That's one reason, providers say, they aren't trying to replace your desktop hard drive. But they don't need to. Increasingly, the stuff you save and share will come from other Web sites. That's why i-drive.com, for instance, offers only 50MB worth of free storage for uploading files from your desktop, but "infinite space" for Web pages captured using its page-clipping tools.
This 4.7-million-member-strong site has partnered with a number of Web sites, like About.com, ZDNet and Homestead, in order to include its Sideload icon on their pages so you can zap Web pages to your i-drive with a mouse click or two. Other i-drive tools make it easy to build shared photo albums and MP3 playlists that you can listen to without first downloading the songs to your PC.
That has made i-drive popular with students. It claims 40 percent of its cus-tomers are businesspeople who use the site for both business and recreation.
That's the lesson learned by similarly oriented Driveway, which started life as Atrieva a couple years ago trying to sell storage to the usual early adopters (enterprises). It found better acceptance among entrepreneurial "professionals"-some 6 million of whom it has since signed up through the usual co-marketing agreements with high-traffic Web sites.
"What the professional typically does," notes Larry Jones, vice president of product marketing for Driveway, "is go to the Web to make vacation travel arrangements and then store a big Powerpoint presentation to work on at home."
His words ring true. I was trolling Microsoft's MSN Money Central recently when I came across a good article on a stock I own. Instead of downloading it, I decided to sign up for Driveway; within 60 seconds, my Driveway registration was completed and the article saved. Of course, that got me only 25MB of storage, but it's a somewhat tortuous path through referrals, file sharing and three different consumer surveys to get 100MB here.
Despite its parsimony, I have to say Driveway is my favorite virtual drive because of the site's performance. That's not a blanket recommendation. The best way to find out which site is right for you is to try them. Sign-up takes five minutes and costs you nothing. You can get around site storage limits by signing up for more than one account or with more than one provider.
You don't have to give up your desktop drive, but at the very least, a virtual hard drive provides a safe place to tuck away copies of your important files and satisfy your growing appetite for Web pages.