Use All That Space Gmail Gives You

I’ve been playing with two applications that allow you to use a Gmail account’s 2.5 GB to store ordinary files.

GmailDrive is the simpler of the two. It’s a shell extension that creates another icon in your My Computer folder, labeled “Gmail Drive.” Clicking on it opens the familiar Explorer window, to which you can drag and drop files. The application connects with your Gmail account, uploads the file as an attachment to an ordinary e-mail, and it appears in the window as a file would on any other drive. To retrieve the file, you open the “drive” and drag the folder out. It downloads automatically and appears wherever you put it, just as it would if you’d pulled it off your main drive. Simple!

The only drawback to Gmail Drive is that it is limited – at the moment – to the alleged 10 MB limit that Gmail puts on attachments. (I’ve been told by a couple of people that they regularly attach larger files than that, but I haven’t tried it. Knowing Google and its love of surprises, though, it’d increase it and not tell you.) For the time being, however, if you want to upload larger files you’ll probably need to use something like RoamDrive.

RoamDrive operates more-or-less the same as GmailDrive, but does so through its own interface. It also requires the .NET library on your computer, which the installation program will download from Microsoft and install if necessary. Be advised that this will take a l-o-n-n-n-g time if you have dialup!

RoamDrive will break up large files and attach them to successive e-mails, reassembling them as needed when you access them again, and thus getting around the 10 MB (or whatever) limit. It works fine, but considering the .NET framework, it probably uses more drive space than your files would. The interface is tasteful, sporting a small banner ad at the bottom to support the freeware, and if you already have the .NET framework, what the hey…

Both programs, by the way, change file names sufficiently to fool Gmail into accepting executables, so you can upload installers and .zip files if you like. Since file sharing is one obvious use for both programs I’d open a separate Gmail account, but for private use you can configure filters to keep the uploaded files from getting mixed in with your mail.

There are caveats, however. With GmailDrive, you can access the Gmail account directly and download the files without the program, if necessary. I’m not sure it works with all types of files, but it worked with an installer and an .rtf file I tried. With Roam Drive, however, you need the program to reassemble the file if it has been split. Small files in one piece downloaded fine without help. You also need to keep in mind that both of these programs violate Gmail’s terms of use. So far Google hasn’t shown any animosity, but they could certainly write code that would block them if they wanted to, (or even by accident, since their survival wouldn’t likely be one of the Googleplex’s priorities.) For that reason alone, I wouldn’t upload anything I couldn’t retrieve directly.

The biggest difference with both these applications, compared to a “real” drive, is the time of transfer. It’s noticeable with broadband, and really noticeable with dialup. All in all, though, both could be an answer to some storage and file sharing problems. I wouldn’t use them as primary storage, and certainly not for backup, but they could serve well for temporary storage, especially of files that might need to be accessible from different computers.