SST_1709 Using Cloud Services for Collaboration

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Some people do not like the idea of online storage. They do not like to have their important data stored on someone else’s server. If you haven’t heard about the cloud storage system called Megaupload, then you should read about it – it’s a sobering story. The files and documents on the Megaupload servers were seized by the FBI as part of a piracy case against Megaupload; 100 million Megaupload users lost access to the data in 2012.
On the other hand, there are some services where the data is stored on your local hard drive and a copy is stored online. In this case, you should still have access to all of your files in the event of a server failure. These systems allow you to have an up-to-date copy of your document stored securely online. Many of these systems also enable connecting to your online files from other machines (laptops, desktops, tablets, mobile phones).

Some people say that having cloud storage is essential, but that really depends on your computer and on what you want to store. If you have a Chromebook, you have to store your files online; the Chromebook only has 32 GB of storage. While you can’t use a Chromebook to draw in Vectorworks, you can still use it for other documents, such as letters, reports, and specifications. Some laptops have very small hard drives, so you might need to store your files online. If you have a laptop and a desktop machine with a lot of storage, you may not see the need to store your files online.
Important uses for cloud storage include backups, synchronization between computers, and remote collaboration. The rest of this manual assumes that you do want to use a cloud system to back up your files, synchronize them between computers, and collaborate with others.
There are numerous online storage solutions, many of which offer collaboration features. For example, if you use Google Docs, you end up with a Google Drive; if you have an iPhone, you get an iCloud account; if you have a Microsoft Word subscription, you receive a OneDrive; and so it goes. Without trying too hard, I have accumulated the following services:

Some of these accounts are great for collaborating on text documents, but they are not always designed with drawing files in mind. For example, if you want to write a report or a checklist for drawing content, then a Google document is fantastic. Several people can edit this document at the same time and every user can see what the others are up to. The cursor from the other people has their name on it so you can see where the cursor is and what they’re editing.
Having a checklist to compare the many different services available can cut through the confusion:

  • Is the service for backup only (no sharing)?
  • Is it for one-way sharing (sending large files)?
  • Is it for sharing both ways (collaboration)?
  • Can it be used for text documents or drawings?
  • Is it connected to an application (e.g., Google Docs)?

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Vectorworks Cloud Services


As part of your Vectorworks Services Subscription, you get online storage for your files. Originally, Vectorworks Cloud services was only available for users of Vectorworks VSS. It is now available to anybody and they get free online storage.
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When you share a file with Cloud services, the user can view the file or download it. If they download the file, then it is no longer connected to the Cloud services.
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You can integrate Dropbox and Google Drive with your Cloud services.


This is a service that I think of using with Vectorworks for collaboration, especially for sharing a Vectorworks model with clients.

OneDrive


I got this when I signed up for an MS Office 365 subscription. The subscription costs me about NZ$160, but I receive the oneDrive cloud storage as part of the cost, along with Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. OneDrive gives me 1 TB of online storage (which is a lot) and it works well for syncronizing my Word documents between my Mac, Windows machine and tablet. It seems to be able synchronize all sorts of files, but I have not used it for online collaboration. When you install OneDrive on your computer, you get a new folder on your hard drive that is synchronized to the cloud.
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Any files that you create in or add to this folder and any changes that you make to those files will automatically be synchronised to the cloud. These changes will show up on other computers, in an online browser, or on a mobile device.
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You can share files from this folder, set an expiration date and choose whether other people can edit the file. Setting the sharing options has to be done online through a Web browser, but you can share a link to any file from a mobile device. Using this drive seems easiest when I am using a Microsoft application; because it is part of my hard drive it is easy to save files to this online storage and have them backed up without too much trouble.
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It is not a service that I think of using with Vectorworks for collaboration.

iCloud


There is a cloud service that comes with an iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer; iCloud is the online storage area for Apple. Like OneDrive for Windows, Apple apps are designed to work with this cloud service, making it easy to work with Apple’s Pages, Numbers, and other proprietary applications.
It is not a service that I think of using with Vectorworks for collaboration.

Google Drive


If you are using Google products, such as their documents, worksheets, and forms, you can have Google Drive on your computer. Google Drive is a folder on your computer that is synchronized to Google’s cloud storage. In that way, it’s very similar to OneDrive, iCloud, Dropbox, and Box.
I think of this as being similar to OneDrive. It works great with Google Documents, but it is not a service that I think of using with Vectorworks for collaboration.

Dropbox


This is my go-to service for online storage and collaboration. I have been using Dropbox for a long time. I wrote my first blog about Dropbox in July 2009. I don’t remember exactly when I started using it, but it must have been sometime before 2009. It is now my favorite online sharing and storage facility. I have a paid version of the service; it costs me US$11.50 a month, including tax.
While all the other systems allow me to store my files online and create folders on my hard drive, my preference is to store all of my files in just one location. When I want to update an article for my website, I don’t want to have to remember if it was stored in my Google Drive, iCloud, or OneDrive.
I have been using Dropbox to share projects with clients since before 2009. Dropbox allows you to set up a shared folder easily. The shared folder can be used by all parties to add and subtract files.

Box


I only installed Box because a client required it. Although there is a paid-for version, I went with the free version, as I only needed to store a small number of files. The system is similar to Dropbox, iCloud, etc. You have a shared folder on your hard drive which is synchronized to online storage. Files stored in this folder can be synchronized with other computers and with your mobile devices. Mobile devices do not store the files, they can only see what you stored online.
It is very similar to Dropbox.

Hightail


This is the only service that is different from the others. This service is particularly designed for sharing large files with clients when you are expecting them to download the file to their computer. You might think of it as being a one-way delivery system. I upload my large files to this, send the client a link, and the client can then download that file when it’s convenient for them. I use the service particularly for sending very large files such as movies or manuals. This particular service does not create a folder on my computer that replicates what is stored online, so in that way is a genuine online backup system.


I use the service with my online training. At the end of the training session I send the client the movie that was recorded as part of the session. These movies are generally over 100 Mb and therefore are too big to email. I will upload the movie to Hightail, and then send the client a link. The link can be created so that it has an expiration date (usually about two weeks). I get a notification when the client has downloaded the file, and I can choose to limit the download to the client’s email address (preventing them from sharing the download).
This is another service that I pay for. The reason I pay for the service is that it allows me to delete the movies from my computer because they are stored online.
Hightail recently introduced a new part of its service called Spaces, which replicates cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Box, allowing you to share cloud locations so that you can collaborate with your clients. I have decided that this is not a system that I would like to use, as I already have choices such as Dropbox, Vectorworks Cloud Services, and Box.
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