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Top Cloud Storage Options for Personal and Professional Use

Introduction

The recent security snafu at Dropbox has us looking at alternatives to the popular file-sharing service. Whether you're a road warrior, early tablet adopter or just someone wanting to share files, photos or other information between family friends or computers at home and at work, there's likely a solution for you. We've rounded up a few of the best, current options and compared them based on ease of use, storage capacity, and cost. Let's take a look and see which one came out on top.  

SugarSyncSugarSync

Storage: 5GB Free, with Personal and Enterprise Plans Available
Desktop Support: PCs with Windows XP or later and Mac Desktops 10.4 and later

  • Browser Support: IE, Firefox 3 and later, Safari 4 and later, Chrome
  • Mobile Clients: iOS 4, Android 2 and later, Blackberry OS 4 and later, Windows Phone 7, and Symbian

SugarSync, a well-executed folder sync system that’s been around for a while, providesa basic way to sync folders across devices. It also supports file versioning. SugarSync supports backup of any file on your computer making it visible to any connected sync point or via a web browser.  It also supports streaming of music files to mobile devices.

The file sync service on my Mac client seems to take up an excessive amount of CPU when performing a synchronization check. Among the five DropBox alternatives considered here, this was the only product or service that made may machine’scooling fan repeatedly turn on while synching.

SugarSync is the closest to a drop in replacement for Dropbox from a price and features standpoint.

 


Amazon Cloud DriveAmazon Cloud Drive

Storage: 5GB Free, or 20GB free with purchase of an album from the Amazon MP3 store
Desktop Support: Any OS that supports Flash

  • Browser Support: Any browser with Flash 9 or 10, newest browser versions preferred but not required
  • Mobile Clients: Android 2 and later, and browser support for Apple devices with iOS 4

Amazon’s drive offering is particularly attractive if you’re looking for a way to store your music library .  They recently added Safari support , so if you’re on an iPhone or iPad you can now use the service. If you’re already set up with a Cloud Drive account, and have some music in it, just point Safari to http://www.amazon.com/cloudplayer.   Sign into your account and you’ll see the desktop interface on your iOS device.

On the downside, there’s no sync service or automated way to add your non-music files. It’s all manual upload and download.  It is a fair place to hold your music library, but not useful for much else, given the options available today. Also, being forced to manually upload files via a web browser gives the product a rushed and unfinished feel.  However, it’s hard to complain about a free place to store your music If you’re looking for a good place to store and stream your music library and can use some rudimentary non music file storage as well, then Amazon Cloud Drive may work for you.


SpiderOakSpiderOak

Storage:  2GB Free, with Personal and Enterprise Plans Available
Desktop Support: PCs with Windows XP or greater, Mac 10.5 or later, and the more popular Linux distributions

  • Browser Support: Most modern web browsers
  • Mobile Clients: iPhone and iPad with iOS 4, Android 2+, Blackberry 4+

SpiderOak delivers a solid sync, sharing and backup offering.  It has a serious focus on security and has recently introduced advanced security features not found in some other services, like 2 factor authentication. The interface for syncing a folder across computers proves more complex compared to other services, but once set up, it works perfectly. Backing up my entire working directory structure of over 45GB was very fast  compared to some pure backup solutions I’ve used in the past like CrashPlan and Mozy.

The helpful mobile apps on iOS and Android allow easy access to your data.  If a file is in a backup set, you can get to it from practically anywhere. You can even back up files that are on your mobile device.

Sharing works via  a concept called “Share Rooms,” giving you control over what files you share and with whom.

With full file versioning and the combining of sync, sharing, and backup into one service, SpiderOak deserves a serious look for those whos top concern is security.


 

Live Mesh Windows Live Mesh

Storage:  Up to 25GB Free, per SkyDrive Account
Desktop Support: Windows Vista SP2 or later, Mac OSX 10.5 or later
Browser Support: IE 7 or later preferred
Mobile Clients: None

Windows Live Mesh is part of Windows Live Essentials, a set of free programs and services offered by Microsoft.  Live Mesh, formerly Live Sync, allows you to create and sync files, pictures, and Microsoft Office documents between Microsoft SkyDrive any number of PCs or Macs running Vista SP2 or later or OSX 10.5 or later.

Both desktop interfaces look clean and straightforward. You can manage your documents either via your PC or the web, and changes are reflected everywhere as soon as a connected sync point comes online. You can manage the contents of your SkyDrive via your browser or desktop client.

Integral parts of Live Essentials as well as Office Web Apps, Live Mesh and SkyDrive take your data to the cloud and let you access work anywhere there’s a compatible browser with an internet connection.

Unfortunately, Microsoft limits your storage at 25GB per SkyDrive account with no options of increasing the amount of storage; and while Live Essentials, Live Mesh and SkyDrive appear to support mobile devices notifications, no Live Mesh mobile client could be located. We reached out to our contacts at Microsoft about this, but received no comment before going to press.

Live Mesh is great for users wanting to store and share pictures, videos and office documents. It’s targeted at consumers and not at the enterprise.


 Box.netbox.net

Storage: 5GB Free
Desktop Support: Windows Vista SP2 or later, Mac OSX 10.5 or later
Browser Support: Mobile browser – Web Kit compatible
Mobile Clients: iOS 4.0 or later, Android 2.0 or later

Box.net offers 5GB of free cloud storage with a 25MB file size limit. Storage is accessible by only one user; and access to your data via mobile app is also free. Box.net provides paid options for 25GB and 50GB at $10 and $20 per month, respectively, with 1GB file size limits each.

Box.net offers up to 500GB of shared storage, the largest offered within this roundup, with a collaborative toolset and workspace for up to three users for $15 per user, per month. Enterprise customers with needs beyond three users are encouraged to call Box.net for pricing. The features and functionality offered here are bestsuited to enterprise customers. Their complete set of collaborative tools, larger shared storage allotments, and their associated costs, are more geared towards, and attractive to, businesses with distributed work teams. If you want a service just for personal use, other offerings within this roundup have comparable power without either the cost or file size limitations.


 

DropboxDropbox

Storage: 2GB Free, Pay options for 50GB and 100GB
Desktop Support: Windows XP or later, Mac OSX 10.4 or later, Ubuntu 7.10+ and Fedora Core 9+
Browser Support: IE 7 or later, Safari 3 or later, Firefox 3 or later, Opera 9 or later
Mobile Clients: iOS 3.1 or later, Android 1.5 (Cupcake) or later, Blackberry OS 4.5 or later

Many people consider Dropbox the baseline product/service to emulate and beat for syncing and storing data in the cloud, despite a recent security issue and the announcement of a related class action lawsuit.. Giving you access options for nearly every popular desktop and mobile OS variant and version, Dropbox makes your data  accessible from anywhere you can get internet access. Your changed files are instantly backed up to the cloud and to all connected sync points.

Sharing data is as easy as identifying what you want to share and the recipients. You can access sharing capabilities via your desktop as well as a mobile device. The only downside is that shared data appears in the root of your Dropbox and not necessarily where you might want to organize it.

Starting you off at 2GB of free storage, Dropbox gives you the opportunity to earn up to an additional 16GB of free space. You get 250MB of free space for every friend or family member who signs up for a free account, using you as a reference. Fee-based Dropbox options come with 50GB or 100GB of additional storage. Version control options are available for an additional charge.


 

Conclusion

If Dropbox’s latest security and class action lawsuit issues are causing you to consider alternatives, then take a serious look at SpiderOak. It offers everything that Dropbox offers, but with better service offerings, benefits and a far superior price point.


 

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