Beyond Dropbox: Shopping the cloud

Beyond Dropbox: Shopping the cloud

Summary: Is it time to drop Dropbox? My subscription is nearly up, so I'm re-evaluating four major alternatives - Copy.com, Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, and SugarSync - for price and features. Which is the best, and which is the best for me?

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TOPICS: Cloud, Storage
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  • What's the best deal in the cloud?

    [Correction: An earlier version of this story stated (on page 6) that SkyDrive did not provide access to deleted files. It does, in fact, have a Recycle Bin available through the web interface. I apologize for the error.]

    Later this month my 200GB annual subscription to Dropbox will expire and I've decided it's time to play the field. Come with me as I evaluate the major personal cloud services for price and features and see what works best for me.

    No two ways about it, Dropbox has been good to me and has drastically changed by computing habits for the better. It no longer matters what computer or device I'm on; I always have access to almost everything I might need. I even install certain programs (such as the Sysinternals tools) in my Dropbox folder so that I can more easily have access to the current version from any Windows PC.

    But in a very important sense, all the major cloud services are the same:

    • They all give you storage in the cloud

    • They all have a free option with a few GB up to as much as 18GB

    • They all create a local folder which is mirrored with the cloud storage (although some allow flexibility for which folders to replicate locally)

    • They all support multiple platforms, but some support more than others

    • They all support undeleting of files

    Clearly there are feature differences, but there are vast pricing differences which I will explore in more detail.

    I want to consider all the factors, but the choice I make in the end may not be the right one for you. My platform support needs and my price-sensitivity may be very different from yours.

    On that subject, I think there's a case to be made that, in very large part, cloud storage is a commodity, and therefore price is the dominant factor. It's not the only factor for me, but it's definitely the dominant one. If all you need is a few GB then any of them can be free and then features and platform support become more important.

  • The contenders

    I will be considering the following products:

    I'm leaving a couple major products out of my evaluation. Many people think of Apple's iCloud when considering cloud services, but it's not really this type of product. iCloud is more of a set of synchronization protocols. It's invaluable for users of Apple devices, but it doesn't solve the storage need and support for it off of Apple platforms is (to put it kindly) weak.

    I'm also not considering Box, one of the more famous companies. The best reason not to consider them is that they are not really focused on the personal market. Yes, they have a free 10GB personal plan, but their focus is on businesses with teams of multiple users. I had tried Box in the past and hated their software. It may be better now, but that doesn't matter.

    I'm also not considering BitTorrent Sync and a number of other services (some free) which require static synchronization. I only want the ones where the cloud works just like a local drive.

    I have done no formal testing on these products, and performance testing of them would be quite a logistical challenge. I've used most of them in real world situations and the only times I've found myself sitting and waiting for files to synch was when I was moving many GB of data at a time. In other words, they're all fast enough for me, at least on my Internet connections.

    I'm presenting the products in the next five pages alphabetically by name.

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Topics: Cloud, Storage

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48 comments
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  • Well . . .

    "iCloud is more of a set of synchronization protocols. It's invaluable for users of Apple devices"

    Meh. To be honest, I've mostly avoided iCloud. It's unreliable, and doesn't play well cross-platform.

    "I'm also not considering BitTorrent Sync and a number of other services (some free) which require static synchronization. I only want the ones where the cloud works just like a local drive."

    I'd personally consider them myself if I were to switch away from Dropbox. To be honest, I don't feel like "cloud" is the ultimate answer to everything. If I can sync between all of my devices, I get all the benefits of the "cloud" without connecting to some third party "cloud" service. Who says that the only way to get "cloud" benefits is to connect to some third party mega-server-network on the internet?

    The biggest reason for me staying with Dropbox today is that most third party apps support it, especially YNAB, which I use for budgeting.

    "and performance testing of them would be quite a logistical challenge."

    And probably a bit senseless, as they all update your files in the background. None of them are really intended to be real-time file transfer.
    CobraA1
  • SpiderOak

    If you want your data to be handled and stored securely, consider SpiderOak as an alternative. It's cross platform, functional, and has a design that deals with a lot of security issues many of the vendors just hand-wave around.

