Every Cloud...(Part 2) - Mobility & Portability

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Most services use storage space as a carrot, enticing users to sign up to paid plans in order to get more of it. The space offered by free accounts might be reasonably large, but it pales in comparison to the amount you can get by paying even a nominal subscription. There is one thing that makes Dropbox more attractive than its competitors in terms of cost, however, and that's the referral program, which gives free users 500MB of additional storage for every friend they refer up to a maximum of 18GB.

In that respect, Dropbox instantly beats its big-brand competitors. The genius move was offering free space increases to users who attract other users. Where the likes of Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive rely on their own names to evangelise the product, Dropbox had its users doing the hard work for it and, as social networks have proven, the more users you have, the easier it is to grow and maintain your lead.

However, the site with the most voluminous free service is ADrive, which offers 50GB to all free users on an ad-supported basis, although there are other restrictions. In particular, it's worth taking note of the practical constraints of having that much storage space. At 768Kbps (which is about the average upload speed for UK internet connections, regardless of quoted speeds) it would take almost a week of constant uploading to reach your quota. Not much use if you're after a quick backup.

Mobility & Portability

Description: Sugarsync

Dropbox and Sugarsync are the most comprehensive

The ability to access your cloud storage from a variety of devices is key to any service's success. On one hand, they all have a web interface with similar degrees of functionality which means users can get to their files using any web-enabled device, from Windows to web TVs to iPads.

On the other hand, it's important to remember that many mobile devices, such as phones and tablet PCs, don't have the screen space, browser flexibility or file management capabilities to make the web interface a practical point of contact. They require dedicated, simplified apps, not overengineered web interfaces. So how does Google Drive fare in that regard?

Dropbox and Sugarsync are the most comprehensive, offering dedicated apps for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Linux, Mac OS X and Windows in addition to their web interfaces. Only Windows Phone misses out for both, and that's probably because Microsoft is keeping the platform stitched up to help push SkyDrive (which, not coincidentally, is the only cloud storage service to have its own app on Windows Phones).

By comparison, Google Drive is slightly less easy to carry around, offering apps for Android, Mac and Windows, as well as the web interface. On one hand, it's ignoring some of the less popular platforms, but on the other, it's a bad idea to leave any users behind, particularly if you're courting professional adoption. If anything, you're more likely to find BlackBerry phones and Linux PCs inside the business world than outside it, so Google's lack of interest may cost it. Even Box and Sugarsync run apps for every major platform other than Linux.

Description:  SugarSync Increases Free Cloud Storage to 5GB

 SugarSync Increases Free Cloud Storage to 5GB

At least Google hasn't been as stubborn as Microsoft, and recognises that restricting its mobile features to Android isn't going to make its mobile platform any more materially attractive than it currently is. An iOS app is apparently coming, though it isn't there yet ("98% done" according to the developers). In a world where consumers are keen to mix and match brands, eschewing any one is asking for trouble, so Google is making a smart choice to support iOS phones/tablets as well as Android-based products.

However, the portability of files is a problem with Google Drive, due to its tenuous integration with Google Apps, which doesn't support offline editing by default. Nine times out of ten, it won't be a problem, but if you find yourself wanting to edit a synced .gdoc or .gsheet file while your internet connection is down, you're out of luck. It really does beg the question of why Google Apps doesn't use a more conventional file format by default. Admittedly, most other cloud storage systems don't have their own Office-style editing suite attached, but you can get apps to cover that functionality. If you can't access the web, you might end up with a local folder full of synced files that you simply can't do anything with.


Where most web services lean towards ad-supported models, the majority of cloud storage products have adopted a 'freemium' pricing structure, where a basic free service can be augmented and upgraded in return for reasonably small monthly or annual fees.

Dropbox has several paid tiers, including the 'Pro 50' package ($9.99/month for 50GB, plus 1GB per referral to a maximum of 82GB) and a slightly more expensive 'Pro 100' plan ($19.99/month for 100GB, plus 1GB per referral to a maximum of 132GB). SkyDrive, meanwhile, offers an additional 20GB, 50GB or 100GB of space for $10, $25, or $50 a year, making it exceptional value.

Google Drive skews cheaper than most, offering an extra 25GB of Google Drive storage for $2.49 a month in a package that also increases the amount of space you have on other Google services, such as Picasa and Google Mail. For $4.99 a month, you can get a massive 100GB for your Google Drive and Picasa accounts, plus 25GB added onto your Google Mail account. Not too shabby, and arguably better value than even SkyDrive's packages, if you're already using the other Google's services.

Description: Microsoft Skydrive

Microsoft SkyDrive

One area where Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive all fall short of the competition is in offering additional features to those on a payment plan. Paid users of ADrive get extras such as file versioning, FTP access and multi-user accounts. Granted, some of those features are available as standard in other services, but if you're going to ask users to pay, it makes sense to offer them a little more than just extra space as an incentive for them to do so. In this case, the big guns have chosen a simpler model (more cash for more space) and that appears to have paid off, so it's no surprise Google followed that route.

Still, if pricing is a concern, then Google Drive is certainly one of the better choices overall. Increasing your storage space to 50GB or beyond on a monthly plan will cost you $19.99 for Box, $9.99 with Dropbox and $9.99 using Sugarsync (actually a 60GB package) but only $4.99 with Google Drive. Microsoft SkyDrive is near-unbeatable, however, with an effective monthly rate of a little over $2, but then you can only pay annually, so if you're only looking for a short-term storage increase it may work out more expensive.

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