Published on June 16th, 2013 | by David Johnson0
Hard Drives in the Sky: The Best Cloud Storage Solutions
There are a number of cloud storage services out there. This is not an exhaustive write up on all of them, not even all of the good ones. If it was, then this article would be called, “All of the Good Cloud Storage Solutions. You don’t have time to sift through all of the good services. So I’m going to help you cut through the noise and recommend the three at the top.
There can only be one king of the hill, and at the moment, DropBox is it. They have been doing this the longest, and everyone else is playing catch-up. Here’s the deal: You’ve got files on your computer that you need to access from other computers and devices. Those files might be anything from spreadsheets to videos, to music and photos, and anything else you can think of. You’ve got files, and DropBox doesn’t judge. If it is on one system and needs to be accessed on another, you need a cloud storage solution.
You get the most out of DropBox by allowing it to become your hard drive, offloading all your important stuff to that great, hard drive in the sky. Saving a document in DropBox means that version of the document no longer resides on your hard drive; it resides on theirs. That’s a good thing. If you open that document and work on it from your iPad or MacBook Air, just be sure to open it from DropBox, and you will find yourself right where you left off.
There is a free level of DropBox service which is enjoyed by the vast majority of people who use it. However, for those with a higher tier of need, DropBox has a higher tier of service. It is all based on how much storage you need. Most people get along with 2 GB or less. They are not trying to duplicate their entire drives on DropBox’s servers. See the DropBox website for details. Most likely, there is a level of service that is right for you. And most likely, it is the free level.
The real advantage DropBox enjoys that puts it over the top, is the fact that its service is practically ubiquitous. It is available for every platform, every device, and is supported by every app that matters. An app may support a whole list of services, and DropBox will always be one of them. That simply cannot be said for any other cloud storage solution, not even my favorite.
Strictly speaking, iCloud is not a cloud storage service. It is a cloud syncing service. There are many people that are using a full-on storage service, when what they really want is a syncing service. DropBox doesn’t really sync anything. It just relocates your hard drive from your computer, to DropBox’s servers. You still have to save the file on one device and open it on another. iCloud is a lot less fussy about such matters. The last few sentences have been typed on my iMac, and alternately, on my iPad mini. I never closed the document or saved it on either device. The changes just flow to every device shortly after making them.
iCloud is about push rather than pull. Rather than you being responsible for putting the data where you need it, iCloud takes care of the transaction behind the scenes. You are always logged into iCloud on all your devices. That means whenever you work on one device, that work is automatically transported into the cloud, and pushed to every other iCloud-enabled device on your account. You never have to worry about having something open on two devices, and wondering which version of it you saved. iCloud takes care of that and saves whatever you did last. Then, it pushes that to all of your other devices regardless of the saved state on those devices. Which version is true? The truth is in the iCloud.
If you are like me, you may get a little nervous about letting iCloud update all your computers and losing a draft you were working on. Maybe you opened a version on your iPad for a last look, and typed a few keys by accident. Suddenly, that is your document on all your devices. Not to fear. iCloud has you covered. In Pages for the Mac, you have an option to revert to previous versions of your document, even if you didn’t save it even once. There is a fun and intuitive interface that allows you to look at the document in previous states, choose the one you like, and restore it to its former glory.
iCloud syncs much more than documents. It syncs just about everything on your iPhone and iPad. If you have iCloud backups turned on, your iPhone and iPad are backing themselves up automatically, every day. The only time you might give it a moment’s thought is if you have to take your iDevice in for repair. When the tech tells you that they will have to wipe your device, or replace it, you might wonder about all your data. The other time is when you buy a new iDevice. No worries. With iCloud backup, you can have that new device feeling just like your old one before you even leave the store. Restoring from an iCloud backup is very convenient.
iCloud is also responsible for syncing contacts, calendars, and mail. Before the iPhone, it was nearly impossible to easily move contacts into your new phone. Once there, the contacts would not stay in sync with those on your computer without some kludgy, software + tethering solution. Though kludgy by today’s standards, the iPhone was one of the first devices with a first-party, end-to-end solution to this problem. That solution still exists. But today, it is mostly done with iCloud. Never again do we have to worry about getting contacts into a new device, or keeping them synced with other devices. There are plenty of services that do it also. But iCloud is the syncing solution of choice within the Apple ecosystem.
