your music library
Liberate your music library from your PC by sending it to the cloud, making it available anywhere you go (and also acting as a handy backup). One of the best options is Google Play, which lets you upload up to 20,000 songs--including any you might have in iTunes--and stream them to other PCs and devices. Its Windows client automatically syncs newly added music, and there's a download option in case you need to restore your library.
15. Publish a blog or website
Whether you need a quick-and-dirty website or you simply want to avoid paying domain and hosting charges, check out Pancake.io. This free tool turns your text files into webpages, and then it uploads them to your Dropbox account, which effectively serves as the host. For more advanced Web spinners, Pancake.io supports CSS, Markdown files, PDFs, GIFs, and other common file types.
16. Back up your blog or website
Whether you blog about cupcakes or run an online cupcake business, it's vital to back up your site. You never know when a hacker might attack or a server might melt, destroying your hard work in the process. If you're a WordPress user, the WordPress Backup to Dropbox plug-in does exactly what its name suggests. For everyone else, Backup Box can archive Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, and other sites to just about any cloud storage service. Both options are free.
17. Make your Google Docs available offline
Google Docs is great for creating and editing documents of all stripes, but if you're cut off from the Internet, you're cut off from your files, right? Wrong: Google Drive for Windows syncs your cloud drive to your local drive, making documents available even when you're offline. However, you'll need to use Chrome for your Web browser, at least for Docs purposes, add the Google Drive Chrome app, and enable offline access.
18. Access your favorite Dropbox files offline
If you use the Dropbox app on your phone or tablet, there's a crafty way to make select documents available for offline viewing. Just open any given document, than tap the star icon to add it to your favorites list. The app stores those favorites locally, so you can access them even when there's no Internet connection--like when you're on a flight or subway train.
FAX, PRINT, SCAN UTILITIES
19. Send and receive faxes
You can finally put the old fax machine out to pasture. Web-based HelloFax can integrate with most cloud storage services. Newly received fax pages will land right in your account for easy viewing, sharing, and archiving. Better still, you can fax documents directly from your cloud, meaning no more printing pages and then walking them to the fax machine or scanner.
20. "Print" documents from your iDevice to Dropbox
Collobos' FingerPrint software for Windows allows your iPhone or iPad to print to any connected printer, but it also supports virtual printing to cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote. That means you can route pretty much any email, photo, webpage, or other printable item from your iDevice directly to an online account. The only rub: FingerPrint isn't free. It'll cost you $19.95.
21. Turn your phone or tablet into a scanner
The camera built into your smartphone or tablet probably has sufficient resolution to capture documents. All you need is the right app to deliver those "scans" to the cloud-storage service of your choice. For example, Doc Scan (iOS, Free), Genius Scan (Android, $1.59) and Handyscan (Windows Phone, $2.99) will take a snapshot of any document, convert it to PDF if needed, and sync it to Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, or a similar destination.