Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hurricane Season Focuses Weather On Web

June begins the Atlantic hurricane season, and with it, a need for up-to-date weather information for the next several months.

While local television weather is a good and valuable source, real-time weather that is often equivalent or better is available through through the Internet. A savvy Web weather user can access nearly all the same data used by local meteorologists to access the latest weather information.

A good starting point is the office of the National Hurricane Center at The Coral Gables-based NOAA office remains the central source for hurricane information. From this site you can access the latest reports, forecasts, discussions and tracking data as issued by the National Hurricane Center.

The NHC has also begun a pilot program that will send e-mails with the latest reports to a designated mail address. However, the program has also asked that subscribers sign up for the minimum number of reports possible in an attempt to not crash NOAA's mail servers.

The NHC has also begun offering weather information that can be accessed through cell phones – links are available through the NHC home page, and include advisories, graphics and satellite images.

More sophisticated weather users will want to visit the Weather Underground site at Wunderground is generally the most detailed weather site available online.

Both hurricane and storm tracking information are prominently featured at Wunderground. Click on the Tropical/Hurricane link and you can access hurricane data for locations worldwide.

When a storm becomes active, Wunderground provides nearly all the data available through various weather sources in one package.

Among the features offered are tracking forecast models from several computer models, detailed dropsonde information from “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, a variety of satellite and radar imagery, and nearly all the information available to meteorologists.

Wunderground's radar data is especially useful not only for hurricanes, but severe storms in general. Bring up the radar image for a given area, and Wunderground allows users to add storm forecast tracking information, lightning data, rainfall totals, multiple radar images with detailed zooming capabilities, and tornado vortex signature data. The radar data can also be tuned to provide information on hail likelihood, hail size, wind speeds and storm cloud heights.

The best Web site for keeping current with Weather alerts remains the NWS Weatherbug ( Weatherbug features a program that is loaded into the PC system tray after downloading and installation. From their the latest forecast can be brought up on an instant basis, as well as radar images and travel weather. Weatherbug can be set up to alert users to weather warnings much like a dedicated weather radio.

Another useful Web site for weather information is Accuweather is one of the television industry's leading weather suppliers, and its Web site features easy to read graphics and information. Of particular note is a 15-day forecast for any given location.

Finally, the Weather Channel ( also provides detailed weather information, including hour-by-hour daily forecast information.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Web Can Ease Summer Travel Costs

The soaring price of gasoline has put a damper on travel across the country. Already pressed airlines have been struggling to maintain passenger loads, and more and more families are having to question whether summer travel is affordable.

While the Internet can't help much with the price of gas, it can often be an extremely useful tool in lowering overall travel costs. Learning how to use a few of the many available Web sites that offer or provide information about travel bargains can make the difference between an affordable vacation and one that never happens.

Some of the most useful sites include:

BiddingForTravel – This site ( is basically a Web forum where customers share information about what hotels and cars they were able to obtain from Priceline (, the Internet's most popular travel discount site.

Priceline's biggest issues for most travelers are the fact that they are unsure of what hotels they are in fact bidding on, or how much to bid to get the best deals.

BiddingForTravel provides viewers with lists of hotels categorized my state and Metro area that give actual examples of winning Priceline bids, the total cost of the stay including taxes and fees.

Priceline bids are non-refundable and non-changeable once accepted, so be certain you are firm on travel plans before placing a bid there.

While BiddingForTravel can be a good predictor of what hotels are likely to be available in a given area, Priceline bidders should be aware there are no guarantees you will either be able to book a hotel at rates that have been accepted for others, or that you will receive the exact property you expect.

In my experience it's possible to achieve a 60-80% certainty that you will in fact receive the hotel you expect at the price bid, but I have also been surprised by receiving a different hotel than the one expected.

The same scheme applies to rental cars, where information is available on what cars and classes are likely to be provided from a given airport location and what amount was bid to actually obtain a rental.

Hotwire – If Priceline's uncertainty has you a little skittish, the next best bet can be Hotwire, which offers hotels, flights and cars at fixed prices. Like Priceline, Hotwire ( doesn't actually reveal the the name of the provider until after you have committed to buy.

An insider's guide for Hotwire is also available, however, at BetterBidding (which also includes information about Priceline providers) can often give travelers a good idea of what hotel they are likely to receive, based on the location and amenity codes included in a Hotwire description.

