It's tempting to categorize these sites as either consumer or business. But it's a little early for that, because all are growing like crazy and just starting to find their niches. Likewise, their service menus are still being fleshed out, and site performance can be spotty.
Currently, the most free space you can get just by signing up is the 300MB offered by MySpace. com (formerly FreeDiskSpace.com). MySpace.com has signed up 3 million users in the past year by giving current users another 5MB for each new person referred and lesser amounts for the people they refer.
Problems I experienced with the site during a month of visiting included, on many occassions, rough service over a dial-up modem. Also, the free storage area transmits files unencrypted and stores them at a single location with four backup copies at another: Not the best security for mission-critical company data, but fine for noncritical files.
For the 30 percent of its audience that Freeman says are business users, MySpace.com's new Business Solutions page adds intranet and extranet tools, advanced security features such as 128-bit SSL file transfer encryption, multiple firewalls and sophisticated physical security at its data warehouse.
With 70 percent of its stored files generated by productivity applications, competitor Xdrive is still more business-oriented. In return for a brief registration, you get 25MB of free online storage and can increase that to 100MB by receiving 10MB after your first 10 visits to your personal Xdrive and 5MB for each associate you refer. More aggressive business users can buy up to Xdrive Enterprise, which replaces banner ads with intranet/extranet tools and sophisticated security procedures. Stored files are encrypted, scanned for viruses during transmission and backed up nine different ways. They're stored at one or more of 18 strategically placed sites throughout the United States.
However, I had periodic access problems at Xdrive, as I did with netdrive. com, another very similar business site. When it works, though, netdrive.com is fast (even over a 56K modem), easy to navigate, and gives you more storage more quickly than Xdrive does-100MB more space in exchange for a slightly longer registration.
The major impediment to file use on virtual drives is download time, which may not be fixed any time soon because most customers will be using dial-up modems for the foreseeable future. Even over a broadband connection, Internet data transfer rates will never match PC bus rates.