Monday, February 1, 2010

Use your Gmail account as a personal file server!!

If you already have a Gmail account, you can use it as a central file server that is accessible from anywhere you can access Gmail. If you don't have a Gmail account... read on. We're going to install a shell extension that will allow you to mount your Gmail account as a virtual drive on your desktop, so you can perform basic file manipulation operations without having to go through the web-based interface. Drag and drop, batch copy, create folders and delete files as you normally would in Windows Explorer, and be able to access your virtual drive from virtually anywhere.

Gmail doesn't support files larger than 10MB, so you won't be able to store large movie files or anything, but you wouldn't be doing that anyway 'cuz it's illegal, right? Also, the Gmail drive shell extension only functions under Windows XP, but you'll be able to access and download any of your files via any operating system and browser combination supported by Gmail. This trick is completely unsupported by the Google folk. This is only for personal use storage of your notes, photos, etc.

Gmail account
Windows XP PC
To access your files elsewhere, a browser that supports Gmail. Here's the official list:

Fully supported browsers:
Microsoft IE 5.5+ (Windows)
Netscape 7.1+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Mozilla 1.4+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Mozilla Firefox 0.8+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Safari 1.2.1+ (Mac)

Will work with Gmail's basic HTML view:
Microsoft IE 4.0+
Netscape 4.07+
Opera 6.03+

Steps To Follow:
First up, download the Gmail Drive shell extension and install.

Installation is as simple as running the Setup program. When the installer is finished running, it will tell you you can begin using Gmail Drive right away, but you may actually have to restart your machine before you can access the new drive. If you don't see it in the list of locations under My Computer, just try restarting. Otherwise, you should be seeing Gmail Drive showing up just any regular storage device would.

Double-click the Gmail Drive icon, and you will be prompted for your login information.

Enter your deets and Gmail Drive shell extension will happily enumerate your files and log you in

If you already have files stored in your account from attachments you've received, etc., you will see them in the Explorer window after you've logged in. Otherwise, if you have no files or if you've just created your brand spankin' new Gmail account, you'll just see an empty Explorer window.

Let's drag and drop some files into our new virtual drive. We'll choose some image files that we shot ourselves because, as far as we know, it's not illegal to copy these yet. Just open an Explorer window with some files you'd like to store on your new file server, select them, and drag and drop them into your Gmail Drive just as you would with any regular file transfer. You'll get a dialog window with an animation involving a cute little phone that for some reason is sending a letter.

Regardless, it means Gmail Drive is whisking your files happily away and posting them to your Gmail account. When the transfer is finished, you'll see icons for your files in your Gmail Drive.

Now — if you have another Windows XP machine you use regularly — your work PC, for example — you can just set up the Gmail Drive shell extension there and have Explorer-type file manipulation on that machine, as well. This could be a really handy solution for sharing files between your two locations. But since we already know how to use Gmail Drive, let's take a look at what happens when we log in to our Gmail account from a regular old web browser.

Go to the Gmail login and enter your account information.

When you log in, you'll see a number of new messages - one message per file you just uploaded. Messages corresponding to files that have been uploaded via Gmail Drive appear with a "GMAILFS" prefix in the header, following by the filename and the file size.

Since we've uploaded images, we can view our photos right from within the Gmail interface.

From here, we can forward the images on to friends, or download them to whatever machine we are on and have instant access to them at any time. Plus, we benefit from all the handy built-in features of Gmail itself; we can easily search for our files by name and tag them to organize them however we wish. All this from the installation of one simple and free utility.


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