|A User’s Guide to Finding Storage Space in the Cloud By MICKEY MEECE Published: May 16, 2012 |
One day, you’ll gather the grandchildren around you and tell them wondrous tales of life before cloud computing: how you used to put information, photos and music on a floppy disk, a memory card or a USB fob to carry it from one device to another. You’ll tell them how it was called sneakernet because you had to physically move the data.
They will look at you funny, pat your hand and continue to take personal cloud storage for granted.
Now, however, you can be forgiven for thinking it is a bit of a marvel. A number of companies store your data free and make it accessible to whatever device you are using, wherever you are, as long as you have Internet connection.
For those using thumb drives and external hard drives, think of cloud storage as just another way to back up data, but on a remote server. Add in the ability to synchronize and the service becomes even more appealing.
What is different now is the ability to synchronize seamlessly across multiple devices: computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets. And of course, as Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and others compete for your business, the sheer amount of data to be shared and stored continues to expand.
Here is how to start using it right now.
GOOGLE DRIVEGoogle Drive, which can be downloaded at www.drive.google.com, should appeal to people who use Gmail and Google Docs online. Instead of e-mailing documents back and forth (and to yourself) on Gmail, you can share large files via Google Drive. (Photos can be shared via Google’s Picasa photo platform or through the Google Plus social media community).
As with Google Docs, you must be online to share and collaborate (though, you can make a file available offline). Still, you can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, and numerous people can edit the same document at the same time. It stores every change made and you can look back as far as 30 days to earlier versions.
Google Drive can recognize multiple formats — over 30 file types — on your Web browser, even if you don’t have the program that created the file installed, and the service will convert the files to a Google Docs format.
The service is available to PC and Mac users (with certain operating system restrictions), as well as Android devices. Google promises that iPhone and iPad apps are on the way.
Once Google Drive is downloaded to your computer, a folder is created. You can drag and drop files to the folder. If your operating system does not support Google Drive, you can get access to a Web version and upload files from there after you sign in with your Google ID.
Google Drive starts with five gigabytes of free storage, with tiered upgrades available: $2.49 a month for 25 gigabytes; $5 a month for 100 gigabytes; $10 a month for 200 gigabytes and $20 a month for 400 gigabytes. Data hogs and business users can buy more.
Bottom line: a tool for online-only collaboration and file backup and syncing at a reasonable price.
MICROSOFT SKYDRIVESkyDrive from Microsoft, www.skydrive.com, is claimed to be the most powerful personal cloud storage available based on its features: storage, access to files on the go, collaboration, note taking, showcasing photos and file sharing.
The service provides seven gigabytes of free space, which Microsoft says is enough for 99.94 percent of its users. That amount will fit 20,000 Office documents, or 7,000 photos, the company says. Power users can add more: $10 a year for 20 gigabytes, $25 a year for 50 gigabytes and $50 a year for 100 gigabytes.
It is compatible with Windows and Mac and via the Web at SkyDrive.com. There are also SkyDrive apps for Windows phones, iPhone and iPad. You must first obtain a Windows Live ID to use the service, which isn’t much of a bother.
A feature unique to SkyDrive allows you to fetch any file from a remote Windows PC running the SkyDrive app for Windows desktop. But the most satisfying aspect of SkyDrive is the ability to work and collaborate using native Microsoft Office documents without having to convert the files first.
Files can be created offline, and once you are online SkyDrive features the same real-time editing capabilities as Google Docs, as well as the ability to track versions. Those you share with can view or edit Word, PowerPoint or Excel files using Office for Mac or Office for Windows, or with Office Web Apps in their browsers, free.
Bottom line: feature-rich, plenty of free storage with cheap upgrades. Office suite users can happily edit and collaborate using software they are comfortable with.
DROPBOX Dropbox.com, the granddaddy of online storage, works with Windows and Mac, as well as the Linux operating system. There are mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices.
Users start with two gigabytes of free space, and can earn 500 megabytes for each referral of a new customer. You pay richly to bump up storage: $10 a month for 50 gigabytes and $20 a month for 100 gigabytes.
Graphic: Comparing Your Cloud of Choice
Dropbox has earned a reputation for being reliable and easy to use. Recently, Dropbox enhanced its photo and video uploading capability so that users can automatically upload from just about any camera, tablet, SD card or smartphone. Dropbox adds 500 megabytes of space for the first upload and the company says it will add up to three gigabytes as you upload more media.
As with other services, you can share files, photos and videos via a link on Dropbox. If you work with a team, you can share files but not edit them at the same time.
Bottom line: There is room for Dropbox even if you have another storage service, especially if you use it to save files for a group. Unless you aggressively seek free upgrades, however, the service becomes expensive.
SUGARSYNCSugarSync, www.sugarsync.com, introduced its cloud technology in 2008 and says it supports the most mobile devices in the industry, including iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile and Kindle devices. It also works with Windows XP, Vista and Mac.
It comes with five gigabytes of free storage, with paid upgrades from there: $5 a month for 30 gigabytes, $10 a month for 60 gigabytes and $15 a month for 100 gigabytes.
The best feature is that you determine which folders you want to sync and where you want to sync them. Once the service is set up, the company says, you never have to worry about syncing again. SugarSync continuously syncs and backs up files from your computer to your personal cloud.
Once saved, the files can be edited offline, and the next time you go online, SugarSync automatically syncs them. If you share files, SugarSync saves changes between each user.
It provides an easy-to-use approach to sharing, including a new featurethat allows you to send links insteadof attachments through Microsoft Outlook. You can share links to documents, photos or videos on your social networks, as well as post photos to Facebook.
For peace of mind, SugarSync promises the ability to restore files and photos if a computer is damaged.
Bottom line: SugarSync is a crowd pleaser with social networking baked in, while providing a productivity boost.