Two years ago, a majority of Americans thought a lightning storm could interfere with cloud computing. Today, cloud storage services are as ubiquitous as cumulonimbus in a Kansas tornado season. There are lots of cloud storage services out there luring in new users with free accounts, extra space, and social-networking rewards.
We’re all coming around to the idea that cloud storage can be pretty darn convenient. As demand grows for faster, higher-resolution videos and games – especially on smaller and smaller devices – our dependence on cloud storage and cloud computing will only increase. Cloud services allow consumers access to a kind of network storage: hosting files remotely so that they can access them at any time from a number of computers and devices. Gone are the days of face-palming because you forgot a document on your home computer. No longer do you have to clog up your own email with photos you sent yourself for easy retrieval later. Nowadays, you can simply send it to the cloud and forget it.
Today, most people use a cloud storage service. Even so, there are still very real security issues. For this reason, we always recommend encrypting sensitive files using software such as the free program TrueCrypt before entrusting them to the cloud.
This article was originally published November 12, 2012 and has been updated for relevancy. Mika Turim-Nygren contributed to this article.
Choosing a cloud storage service
Dozens of cloud storage services are now on the market. So which option is the best? While there’s plenty of debate over which service to choose, no single choice stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. Each has certain advantages, and you’ll simply have to tinker around until you find the one that works for you.
That being said, if you regularly purchase MP3s from iTunes, you’ll probably want to choose the corresponding cloud storage service: iCloud, respectively. Why? These entertainment powerhouses don’t count music purchases you’ve made from them against your storage size limit. Essentially, you can nab free cloud storage for your tunes, which enables music streaming to all your devices. Here’s our seven favorite cloud storage services.
Star Wars reference aside, Carbonite is the best outlet for unlimited storage space. Yes, that means unlimited space. Who needs unlimited space? Businesses, mostly, but also anyone who has, say, thousands of high-resolution photos could do with a worry free backup as well. The cloud-based service automatically downloads photos, movies, music and documents to the cloud from a variety of devices. Automatic backups will keep your recent photos and files secure.
What’s more, Carbonite offers a referral program. You’ll get $20 off your cloud subscription with every referral that subscribes to the service. The cloud service has apps for Android and iOS. The file storage offers a several data storage plans that vary in price. The basic storage plan costs $60 and you’ll get full backup on a single computer for one year. Take note, the service works on Mac and PC. Carbonite also offers advanced services, like a localized backup, but that’ll cost more and are only available for PCs.
The Lowdown: With a decent referral program, Carbonite is the affordable option for unlimited storage space.
The reasons for Dropbox’s success are simple: the service is full-featured and easy to use. It also helps that the marketing is top-notch. Promotions styled like gaming quests encourage users to invite friends to the service to earn more storage space. Even though a number of services offer more initial free space – Google Drive’s 5GB, Mega’s 50GB, iCloud’s 5GB, or SkyDrive’s 7GB, versus Dropbox’s 2 GB – many customers seem to find Dropbox’s referral-rewards system irresistible (up to 18GB free space total). Upgraded pro accounts start at $9.99/month (or $99/year) for 100GB. Mobile support includes Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Kindle Fire
To get started, just make an account and download the desktop client. This installs a folder where you can drag-and-drop files in order to transfer them to the cloud. You’ll see a pop-up notification anytime anything new is added to your account; if this annoys you, you can disable it in preferences.
One of Dropbox’s main strengths is its constant backup of word files. If you sync your Dropbox folder to your main documents folder, Dropbox will automatically backup any changes you make to each document. To access previous versions of a document, simply right-click on a file within your Dropbox folder, select “Dropbox,” and then choose “View previous versions.” This feature can be invaluable if you accidentally overwrite a file, or if you’re working collaboratively on a project.
Speaking of collaborative projects, Dropbox boasts excellent sharing abilities. Invite someone to share a particular Dropbox folder with you and that folder will appear right on their desktop. You can also send a link to an individual document or image. Additionally, Dropbox offers the best Facebook integration of any service at the moment. Finally, folders full of images can be viewed as a gallery, making Dropbox a viable photo-sharing alternative to Picasa, Imgur, and Flickr.
The lowdown: Least amount of starting free space; best version-control backup; best Facebook integration; great sharing capabilities; good for multiple computers and devices.
Google Drive is the standard for cloud sharing services. The web giant thrives on integration with Google’s other services, like Gmail and Google Docs. For the convenient price of absolutely nothing, you’ll get 15GB of Google Drive space, 10GB of Gmail storage and 1GB on Picasa (photos under 2048 x 2048 don’t take up any cloud space). Upgrades cost $2/month for 100GB and $10/month for 1TB. Mobile support includes iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Signing up is as simple as logging in with a Gmail address and password. From there, Google Drive appears right in your Google toolbar, just a click away from your email inbox. You can drag-and-drop files straight into your browser, or download the desktop client to have access to Google Drive as a folder, just like with Dropbox.
Google Drive borrows from Google’s powerful search algorithm to allow searches of not only file names, but also text in scanned documents and objects in images (a neat trick for those with years of vacation photos). You can upload photos straight to Google+ or view more than 30 types of files directly in-browser, including some – like Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator – for which you may not have the actual software.
But Google Drive’s standout features are its sharing and collaboration tools. Thanks to integration with Gmail, you can share files with a click, with or without requiring a password. And when you work with partners on the same word file, spreadsheet, or presentation, either separately or right at the same time, Google Drive marks the contributions of each person with differently colored labels to make clear what’s changed.
The lowdown: Only service to integrate with Gmail and Google Docs; best sharing and collaboration capabilities; access files directly in-browser; edit documents directly in-browser; most economical file sharing service.