Hotwire also offers often deeply discounted rates on rental cars, which can be another large savings.

Another source for large savings can be the Web sites of airline and rental car companies themselves.

Recent examples I've seen include a three-day weekend rental from Avis of a large-size car for less than $40 including taxes and fees from a major U.S. airport.

Airline Web sites can be a good place for package deals including hotels and rental cars, especially on short notice. It's often possible to find a multi-day package at a savings of 40% or more that includes flights, hotels and a car through some major airline sites.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Multiple Web Browsers Make For Easier Surfing

For the better part of the past decade Microsoft's Internet Explorer Browser has dominated the online surfing world. And with good reason, as it was well integrated with Windows, especially once Windows XP became available, and it was generally reliable in displaying nearly any page on the Web, if not especially fast.

In the past year or so, however, Microsoft's dominance has shown some cracks as Version 7 of Internet Explorer was released with less than universal applause. Meant to compliment Windows Vista, IE 7 implemented a wide range of additional security features that many users found annoying.

IE 7 was also found to be slower and buggier by many users, and even after being offered as a “high-priority” download by Microsoft's Windows Update, many users uninstalled IE7 and went back to IE6, which is often seen as being more reliable and easier to use with Windows XP.

Although Web browser usage statistics vary widely by source, a number of Web browsers now offer a significant alternative to Internet Explorer, and for at least some users will load pages faster and more reliably than IE 7.

By far the most popular of the browser alternatives is Firefox, which was developed from the Mozilla project, an Open Source browser that can trace its roots in part back to the popular Netscape browser of the 1990's.

While Netscape was eventually acquired by AOL, and finally announced earlier this year that it would effectively close its doors, Mozilla began development of what eventually became Firefox in earnest in 2002.

Firefox began to first be generally noticed in 2004, and has since gone on to achieve a market share of around 18%, according to the latest statistics from MarketShare by Net Applications. Internet Explorer's various versions come in at around 75%, according to the same source.

Firefox and Mozilla also offer Thunderbird, a free e-mail application that competes with Microsoft's Outlook Express and Windows Live Mail. Both applications can be found at

Apple released its Safari Browser for the Mac in 2003, and subsequently a Windows version was released in 2007.

While the initial Windows release of Safari was found to have considerable bug problems, Apple has continued development, and the latest version is considered to be more reliable.

Part-time Mac users, as well as users of Apple's iTunes music service will likely appreciate the browser's interface and speed.

Apple's Steve Jobs has trumpeted Safari's speed versus other Windows browsers, but most tests report little functional speed difference between it and other popular browsers in everday use. Safari can be downloaded from Apple's Web site at

A fourth browser choice, and one deserving more attention, is the Norwegian-developed Opera. While Opera has been around for more than ten years, its most recent Version 9 offers speed, ease of use, and some useful features including a page loading indicator that shows how large a page is, and whether a page has frozen during loading. Opera 9 also maintains the useful Stop/Refresh button Microsoft moved in IE 7. Opera also makes a free browser that is extremely useful in many Web-enabled cell phones, as well as browsers for game and other platforms. You can download Opera free at

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cyberville Q&A On Word Documents & SD Cards

Here are a few of the latest questions (and answers) from the Cyberville inbox:

Q: I recently received a document from a business partner that was in a “.docx” format. When I try to open it in Microsoft Word, all I get is gibberish. How can I open it?

A: In Office 2007, Microsoft changed the long-time default formatting that had been used in Word 97, 2000, XP and 2003 to an XML-based standard.

While that allows for more creative documents to be easily be produced in Word 2007, it also means earlier versions of Word can't open the documents. The same applies to new versions of files from Excel and PowerPoint.

There are a number of ways to deal with this issue. Once of the easiest is to ask the sender to use the “Save As” function and select an earlier version of Word, Excel or PowerPoint, and resend the document in a compatible format.

If you have an earlier version of Word, you can download the Microsoft Office Compatibility pack, which will allow users of Office 2000, XP and 2003 to open Office 2007-formatted documents. Be aware it is a large download, however (more than 27mb). It can be found at, and several other sites.

