50 ways to leave your hard drive

You already have a free e-mail account, free Web space and a free online pager. What's next? The founders of X:drive are betting that the virtual hard drive will be the next must-have free application.

A virtual hard drive is basically some storage space on a remote server that can be accessed over the Internet. The X:drive is a bit of downloadable software that lets users store and retrieve files on the server from any networked computer.

X:drive anticipates that its service will be used for more than just storage. With X:drive, travellers can access needed information from the road, for example, and people without a Web presence can post documents online for others to access. For example, students can post resumes for review by prospective employers. Users can also include a link in the body of an e-mail to a file or program in an X:drive rather than send a cumbersome attachment.

There are other such services, like Freediskspace.com, which offer virtual drives for Macs, PCs, PDAs and other formats. The concept is much like Hotmail, allowing users the mobility and flexibility of accessing information online rather than through an application tied to a PC.

X:drive CEO Brett O'Brien acknowledges that the service is somewhat limited today, both in speed and storage space. The service offers 25 megabytes of free space (as opposed to the gigabytes in which hard drive space is typically measured) though users may purchase more. Download times are limited by the speed of the Internet connection used.

O'Brien says the company will release enhancements in the next four months to make the service faster and easier. The first enhancement will be a toolbar with functions that let users download files selectively. For example, with MP3 files, it will act like a virtual jukebox, streaming audio files to your location in whatever order you choose.

"It blurs the distinction between the PC and the Internet," touts O'Brien. "Anywhere you can get on a computer, you can get your data. It's like the network computer model -- a real distributed computing model."

X-drive can be found at http://www.xdrive.com

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