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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....




Floppy This! A Guide To A Virtual Floppy
January 20th, 1999

One of the things I really enjoy about writing this column is that I get to find out about, and try, things I didn't even know existed. Usually this happens because readers share information. One such new experience is iMacFloppy.com. If you don't use an iMac don't stop reading because this service can be used on any machine. It also lets you transfer documents from Mac to Mac without a disk, and even lets you transfer documents from a Mac to a PC and vice-versa. It is this last aspect that made this most appealing to me, and I must confess that I didn't quite believe it would support transferring from one platform to another if I didn't have Word on my Mac at home. Since I have to use Microsoft Word at work, I absolutely refuse to mess with it, in any form, at home. Previously there was only one way that I knew of to move documents back and forth.

In the old days (in the computer world that means last week), I could create a document on Microsoft Word, save it and then, using the copy command in the pull-down menu, make a copy of the text. Then I would open up the e-mail program, paste the text as the message in the e-mail, and send it to myself at home. Once at home I could open the e-mail message, cut and paste the contents again and paste it into a Claris Works document and go from there. To further complicate this process I always had to remember to wait until the end of the day to send myself the message because I use RocketMail to access my home e-mail at work. Therefore, if I sent myself a message at home in the morning and then opened up my RocketMail at noon, I would get the message right back on the PC.

iMacFloppy.com is one of several “virtual floppy drives.” I have chosen to write about it because it is a free service that provides free space (the service is supported by advertising). The part that is free is limited, but I will get into that in a moment. A virtual floppy drive is not hardware. Rather it is space on an internet server, kind of like a web page. The provider has a server and makes a web page that gives someone the ability to browse their own hard drive and upload a file or files to the space on the server. The user has a login name and a password that assures the security of their documents. The only caveat is that the user must be able to access the internet in both the sending location and the receiving location. Some of the other virtual floppy services use their own software which you then have to have on your computer to access your virtual floppy. They can be more secure and are probably more useful in the business world because of the associated expense.

I mentioned a limitation and it is this. The free service is limited to 3 megabytes. That is about the equivalent of 2 regular floppy disks. For most noncommercial users that will probably be plenty of space. After all, once you move something to your hard drive you can delete it from the virtual floppy space, making room for future transactions.

To access iMacFloppy you need to open your internet service, i.e., log on, and open your browser. In the address box at the top of your browser type in: http://www.imacfloppy.com and hit enter. The iMacFloppy site will open and offer you three options. You can register to be a user, read about the company or sign in if you have previously joined. If you hit the button for registering you will be sent to a user agreement which you are expected to read and agree to abide by. If you decline to do that you will not be allowed to go any further. Assuming you accept you are sent to a new user sign up page. You will be asked to give your first and last name, your e-mail address, a log in name of your choosing and a password of your choosing. Once that has been accepted by the system you are sent to your personal virtual floppy page.

You will find a web page that is divided into a left and right side. There will be a document in the box on the right which is your welcome. You can read it and delete, but you will notice that it does not consume any of your space. To save something you look to the left side of the page where there are two option boxes. The top one is labeled MacBinary (most Mac files) and the bottom one is labeled Raw (graphics, text and PC files). First you hit Browse at the right of the option box you want. A window will open that will probably be your internet directory (such as the Netscape directory). As with any Open and Save Dialogue box, there will be a pull-down menu at the top that allows you to move from folder to folder right up to your desktop. Lets say you have a document currently stored in a folder named Work that sits on your desktop. Click on the pull-down menu and move the cursor down to the desktop folder. Choose Work in the desktop folder and click on open. The folder will open and you then move the cursor down to the document you want to save and click on open again. The window will go away and the name of your document will appear in the option box next to the Browse button. Directions for the next steps are at the bottom of the box as are appropriate directions for the right hand box. You follow the directions (i.e., click on the arrow key) and your document is copied over to the virtual floppy (up on the server) until you want it again. The amount of space you have used in your virtual floppy and the amount remaining are displayed in the browser window.

In testing this out I stored files from home and opened them at work and stored files at work and opened them at home. Before I attempted this I contacted Frank Llosa, President of NetFloppy LLC (the owners of iMacFloppy.com) by e-mail. Frank gave me advice to help me successfully save documents so they would go from one platform to another. If you are going from Mac to Mac there are no problems or extra steps. If you are going from PC to Mac or Mac to PC, Frank said you have the most effective transfer if you have “Word” on both your PC and Mac.

If you are going from a Mac to a PC and you have Word on both machines, you add “.doc” to the file name (because nothing is ever simple with a PC) and upload it to the iMacFloppy as a Raw upload rather than the MacBinary and you should have no problem opening the document on the PC. If you have trouble opening it, you may have to save the document as a PC Word file (use "Save As" under the file menu and choose one of the many PC Word file formats). Conversely, if you are going from PC to Mac and you are using Word on both machines, you may have to save the file as a Mac Word file. In both cases, make sure you choose a version of Word to save it as that is not newer than the version on the other machine.

If you are not using the same program on both machines there is still a way to move your file and use it. You can save the file as a Text Only or an RTF (Rich Text Format) and you can open it with no problem using Claris Works or Microsoft Word. Just remember to add the right ".txt" or ".rtf" extension when you go from Mac to PC. The only problem I ran into with my test sends when I used these methods was that I was not able to send a table successfully. The text was fine, but the table format did not transfer as that formatting information is not saved as a text or RTF document.

All in all I think the virtual floppy is a great remedy for what can be an irritating problem. And obviously, if you have an iMac which does not have floppy drive capabilities, the system is even more useful.

I asked Frank if it was possible to allow other people of my choosing to access things I have saved on the virtual floppy (like coworkers or family members collaborating on a project) and he said that his company had received numerous requests for that capability. They will shortly make it possible for you to allow someone to read and download your documents although they won’t be able to upload to your account.

If you try this I would be interested in your opinions. By the same token, if you have discovered other services that do the same thing and offer free access, I would like to know that too.

If you have any tips, hints, or thoughts on these topics, make sure you write me so that I can share your thoughts with other readers.


Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.


Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.


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