    The main downside is that the mobile clients aren't very featureful, so it doesn't provide the same kind of universal integration solution some of the others do. It depends on what kind of data you are handling.
    ringerc-d5785
  • pogoplug, symform

    Symform is an interesting company I've written about before, but it's a very different service from the other products here.
    I admit I didn't know about Pogoplug. My first impression is that anyone who says "Unlimited" on services like this is lying. It simply can't be true.
    larry@...
  • what about box.com?

    Why didn't you put box.com in your comparison?
    Do you consider it to be out of league or is there some other reason?
    Mavko Žmak
    • not consumer-oriented

      I did explain this (page 2). Box is clearly positioning themselves for business, not consumers. From my own personal experience I'd also say that their software is awful (so I'm doing them a favor), but it's been many months, probably a year, since I tried it.
      larry@...
  • Break with tradition please

    "I want to consider all the factors, but the choice I make in the end may not be the right one for you."

    Please break from ZDNET tradition and don't make a single choice: examine typical use cases and produce options for each.

    We'll make the CHOICE!
    jacksonjohn
  • Another suggestion - cubby.com

    Cubby (by LogMeIn) is not the cheapest at $7/month for 100 GB but has the advantage that multiple folder trees can be turned into separate shared folders. Also included in that price is unlimited direct sync (device to device without a cloud copy).

    The iOS client (I don't know about Android) allows one to specify files and folders that are to be made available offline, something I have not seen with any of the other services.

    As with most of these services (SkyDrive being the exception) the is no Windows phone client.
    rdy2retire
    • Linux

      No Linux client either, although you can still log in to Cubby.com.
      GKSeifert
    • Cubby price.

      Just a heads up, I just logged into Cubby.com and it displays a banner at the top of the page offering Cubby Pro for $3.99 per month. That includes 100 GB, DirectSync and Cubby Locks.
      GKSeifert
      • Cubby Ease-of-Use Very High

        Cubby is one of the easiest to use products, particularly when it comes to setting up the synchronization of multiple folders. I can recommend it (although I also have a free 25 GB SkyDrive account.)
        robajoseph15
      • Re.Cubby price

        Yes, that $3.99/month price is nice BUT it is only a promo. The price will go back up after the first year, AFAIK
        rdy2retire
  • Security?

    I'm assuming all services encrypt user's data but it would have been nice to have a discussion of how each service handles security.
    CompGuru23
  • might I suggest...

    "http://live.sysinternals.com/" for access to Sysinternals tools
    I just create a favorite on all my devices.
    That way I am assured of accessing the latest versions.
    thekman58
    • can I put it on the PATH?

      It would be great if I could put that site on the path so that I could just run the current version from the command line
      larry@...
      • I'll find out

        I just asked Mark Russinovich the author of most of the tools. Just having a browser favorite doesn't work for me because most of the tools really need to be run from the command line.

        Maybe from PowerShell?
        larry@...
    • I'll be writing more on this soon

      I found out the right way to do this. I'll write a tip within a couple days
      larry@...
      • Yes, you can do it.

        See http://www.zdnet.com/tip-sysinternals-live-on-your-path-7000022271/

        You can put the live site on the PATH
        larry@...
  • Data Security

    Thanks for this nice and very useful comparison. I am missing a word regarding data security and confidentiality. I have looked at Google Drive in Spring 2012 (or however it was called before) and they mentioned something like "they have all rights on documents you store in the cloud". Upon a request I have sent to Google customer service regarding this I never even received an answer. I believe this is an important aspect.
    Shagtech
  • SkyDrive won't show Shared Files

    I actually like SkyDrive but the problem I have with it is that the desktop app only shows your own, personal files. If I share a file or folder with you, that is only accessible via the browser interface. There is no place in the desktop app on Windows (or Mac, as far as I know) to access the shared files. The shared files are only available via the browser.
    MDunigan62@...
  • Google Drive vs Google Cloud Storage

    I'm not interested in large access from multiple points, but I'd really like a large (1TB and growing) cloud backup solution. So looking at these, how is it that Google Drive (a syncing solution) is CHEAPER than Google Durable Reduced Availability Storage https://cloud.google.com/pricing/cloud-storage. The first TB of Storage is $.063/GB/month, while The first TB of Drive is $.05/GB/month. I would expect the syncing of Drive would make it more expensive than Storage with its reduced availability.
    big red one