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Why Disk Space Still Matters

I agree with the good people at 37 Signals that a small business should embrace constraints; and even use them to it's advantage. I believe this is true of individuals too! For example, I believe that it's often a good idea to pay attention to your disk space usage.

The standard accepted wisdom these days is that we should ignore disk space because it's "free" and just keep buying more as we need it. While yes it's true that disk space is cheap this ignores the fact that there are many disadvantages to using a lot of disk space beyond simply the price of a hard drive.

Firstly, you are probably going to want to backup all your data and so you will need at a very minimum two times the amount of starage. But this is just the tip of the iceburg because ideally you are using version control software, such as Subversion or Git, for your active files. Version control, which is sort of like a "backup on steroids", requires even more disk space and is sensitive to the presence of huge files because they lengthen the network transfer times.

In my experience it's hard to keep track of all your digital "stuff" and so it makes sense to have periodic spring cleanings. This is the beauty of not just buying more disk space: you end up finding stuff you fyorgot about! And not only that you can deal with multiple copies of files before you accidently use the wrong one. Also normally you can get rid of a lot of stuff and uninstall programs that you know you're never going to need and thus unclutter your directories and program lists. Once things are uncluttered the focus with naturally shift to the files that are left - the real work that needs to be done!

A sidenote of uncluttering is that it might even relieve some anxiety that can accompany not knowing what you have and the possibility that you might be forgetting about something.

A final disadvantage to buying more disk space is the hastle it can be if you either upgrade to a larger internal HD or buy an external HD. With a new beefier internal drive you will need to re-install programs and copy files being very careful not to accidently permanently delete any key files or licensed programs. Possibly worse however is the inconvenience of juggling and/or lugging an external hard drive and/or a rack of DVDs. You want your working files to be easily accessible all the time and from any of your computers not issolated on some USB device at your office.

So.... the moral is: take a little time to look at what you have and what you need before succoming to the accepted wisdom of more space is free. Keeping things simple and small can lead to many unforseen benefits!