A company called Streamload is offering consumers a free 10-gigabyte online storage locker for multimedia files, potentially raising the stakes for larger companies like Yahoo and America Online.

Streamload typically provides online storage space for a price, one of the few companies to survive in that business through the dot-com shakeout. However, it is increasingly competing with larger companies that offer online homes for digital photographs, and even the huge archive space provided by Google's Gmail service.

Company executives say that the offer of big online storage lockers, once used only by advanced computer users, is now more relevant to a broader public that has large collections of digital photographs and MP3 files.

"It seems to have come to appeal not only to the hard-core early adopters, but to mainstream users," said Streamload Chief Executive Officer Steve Iverson. "It's no longer a novelty to have an MP3 player, and even having a place online to store MP3 files so you can fill up your iPod on the road has become more common."

Iverson's argument illustrates one side of a race between falling prices for data storage, such as computer hard drives, and the increasing ease of storing data on a network.

Some computer experts have argued that when all devices are connected to the Net, storing data locally will be unnecessary. Others note that cheap hard drives that are expanding to hold hundreds of gigabytes mean that it will be more efficient to store data locally whenever possible.

Streamload's service does allow its customers to share files stored on the system, much as Yahoo Photos allows subscribers to provide access to photographs to friends. In the past, this has led to online storage lockers being used to hold and distribute pirated music, movies and software, but Iverson said his company had guards in place against this.

People who sign up for the free 10GB service can only download 100MB a month and can only upload files of 100MB at a time. Customers who pay about $10 a month have much looser restrictions.

The free offer will go into effect Monday, the company said.

Last week, AOL confirmed that it plans to offer its subscribers a free 100MB storage locker. Rival Xdrive offers 5 gigabytes for free during a 15-day trial, and then charges $10 a month.

The Streamload Site:
Streamload

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