A brief intermission
Despite appearances so far, the point of this article isn't to drive you away from the cloud. The sky is not falling, and despite the aforementioned headaches, Web-based services tend to be exceptionally reliable and secure.
Nope, I'm not scared of the cloud. I'm a child of the Internet age, and I veritably bask in its ever-connected possibilities. Too many other people, however, dive into the cloud whole-hog, with nary a thought spent on its downsides, and this exposes them to inconvenience and outright disaster. A little forethought can go a long way toward insulating your data from the cloud's surprise storms.
Taking the online offline
Simply put, anything you have worth worrying about shouldn't be left alone on someone else's servers, no matter whether it's email, simple files, or even music and movies. The old "back up your data!" tenet holds doubly true even when you're dabbling in the cloud. Indeed, if you have control over your files, a service outage will leave you frustrated, but not crippled.
Once your data is copied to your PC, you're also safe from the other perils of the cloud, including the threat of lost data or the dreaded platform "lock-in." In fact, I chose all my cloud services based on the central principle of data redundancy.
To wit: SkyDrive's desktop app saves local copies of your files directly on your computer. (Dropbox, Google Drive, SugarSync, and most other cloud synchronization services do the same.) Pixlr lets you save your edited images in an online locker or straight to your computer, while Evernote has a handy-dandy export option, as does Microsoft's OneNote. HipChat was foisted upon me by my PCWorld bosses, but I use Digsby for all my other instant messaging services, and Digsby allows me to save transcripts of my conversations directly to my computer.
Google makes things a bit trickier, as Google Docs save in a weird application-specific format. Nonetheless, if you want to back up your files in one big .zip, select all the files and folders on your Drive homepage, then click More > Download. From there, you can choose the format you'd like your files exported in. Google Calendar has a straightforward export option. To save your Gmail messages, simply download them using an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird. Nice and easy.
Most data- or file-focused cloud services offer similar ways to export your information, so you don't have to use the same services I do.
Once all your valuable information is safely stored away on your hard drive, you can do whatever you want with it, regardless of whether the cloud service from which it originated is functional. Just be sure to save all that data to another storage device as part of your regular backup plan. (You do have a regular backup plan, don't you?) Also, don't forget to periodically download your cloud-stored data from services that lack automatic local saving options.
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