One question I’m constantly facing is, “Now that I have all these photos scanned, what in the world do I do with them?” I have relatives who say they would love to see them. But it takes far more work to get the photos to them!
Now that they are computer files, I can email them out, a few at a time. I can post them on my web site or on Facebook. These days you can create coffee table books, calendars, etc. All of those things take time, and therefore, chances are they won’t actually happen. At least, in my case, not soon!
I have found the @Dropbox service is a great (and free!) mechanism for file sharing amongst friends and relatives. Let me take a moment and explain Dropbox from this standpoint, because we’re going to be doing the same thing with Windows Live Mesh. Dropbox, according to Wikipedia, has over 50 million users. It’s a mature, reliable, and securely encrypted service.
The original idea with Dropbox is that you use it for yourself. You install Dropbox on each of your computers (including your phone), and everything in your Dropbox folders is always available to you, on every computer. You can also use a web browser and obtain your files through their web site. It’s quite handy!
The free version of Dropbox has limits, somewhere between 4 GB and 21 GB of file space. That is an awful lot of space for day-to-day usage. On the other hand, when you begin making thousands of high-resolution scans of photos and old hand-written documents, you run out of Dropbox space in a hurry!
Dropbox does have one wonderful feature for collaborating or private sharing, and that’s what brings us to Windows Live Mesh. Inside your Dropbox folder (just another folder on your computer’s hard drive, or inside the Dropbox app on your smart phone), you organize things by creating folders inside your folder (subfolders). If you choose to, you can invite specific friends or relatives to share a specific subfolder.
For example, my wife Susan teaches high school and I sometimes scan items for her classroom materials. We have a shared Dropbox folder. I scan the item straight into that shared folder, and it instantly appears on both her home and school computers ready for use. It’s quite slick!
When I scan a couple hundred photocopied pages (schools often use photocopies of photocopies of photocopies) at high resolution, those two hundred pages chew up about a GB of file space. When Dropbox only gives you 4 GB to begin with, you use up your space in a hurry!
It’s the same when you’re digitizing photos or creating any other kind of digital archive. You won’t be using those files day-to-day, but you do want to keep them around for many years to come. You will eventually exceed the Dropbox allocation, and you will exceed the limit of any other “free cloud storage” service.
That’s why I turned to Windows Live Mesh. If you set it up a certain way, you can keep copies of the same huge photo archive (or scanned documents, or whatever) on several computers. Each computer has its own copy of the complete archive, and each computer is always up to date. The only limit is the hard drive space on each computer.
If you have Windows 7 or a Mac, you can run Windows Live Mesh. If you have 5 GB of disk space free (and a broadband Internet connection), you can have a copy of my family photo archive. If you have another 10 GB of free space available, you can share a copy of the Official Archives of the Strong Family Association. (These are private archives, of course; I control who gets access by controlling who gets the login information.)
First, look at these archives from my standpoint. I don’t need to do anything further to provide you hundreds of old family photos, all carefully sorted, organized, and described. I just provide you the Windows Live Mesh information, and the rest is up to you. I can keep scanning and documenting, and you’ll have the new material as I create it.
From your standpoint, it’s a huge win. You don’t have the delay or inconvenience of trying to browse photos online. They’re right there on your PC. You can make those coffee table books, calendars, whatever. You can use the photos in whatever manner fits your style.
Last weekend, Uncle Ron Dierlam and I scanned hundreds of photos. Thanks to Windows Live Mesh, all three computers had copies of each photo within a couple seconds of completing the scan. As we moved things around, typed up descriptions, created new folders, etc., Windows Live Mesh kept all three computers in exact lock step. Any editing we did on any of the three computers was instantly reflected on the other computers.
What is the magic? How do you set up Windows Live Mesh? First, be aware of its limitations. This may not be the right solution for you. If your entire archive takes up 1 GB of disk space or less, you might as well use Dropbox. It’s easier and more flexible. It’s when your Dropbox folder has burst at the seams (as mine has) that you might consider Windows Live Mesh.
Windows Live Mesh allows you to share a folder with up to 7 people (if I recall correctly). For me, that’s not enough people! I took a different approach. When you install Windows Live Mesh, Windows wants you to log in to the MSN Network. I created a new username/password for Archive use. I created a password that I wouldn’t otherwise use, because the account will be shared by several persons.
How do you install Windows Live Mesh? It’s part of Windows Live Essentials 2011. Download and install it. Be sure you’re downloading from microsoft.com! You’ll need to create the shared username/password if you’re the one establishing your Archive. (I checked the Terms of Service and I’m pretty sure we comply, treating the Archive as its own entity. But I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.) If you are connecting to my archive, I will have provided you the login username and password.
Windows Live Essentials understands that we are sharing folders between separate computers (“sync this folder”). Microsoft has lots of good documentation of how to actually use the service. Windows Live Mesh has a 30-computer limit, including its “SkyDrive” cloud-storage service. We won’t be using SkyDrive, our archive is too big! But you can use SkyDrive, and publicly share photos in your SkyDrive section. That’s a bonus!
If you already have a Windows Live ID (such as a hotmail.com email address), you’ll need to log out, and log in using the Archive account. You may find that inconvenient. On the other hand, chances are that the Archive won’t be updated very often, and you only need to log in to allow Windows Live Mesh to bring everything up to date.
Microsoft will cancel your Windows Live ID if Microsoft sees no logins using that ID for more than 90 days. I leave one computer logged in to Windows Live Mesh, so should not be a problem for myself — but you’ll need to do the same for your own Archive.
Copyright 2012 Edward Barnard. You may freely share or re-post this article so long as you give credit to me as author.