At the end of the day, the best solution for you comes down to your ecosystem of choice. For those still stuck in the Microsoft universe, there is SkyDrive. Microsoft is expanding SkyDrive so that it is a lot like DropBox and iCloud. First and foremost, it is a cloud storage service. In function, it is almost indistinguishable from DropBox. There is even an iOS app suitable for all iOS devices.
It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, and would be relegated to the category of something like Box.net. That is another, me too, cloud service that exists for no better reason than that it can, bringing nothing new or interesting to the table. What saves SkyDrive from that fate is the way Microsoft is leveraging their other properties to add value to their cloud service.
If you are a Microsoft Office user, you will discover that SkyDrive is tightly integrated with that service. By default, you get most of the benefits of iCloud document syncing, except for Microsoft Office documents. Word to the wise: I wouldn’t try that trick of not saving documents with SkyDrive. But it is designed to keep all your documents in sync across devices. I’m no fan of Office. But if I had to use it, I would definitely be using SkyDrive for my files.
I suppose I should give an honorable mention to Google Drive. Disappointingly, Google Drive has absolutely nothing to do with self-driving cars. It is their Cloud service that is roughly equivalent to iCloud. If you are an Android user with iCloud envy, Google drive is for you. Disclaimer, I’m not a big fan of Google services. However, if you are, you would do well to have Google Drive.
A part of those services are knock-offs of Microsoft’s Office suite. Google Docs is sort of the poor man’s Word. A lot of small businesses use it as an alternative to a more mainstream solution. Since Android is Google’s mobile platform, Google services are the default for many users.
There are Google Drive apps for Mac, and iOS devices. I have spent a bit of time with it, and just didn’t see the point. I couldn’t put my finger on anything that was particularly wrong with it. For me, it was just more duplication of what I already had. If you don’t live and breathe Google services, then there really isn’t much of a point. And that is the real point behind most of these services. They exist to bolster a platform.
As I said before, it is all about your ecosystem of choice. Heavy users of Microsoft products should be using SkyDrive. Those like me, who are very happy inside the Apple ecosystem, nothing beats iCloud. For Android, and otherwise, cross-platform users: those who need to use a variety of platforms, DropBox is the key to cloud storage happiness. In some cases, it is completely justifiable to use two, if not all three of the services.
Though I am a Mac and iDevice user, I still have to work with others on occasion. At my previous job, I had to use Office for many of my tasks. Had SkyDrive been around, I would definitely have used it. As it happens, I was a heavy DropBox user. We shared a lot of different types of files within the company. That did not mean that I stopped using Apple services for my own, personal use. It just meant that I had to use other services in addition to my service of choice.
I do not believe that most people are in that situation. Most of us are able to decide what is best for us, and live with it. Since all of these options have paid tiers, you might decided to take advantage of the additional storage. It is less likely you will do that if your files are scattered across two or three services that do not play nice with each other.
Having used both DropBox and iCloud for a long time, I can say that, for me, there is nothing like iCloud for the Apple ecosystem. Within that sandbox, Nothing is quite like iCloud. DropBox on Windows is only half a solution. Its saving grace is its ubiquity. It is everywhere you want to be. You might not want a Big Mac. But when you are hungry and you look around to see what is nearby, it is McDonald’s, and not some better place. You end up with the Big Mac. That is DropBox. If iCloud was cross-platform, and available in every app, there would be no more discussion. In every ecosystem, iCloud would be the clear winner. But it’s not. Therefore, cloud storage solutions cannot be narrowed down to a single winner. For the moment, there are three. The rest just seem to be pail copies of what already exists. Choose wisely.