Users of Sun's free Open Office Suite may have more difficulty. There is a compatibility tool that can be downloaded from Sourceforge (do an online search for Open XML Translator), but it may not always work. Microsoft is involved with developers to improve the reliability of this tool and has promised an updated version in the near future.

If you don't have Office, and need to open a .docx document, there are other options available.

One is to ask an online file translator service to do the conversion for you. I recently used the free Zamzar service ( to translate a .docx file to a .pdf and .doc file type, and got back a link to download the conversions about 20 minutes later. The conversions generally worked.

If you want even faster results, you can download a free program called “Docx2RTF” from NativeWinds Software which can convert a file to either the common RTF format than can be used by nearly any other word processing program, or save the document as a PDF (Adobe Acrobat/Reader) file for quick viewing. Docx2RTF can be found at a number of sources online including and others.

Q: I have a digital camera that uses SD cards, and would like to get one of the larger size cards so I can shoot more pictures at once. What is the difference between SD and SDHC?

A: This issue is one of the more confusing, and common to come along in a while in consumer devices.

2GB was the limit for SD memory cards until recently, when the SDHC standard was introduced which will allow for a 32GB card. However, in many cases it will take a firmware update for the cards to be used in a given device, so check your manufacturer's support page to see if one is available.

There have also been 4GB standard SD cards introduced recently which will work in most devices, but they can be difficult to find, and some brands don't work in some devices. The best bet is to go with 4GB SD cards from Transcend, which are available in standard (40x), 133x and 150x speeds, but may still not work in older SD devices. The faster speeds are better for cameras that can shoot multiple images in succession.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hard Drive Maintenance A Growing Issue

The move into the digital age has meant more and more critical data, images, music and video are being stored on hard drives than ever before. While in most cases that's been a blessing, it also means understanding and maintaining hard drives is something that is becoming increasingly important.

A hard drive consists of a series of one or more thin metallic platters on which data is written and read by a head which travels across and up and down these platters at breakneck speeds, generally equivalent to the “redline” in most automobile engines, in excess of 5000 RPM.

One of the key realities of hard drive-based storage is that all hard drives eventually fail. No hard drive used on a daily basis will last forever, and they need to be treated as such.

Search engine giant Google uses hundreds of thousands of consumer-grade hard drives to power its search engine, and in 2007 published a study showing, among other things, that the key times for hard drive failure were when hard drives were new, and after three years, with regular failures occurring on an ongoing and increasing basis after that time.

No amount of special cooling or temperature control made a significant difference in improving the life of drives, other than avoiding truly excessive heat or cold. And drives that received heavier data use were also not significantly more likely to fail than those that did not, and in fact were somewhat less failure prone as time wore on.

The study also showed that drives that had one or more physical errors reported on the drive surface were far more likely to fail completely in the next 60 days, and that S.M.A.R.T. hard drive monitoring (a technology built into all recent hard drives) did not predict a significant percentage of hard drives that would fail prior to physical failure, although it did predict a majority.

Today's giant hard drives also have higher data error rates than their smaller predecessors, and my experience has been that these drives require somewhat more attention as a result.

One of the key things to check is when drives are first installed, when data is loaded to the disk. I have now begun a practice of, after installing the operating system and key programs, running the Windows drive error-checking program (fdisk) that is available under My Computer/Properties for each drive.

I have found that new large drives, when first loaded with data, sometimes tend to have errors that can be corrected quickly without data loss by using this practice. I also now recommend on drives of 300GB or above in desktops, and 120GB or larger in laptops, of running a monthly error check/fix cycle to help maintain data integrity.

Two key questions continue to come up on a regular basis from consumers and businesses when it comes to drives and PC's. First, I continue to recommend systems always be left on, rather than constantly switched on and off. While power savings may be minimal for systems that are switched, power supply failures are much more common in systems that are not left on continuously.

Hard drive defragmentation and other maintenance is also much more easily scheduled and completed overnights when systems are left on and not being asked to do other tasks.

Of course, backing up hard drives is now more important, and less expensive, than ever, with large external hard drives with built-in backup programs costing under $200. Installing one of these will be one of your best PC investments of 2008.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Microsoft Releases First Major Service Pack For Windows Vista

Microsoft's long-awaited first Service Pack for Windows Vista is finally being released, and none too soon. A standalone installer is now available, and Windows Update will shortly begin offering Vista SP1 to all Vista users.

