By Chris Hoffman
The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed – both Google and Microsoft are now challenging Dropbox on its own turf, and all three services have their own compelling features. One thing’s for sure – Dropbox is no longer the one-size-fits-all solution.
These three aren’t the only cloud storage services – the cloud storage arena is full of services with different features and priorities, including privacy-protecting encryption and the ability to synchronize any folder on your system.
Dropbox introduced cloud storage to the masses, with its simple approach to cloud storage and synchronization – a single magic folder that follows you everywhere. Dropbox deserves credit for being a pioneer in this space and the new Google Drive and SkyDrive both build on the foundation that Dropbox laid.
Dropbox doesn’t have strong integration with any ecosystems – which can be a good thing, as it is an ecosystem-agnostic approach that isn’t tied to Google, Microsoft, Apple, or any other company’s platform.
Dropbox today is a compelling and mature offering supporting a wide variety of platforms. Dropbox offers less free storage than the other services (unless you get involved in their referral scheme) and its prices are significantly higher than those of competing services – for example, an extra 100GB is four times more expensive with Dropbox compared to Google Drive.
- Supported Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Web.
- Free Storage: 2 GB (up to 16 GB with referrals).
- Price for Additional Storage: 50 GB for $10/month, 100 GB for $20/month.
- File Size Limit: Unlimited.
- Standout Features: the Public folder is an easy way to share files. Other services allow you to share files, but it isn’t quite as easy. You can sync files from other computers running Dropbox over the local network, speeding up transfers and taking a load off your Internet connection.
Google Drive is the evolution of Google Docs, which already allowed you to upload any file – Google Drive bumps the storage space up from 1 GB to 5 GB, offers desktop sync clients, and provides a new web interface and APIs for web app developers.
Google Drive is a serious entry from Google, not just an afterthought like the upload-any-file option was in Google Docs.
Its integration with third-party web apps – you can install apps and associate them with file types in Google Drive – shows Google’s vision of Google Drive being a web-based hard drive that eventually replaces the need for desktop sync clients entirely.
- Supported Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, Web, iOS (coming soon), Linux (coming soon).
- Free Storage: 5 GB.
- Price for Additional Storage: 25 GB for $2.49/month, 100 GB for $4.99/month.
- File Size Limit: 10 GB.
- Standout Features: Deep search with automatic OCR and image recognition, web interface that can launch files directly in third-party web apps.
You can actually purchase up to 16 TB of storage space with Google Drive – for $800/month!
Microsoft released a revamped SkyDrive the day before Google Drive launched, but Google Drive stole its thunder. Nevertheless, SkyDrive is now a compelling product, particularly for people into Microsoft’s ecosystem of Office web apps, Windows Phone, and Windows 8, where it’s built into Metro by default.
Like Google with Google Drive, Microsoft’s new SkyDrive product imitates the magic folder pioneered by Dropbox.
Microsoft offers the most free storage space at 7 GB – although this is down from the original 25 GB. Microsoft also offers good prices for additional storage.
- Supported Platforms: Windows, Mac, Windows Phone, iOS, Web.
- Free Storage: 7 GB.
- Price for Additional Storage: 20 GB for $10/year, 50 GB for $25/year, 100 GB for $50/year
- File Size Limit: 2 GB
- Standout Features: Ability to fetch unsynced files from outside the synced folders on connected PCs, if they’ve been left on.
SugarSync is a popular alternative to Dropbox. It offers a free 5 GB of storage and it lets you choose the folders you want to synchronize – a feature missing in the above services, although you can use some tricks to synchronize other folders. SugarSync also has clients for mobile platforms that don’t get a lot of love, including Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry (Dropbox also has a Blackberry client).
Amazon also offers their own cloud storage service, known as Amazon Cloud Drive. There’s one big problem, though – there’s no official desktop sync client. Expect Amazon to launch their own desktop sync program if they’re serious about competing in this space. If you really want to use Amazon Cloud Drive, you can use a third-party application to access it from your desktop.
Box is popular, but its 25 MB file size limit is extremely low. It also offers no desktop sync client (except for businesses). While Box may be a good fit for the enterprise, it can’t stand toe-to-toe with the other services here for consumer cloud storage and syncing.
If you’re worried about the privacy of your data, you can use an encrypted service, such as SpiderOak or Wuala, instead. Or, if you prefer one of these services, use an app like BoxCryptor to encrypt files and store them on any cloud storage service.
Which service do you use and why? Did we miss any important features here? Leave a comment and let us know.