Share Large Photo Archives With Your Relatives Using Windows Live Mesh

Grandpa Need­ham Dier­lam and Bev­erly Dier­lam, 1932

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!

My mother Beverly Dierlam ca. 1949

My mother Bev­erly Dier­lam ca. 1949

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 status on my Mac

Win­dows Live Mesh sta­tus on my Mac (some infor­ma­tion obscured)

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.

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