The first version of this Service Pack was available to some users back in February, but Microsoft delayed issuing the full release until now in order to try and better address lingering driver incompatibility issues.

The driver compatibility improvements Microsoft is touting as part of Vista SP1 are welcome, and overdue.

While it is helpful that Microsoft claims the number of Vista-compatible devices has gone from 13,000 to 54,000 according to Microsoft, the fact that a four-fold increase has even been possible speaks volumes about why so many users have desperately turned away from Vista in search of compatible drivers for Windows XP.

Microsoft has used the error reporting process in Vista to target the largest problems for fixes, and now claims nearly all have been resolved in the top hardware and software issues.

Again, while that is an improvement, users of older hardware and programs should be aware that driver and software compatibility issues will continue to be a problem.

It is wise to research Vista and whatever hardware or software you may be dependent on before performing a Vista upgrade. Microsoft's release notes with Vista indicate that while hardware driver compatibility has been significantly improved, software that did not function with the original release of Vista will also likely not function with SP1 because of basic compatibility issues.

What is also not stated in the driver compatibility improvements for Vista are separate figures for fully compatible 64-bit driver versions, which lag far behind. In many cases users of 64-bit Vista are compelled to either buy new hardware or run minimal drivers with reduced functionality, if any are available at all.

When upgrading to Vista SP1, be aware that this is by far the largest download I have ever seen offered through Windows Update, and even on a fast system and connection it will take a considerable length of time to download and intall. There will also be, for many users, a series of other patches that must be installed first before Vista SP1 will be able to be installed.

Computer administrators are being advised in Microsoft's Vista newsgroups, and I concur, that because of the size of the download, it is wise to obtain a separate standalone installer from the Microsoft Web site, which was well over 700mb alone when I recently downloaded same.

Vista SP1 will also generally report when 4GB of RAM is installed in a machine, a major complaint of the original OS. However, users should be aware that the 32-bit version of Vista will use no more than 3GB of system RAM, and a system must also have a motherboard BIOS capable of using 4GB of RAM, even with 64-bit Vista, before a system can actually use more than 3GB of RAM.

My lack of love for Windows Vista is, to regular readers of Cyberville, no particular secret at this point. Microsoft intends to try and force users to switch to Vista over the next two years, first by not allowing OEM installs of XP after June of this year, and then ending “mainstream support” for XP after April, 2009, although I, for one, expect that date will be pushed back, with the possibility that even Congress will enter the Vista fray.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Make Smart Choices To Keep Your PC Secure

Online security remains a genuine issue for nearly anyone connected to the Internet. Maintaining that security should be a major concern, especially as more and more financial transactions are being done online.

There are a number of steps and best practices that go along with being a savvy computer user. Making sure you are familiar with them, and making them part of your daily routine, will minimize the chances you'll encounter a major security problem in the future.

Secure passwords – It's a long standing computer security protocol that passwords need to be secure. Although most home users don't need the high levels of password security demanded by the military and large corporations, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the chances your password will be stolen or hacked.

One of the most common ways is to use a mix of letters and numbers. Many Web sites require a mix to become a member of a group, for example, but it's a good policy to put this into place for all your accounts.

It's also a good idea to use multiple numbers and letters that are familiar to you, but not easily guessed by someone else. Birth dates are a common choice, but it's more secure to choose the birthday of someone other than yourself you can easily remember, and then mix letters with that choice.

It's also a good practice to use separate passwords for sensitive accounts that involve financial data, such as bank or credit card accounts, PayPal or others. In doing that your financial accounts are protected should one of your e-mail or other accounts be compromised.

It's also a bad idea to store a list of passwords on your computer that can be easily found. If you do choose to store passwords, make sure the file you use is encrypted with a password itself, such as can be done with a program like Microsoft Word. A simple text document containing all your passwords is an open invitation for your information to be compromised.

It's also a good idea to make sure the firewall on your computer is engaged. Every Windows XP and Vista computer comes with a built-in firewall – make sure it is turned on. If you have a home network using a router, it contains one or more firewalls which add additional layers of protection.

It's also a must to have current and up-to-date anti-virus protection. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition ( and Avast! Home Edition ( are both full-power anti-virus programs which can be downloaded and added to your computer at no charge.

