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Abandoning Xdrive? Box.net Wants Your Data

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the fact that AOL has decided to “sunset” its venerable Xdrive online storage service. Xdrive users, not surprisingly, seem to be figuring out exit strategies–and every day, my post gets read by folks who found it via Xdrive-related Google searches.

Box.net, an Xdrive rival, dropped me a note to let me know about a new service it’s offering to would-be Xdrive Xpatriates: one-click transfers of data from Xdrive accounts to Box.net ones. Okay, it’s only one click after you’ve registered for Box.net, but it still looks pretty simple:

This isn’t for everyone–for one thing, Box.net only offers 1GB of space for free. (More space costs from $8 to $15 a month.) I actually think that’s a point in the company’s favor, since a business that actually receives money from its customers is less likely to disappear than one that doesn’t.

And chances seem very slim that AOL will announce to Xdrive users that their data is going away along with the service. Odds are that it’ll sell Xdrive to another online storage company, or strike a deal to let Xdrive users move their stuff to another service. But it pays to be prepared–and if I were an Xdrive fan, I’d do my own preparing rather than relying on AOL. Look on the bright side: There’s no such thing as having too many copies of data that’s important to you…


That’s Xdrive. As in “Ex-Drive.”

So AOL is cutting back on a lot of its online properties, and one of the unlucky ones is Xdrive, the venerable online service whose current incarnation provides 5GB of free Internet storage space. We don’t know much about what’ll happen to the service other than what’s in an internal AOL memo that’s been published at TechCrunch–that it’s being “sunsetted”–which is usually a code-word for “gradually wound down rather than abruptly shuttered” and that AOL is “exploring” how to migrate Xdrive users’ data in a way that provides “the best possible transition experience.” TechCrunch also says that AOL is trying to sell Xdrive for $5 million.

That would seem to suggest that AOL decided to close Xdrive before figuring out exactly what to do with all those terabytes of data that its users have stored on their Xdrives. And the Xdrive site doesn’t mention the service’s apparent. impending doom. Actually, it’s still touting itself as a fabulous option for backup up vital data.

Sounds like there’s at least some chance that Xdrive will survive in a form that makes the transition seamless for its users–or at least doesn’t leave them having to figure out what to do with their data. But now would not be a good time to sign up for an Xdrive account.

The news comes at the same time that Yahoo is closing its online music store and getting ready to turn off its DRM servers–and therefore telling paying customers that they won’t be to get access to their music from new computers after September.

All of which is a hassle for AOL and Yahoo customers but a perversely useful reminder that online services are fungible, fragile things. You can’t assume they’ll be around forever–no matter what you were told when you signed up, and even if they come from gigantic companies. As Pogo once said of life itself, they ain’t nohow permanent.

Which leaves me mulling over the online services I use, and what I’d do if they vanished. I’ve got a Gmail account with gigabytes of mail, some of it very important. And even though I still buy most of my music on CD and rip it, I’ve paid Apple for a fair amount of stuff on the iTunes store.

The chances that Gmail will be “sunsetted” anytime soon or that Apple will give up on its DRM servers are as close to nonexistent as is possible in the real world. But will Gmail and iTunes be around in ten years? Probably. Twenty? Quite possibly. Thirty, forty, or fifty? It’s certainly conceivable, but who knows?

Bottom line: When it comes to your data and content, paranoia is isn’t just healthy, it’s essential. Some of the services you use may outlive all of us, but it makes sense to act like they might disappear tomorrow…

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