The next generation of file storage is in the cloud. With more consumers owning more computers, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices, it is no longer practical to keep all your files in one computer that you can't bring with you wherever you go.
Like it or not, the cloud is becoming a more convenient way to access photos, videos, music, documents, and other files in an era of mobile phones and ultra-portable devices. If you're one of those people looking to take the jump into the cloud but don't know which of the various services to purchase, here's a closer look at the four most popular cloud storage brands available.
Cloud Drive is not exactly as popular as Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive, but with the announcement of new prices that is typical of Amazon's undercut-everything strategy, Cloud Drive might just be able to take a shot at the more popular services.
Amazon's new service offers unlimited photo storage for users for $11.99 a year. That's only $0.99 per month. The package also includes 5GB of extra storage for other files, such as videos and documents. If you're going to store a lot of photos, though, that 5GB is not going to last.
The option is Amazon's more expensive $59.99 yearly plan, which is $4.99 a month. This plan, named Unlimited Everything, offers exactly what its name says. You can store as many photos, videos, music, documents and other files as you like for as long as you like as long as you keep paying Amazon the price of two cheeseburgers at McDonald's every month. Right now, Amazon offers a three-month free trial for both Unlimited Photos and Unlimited Everything plan.
The downside is you won't be able to do much with your files. You will be able to stream music to your Android or iOS device using the Amazon MP3 app, but unlike other services that offer plenty of other features for working with those files, Cloud Drive is a cheap, basic offering that's good enough for the price.
Verdict: Cloud Drive is a great, cheap option if all you want to do is sync all your files across your PC, Mac, Android, and iOS device. If you're looking for more advanced tools, such as an entire suite of online software for editing your files, Amazon can't help you with that.
Google Drive started as a handful of online office tools called Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Today, Google Drive for Work has become a powerful online collaboration tool to allow people from different places of the world to work together without having to meet up in person.
For $10 per user per month, Google offers unlimited storage for all sorts of files, even Microsoft Office files, and allows users to preview and edit these files on the web or on the iOS and Android apps for Google Drive. Again, the editing feature also includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Sharing is easy and lets you share files with other people, even people who do not have a Google account. It also allows you to work on a document together in real-time, using a commenting system that gets rid of the hassle of exchanging emails back and forth. On the right side of the Google Drive setup, you'll see a list of the latest activities so you know who edited what at a certain time.
Verdict: Google Drive for Work is easy to use and is a great tool for collaborating online. If you're not a business user, you can still get Google Drive free for 15GB, which covers storage for Drive, Gmail, and Photos, or you can upgrade to 100GB for $1.99 a month or 1TB for $9.99 a month.
Dropbox was the startup that kick-started the growing cloud storage industry, and while Silicon Valley giants such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are encroaching on its territory, Dropbox continues to be a solid force to be reckoned with in the cloud storage industry.
Dropbox for Business charges $15 every month for every user. For that price, Dropbox promises to use 256-bit AES and SSL encryption for all your files and throws in unlimited control over the way your files are shared and viewed, such as setting up passwords and expiration dates for files. There is also no limit to the sizes of files you can upload to Dropbox, although larger files can take hours to upload.
More importantly, Dropbox lets you access and control your files from virtually any device there is, whether it runs on Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Fire OS, and Linux, and is a breeze to set up and manage, making it a favored choice by IT admins.
However, 256-bit encryption is not necessarily better than the 128-bit encryption used by Google Drive, and for the additional $5 per user, Dropbox does not really offer the robust collaboration features offered by Google and Microsoft, although Project Harmony, which lets users work on files at the same time, is in early-access mode. We have yet to see how Project Harmony turns out. Also, Dropbox's overly simple web client leaves a lot to be desired.
Verdict: Dropbox is for the power user who favors the ability to share large files to a large number of people using different devices. As long as you don't stay too long on the web client, you're fine. If you want real-time collaboration though, you're better off with Google Drive or OneDrive.
If you're eyeing OneDrive, you can get 1TB of storage along with a subscription to Office 365 for $6.99 a month, or you can get OneDrive for Business for only $2.50 per month for 1TB of storage for each user. Microsoft tacks on an extra 1GB for $0.20 if you need more. That is a whole lot more affordable than what both Dropbox and Google Drive offer, but remember that you are limited to 1TB of storage for each user on OneDrive. By 1,062GB, this becomes the more expensive option than Dropbox.
You won't need an Office 365 subscription to OneDrive for collaboration. Microsoft's suite of productivity tools is already baked right into OneDrive for Business. Microsoft Office has always been one of Microsoft's strengths, and Word, Excel, and PowerPoint offer plenty of advanced functionality that you won't find in Docs, Sheets, and Slides. It has long been used by millions of people around the world, so you won't be worrying about taking time to learn the new setup.
Consistent with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's plan to reach all users across all platforms, you'll also find that OneDrive is available across all popular OSes just like Dropbox, with support already included for less popular platforms such as BlackBerry and Linux.
Verdict: OneDrive for Business comes with Office 365, which means you have access to a great productivity and collaboration platform to work together on files in real-time. It is also far cheaper than Google Drive and Dropbox, but it does not offer unlimited storage unlike the other two. Oh, and Microsoft makes it clear that it routinely scans your content to make sure you are using OneDrive in accordance with its policies, which prohibit the uploading of criminal content, such as child pornography.
Photo: Mike Hamm | Flickr