It's also important to add another level of protection for trojans and password-stealing programs. My favorite free choice is Spybot Search & Destroy, which can be downloaded from various sites around the Web. While Spybot has to be updated and run manually to be effective, it remains one of the best tools for finding spyware that may have been loaded onto your computer.

Other common best practices include being sure that your e-mail is being scanned for viruses, and not opening unknown .exe or .scr files from strangers or friends, no matter how well you may know someone.

Users of Windows XP and Windows Vista also have access to the free Windows Defender, which helps keep spyware and adware off your computer. You can download it via or other popular download sites.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Portable Audio Recorders Becoming Smaller & Better

It wasn't that long ago that producing quality live recordings required bulky tape machines, large microphones and yards of cabling, not to mention readily accessible AC power. All of those factors made field recording an expensive and difficult proposition for musicians and others interested in recording live events including meetings and presentations.

Yet another benefit of the increasing miniaturization of electronics has been the release of a growing series of high quality tiny recorders, some so small they can fit in a shirt pocket.

When these units first began appearing a couple of years ago, prices were often over $1000. Like most other electronics, an increasing number of competitors has come into the market, and prices have now fallen below $500, and in some cases as low as $200.

Falling prices mean these units are now affordable to nearly anyone with even an occasional need to make high-quality field recordings. Here are some of the best of the current choices:

Zoom H4 – The Zoom H4 has become a favorite of many musicians and others since it was released in 2006. At a retail price now often under $300, the H4 won't fit in a shirt pocket, but can easily be carried by hand or in a purse.

The H4 features onboard stereo microphones, as well as the ability to plug in nearly any professional microphone through a range of connectors. The H4 can be set on nearly any flat surface when using the onboard microphones, and with a few button pushes is ready to record.

Recording is done to a standard SD flash card, and recent firmware improvements mean SDHC cards up to 8GB in size are now compatible. The H4 runs for several hours off AA batteries, and using rechargeable batteries can keep costs down and performance up for frequent users.

Zoom now has a less expensive, and smaller, entrant field recorder in the H2. At a retail price of around $200, the H2 can fit in a shirt pocket, yet also record four-channel surround sound through four onboard microphones.

The H2 also comes with its own stand, allowing, for example, the recorder to be placed on a table or stand in the center of a conference room and capture sound from the entire room, which is handy for those recording conferences with questions from an audience.

The H2 also uses SD flash cards and AA batteries, allowing up to six hours of recording from one pair of AA batteries. The H2's size and portabilty should make it a favorite of podcasters and others looking to make inexpensive field recordings.

A somewhat more expensive unit that is a favorite of many musicians is the Edirol R-09. Another unit small enough to fit in a large shirt pocket, the R-09 is also available with an optional stand anc case that allow for optimal positioning.

I recently saw a pianist with an R-09 discreetly positioned on top of his piano on its tiny tripod. Just before he began playing, he reached up, pushed a button, and... instant live recording.

A number of other entrants are also making this a major area of competition, including Sony's PCM-D50, the latest in a long line of portable Sony field recorders. One of the newest entrants at around $400 is the very slick looking Olympus LS-10, a stereo professional recorder from the company that has a successful and long track record in the area of handheld pocket voice recorders.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sony Wins Protracted Fight Over High-Def DVD's

Back in the 1980's Sony and JVC fought a consumer war over hope video tape standards. Sony, which had tried to develop a partnership with Matsushita for home video tape systems in the mid-1970's, chose instead to develop Betamax, a smaller tape format.

JVC was the primary developer and advocate of VHS, and even though most video experts thought Betamax was the better format, JVC eventually won out over Sony, costing Sony billions of dollars in potential revenues and marketing costs.

A similar war has been engaged, albeit on a smaller scale over the past two years in the area of high-definition DVD.

In this case Sony's rival has been Toshiba, which advocated for the HD-DVD format over Sony's Blu-Ray. But unlike the format wars of thirty years ago, in this instance, Sony has emerged as the victor.

Toshiba recently announced that it will no longer produce and market HD-DVD after March, 2008. Already retailers with HD player stocks are beginning to liquidate their remaining inventories.

Although prices may be attractive, there appears to be little reason to pick up one of these players, as most movie studios are expected to stop releasing HD-DVD titles, and all are now in support of Blu-Ray.

Consumers, for the most part, should find the end of this particular format war to be helpful in making a decision to go to a true high-definition format.

Another issue that's helpful is pricing of DVD players on the retail level. In the 1980's it wasn't uncommon for VCR's to cost $500 or more, with high-end models exceeding $1000.

Sony's Blu-Ray disc players, while more expensive than comparable HD-DVD units, are now under $500, and prices can be expected to continue to fall. However, it's likely to take years before Blu-Ray falls into the sub-$100 price level consumers have become accustomed to for standard DVD players.

Sony is usually known for being at the upper end of the retail price scale for most lines of consumer electronics. How widely Blu-Ray will be licensed to other companies, and at what cost, is still an open question.

Blu-Ray discs can also be expected to become more widely available in video rental stores as retailers will no longer have to dedicate shelf space for two competing formats.

With the looming transition to full digital broadcast TV in the U.S. now less than a year away, the ending of High-Def DVD format wars will likely produce a further uptick in the sale of larger digital televisions which have the capability of showing off the advantages of Blu-Ray.

Buyers of Sony's PS3 game systems have Blu-Ray built in, and it can also be expected to help sales in that area. Microsoft, which has reportedly sold hundreds of thousands of HD-DVD add-on players to its Xbox 360 game consoles, has announced it is also pulling the plug on HD-DVD.

Doubt also exists, however, as to how long it will take for consumers to fully embrace Blu-Ray. The reality is that for most homes the standard DVD provides excellent quality, and upconverting DVD players (which now cost as little as $50) provide even better picture quality on large screens.

While Blu-Ray is better still, many will find it hard to swallow Blu-Ray at a time when consumers are moving in droves to purchase pricey digital televisions in an economy otherwise less than stellar.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Web-Based Services Allow Sending Large Files

Two of the biggest improvements in personal computing of the last several years have been the availability and speed increases in high-speed connections, and the rapid increase in the size of low-cost, fast hard drives.

These improvements have helped bring on an explosion in using computers for recording and editing video, downloading music, and storing and editing digital photography.

And in turn, users want to share that media with friends, relatives and business associates via the Web.

Unfortunately, one improvement lagging behind is the size of e-mail attachments, with 20MB usually the largest file size able to be attached, and often less, through most e-mail and Internet providers.

To help supplement that need, a number of providers of large file sending services have appeared in turn over the past several years.

These services allow users to upload files through their sites, which are then stored for a limited time period. In turn, users can select who they want to receive these files, and the recipients receive an e-mail with a link directing them to where the file can be downloaded.

A number of these services offer free limited large file sharing services meant for occasional usage, and offer paid monthly plans for musicians, photographers, artists and others who have a regular need to share large files with clients.

Here are some of the most popular and useful sites allowing users to send large files.

YouSendIt ( YouSendIt is one of the oldest and most popular large file sharing services. YouSendIt's free Lite accounts allow you to send files up to 100MB in size, with a 1GB monthly download limit. Each file can be downloaded up to 100 times. YouSendIt also provides an address book feature, so you can keep track of your friends' and family's email addresses in one location.

Files remain available for 7 days - recipients have a week to download the files you've sent. YouSendIt is also HIPAA Compliant for sending private medical records –details are available on the site.

YouSendIt is also now offering a plug-in for Outlook 2003 and 2007, allowing users to attach large files within standard e-mails while avoiding e-mail server limits.

SendThisFile ( SendThisFile is another popular service. SendThisFile's biggest advantage is that it doesn't limit file sizes. It's free plan is limited in that users only have three days to pick up files, and each file can only be downloaded three times.

Send6 ( This excellent service has recently brought back a free plan to go along with its paid offerings. As the same suggests, Send6 users can send up to six files at one time. Send6 offers pickup confirmation, showing that users received the file desired.

DropSend ( DropSend's free Basic Plan allows users to send files up to 1GB in size five times per month. It also offers a PC and Mac client allowing users to send files directly from the desktop.

Other file sending services worth checking out include SendSpace ( and TransferBigFiles (

I use these services on a regular basis to transfer video, music and other files, and they can be a godsend when the need arises.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at