Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive: which one is right for you?

Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive: which one is right for you?

Summary: If you're a Windows user looking for free online storage, three services stand out from the rest. Although Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Google Drive are superficially similar, there are some big differences. Here's what to look for.


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Default storage: 2 GB, with additional space for referrals and activities

Additional storage: Free; Pro packages available in tiers of 50/100 GB for $99/$199 per year

Online document editing: No

Private/public sharing: Yes

Photo features: Yes

Native clients: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry

Dropbox has a visual style all its own. Its online file and folder listing is the opposite of cluttered, and once you learn how a few simple icons work, you're pretty much home free.

Dropbox does what it does exceptionally well, and it is relentless in its keep-it-simple focus. New additions to the feature set make it much easier to view and share photo galleries on line.

I’ve expressed concerns over Dropbox security before, but there’s no question about their commitment to ease of use. If you don’t mind the pressure to convert all your friends into Dropbox users and you’re willing to upload lots of photos, you can get up to 16 GB of additional useful online storage.

See the entire Dropbox gallery beginning here.

SkyDrive (Microsoft)

Default storage: 7 GB (25 GB free as a “loyalty reward” for current users)

Additional storage: Extra storage available in 20/50/100 GB increments, at $10/$25/$50 per year, respectively

Online document editing: Yes, with Office Web Apps

Private/public sharing: Yes

Photo features: Yes

Native clients: Windows, iOS, Windows Phone, Mac; Android apps via third parties

It used to be Windows Live SkyDrive. Now it’s just SkyDrive. SkyDrive has been radically redesigned in the same way Windows 8 has been reimagined.

Your online storage maps to a single folder on your PC, Mac, or mobile device. Whatever you put in there can be accessed online via any browser and optionally synced to other PCs using a Windows utility that Microsoft finally released last week.

A unique SkyDrive feature allows you to remotely connect to a PC where you’ve installed the SkyDrive PC client and “fetch” files that aren’t in the SkyDrive folder.

By Microsoft’s standards, SkyDrive has an extremely clean interface. If you’re used to the minimalist Dropbox UI, though, you might be overwhelmed, at least initially.

Office Web Apps are an especially good match for the new sync utility, and SkyDrive’s photo gallery features are exceptional as well. SkyDrive’s fatal flaw until now has been a disconnect from Windows itself. The fact that it finally syncs with Windows (and other platforms) makes it practically a brand-new service and worth a strong look.

See the entire SkyDrive gallery beginning here.

Google Drive

Default storage: 5 GB

Additional storage: Extra storage available in tiers from 25 GB ($30/year) and 100 GB ($60/year) all the way up to 16 TB ($9,600 per year)

Online document editing: Yes, with Google Docs

Private/public sharing: Yes

Photo features: No (photo sharing is through Picasa and Google+)

Native clients: Windows, Mac, Android

Google Drive is brand new. So new, in fact, that Google is still restricting access to it. You have to click a request to get your Google Drive, and—for now—you have to wait a day or more before you can actually sign in.

You don’t have to look very hard to see that Google Drive is Google Docs, repackaged. Collections are replaced by folders, and there’s a new My Drive link that lets you browse the contents of files. But otherwise everything looks the same.

With the new Windows app installed, you can sync your files with Windows Explorer.

But that’s about it. In fact, the Drive part of Google Drive is as bare-bones as it gets. It’s ideal for backup, but it has no photo capabilities and only rudimentary sharing outside of Google Docs. And, naturally, it doesn’t allow Facebook connections, as both Dropbox and SkyDrive do.

If you’re already a devoted Google Docs fan, Google Drive is a convenient way to add backup and sync features to a service you already use. But if you’ve resisted the urge to go Google headfirst, you’ll do better elsewhere.

See the entire Google Drive gallery beginning here.

There are, of course, other online storage options besides these three. In a follow-up post, I’ll examine Box, Office 365, and other business-class services.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Cloud, Google, Operating Systems, Software, Storage, Windows

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  • Why choose?

    I will use all three. Consumers win. ;-)
    • Ding, ding, ding!!!

      Exactly. My most critical data can be kept all three places because eventually one of the services is going to be down. And I've also got my most reliable option...hard drive. I've currently got six 1.5 TB ultra-portable external hard drives that all fit in my laptop bag. I've also got a 3 TB external hard drive plugged into the USB port on my router, equpped with an embedded VPN server so that I can access it from anywhere on my home network or externally. I have a couple of dozen VMs that I can download and spin up from just about anywhere in a pinch. The fact that I don't have to keep them parked on my internal laptop hard drive has been great.
      • Department of Redundancy Department

        It is not IF a rotating electromechanical device will fail, but WHEN!

        I have about a dozen 3.5" portable drives and over 10 1-2TB drives on my main computer--it is like a manual RAID. I always have backups in more than one physical location as well.
      • Can you share which router you have ?

        Hi Jason, I am interested in setting up a router , with VPN ?Can you guide me ? Thanks for your help.
    • Yes why?

      I will use none of them. I want to have some level of control over my data storage with a provider that is accountable to every single customer.
    • LOL - I was about to say the same thing becasue I do

      use all three.
  • Still don't trust these companies.

    Nor would I ever put anything of a personal, or work related, nature online, and under control of advertizing companies. Being Google and Microsoft both derive income, by collecting advertising money, I do not trust either one. Drop Box is relatively new and I haven't read enough on them to form an informed opinion.
    Jumpin Jack Flash
    • With a grain of salt..

      Agreed, these are simply services for irrelevant files that are too large to email. They are running out of creative ideas to basically sell hardware that is getting cheaper by the minute. Consumers are suckers for 'ease of use' and 'unlimited' but really don't know how conniving the companies behind these services are. If you are reading this you, like me, are irrelevant to them.

      But their target audience is probably not most of us reading this but rather those users scared of keyboards but in need to 'keep up' or broke students who are forced to love the 'free' world.

      Find a good, dedicated service that does ONE thing right and pay for it!

      I have heard good things about Spideroak - been meaning to try it, and for images I use and highly recommend SmugMug.
  • Who Needs Clouds?

    For a reasonable up-front cost and no monthly recurring costs at all (other than electricity and the ISP I'm already paying for), I have 4 1.5TB drives (bought @ $100 each) in an external RAID-5 array (under $150) which came with an eSata card. RAID-5 gives me protection from any single-disk failure. So I have 4.5TB usable protected storage for under $550. External access to my array is via an FTP server I run on one of the desktops. I can access my server from anywhere with an internet connection, as well as my phone using a free FTP client.
    • You didn't say what happens when the house burns down...

      ...or are you not using any off-site backup service at all or doing it yourself?
    • Well . . .

      Well, Dropbox (or any of these services) is easier to use and setup than FTP. There's no messing around with open ports or static IP addresses or DMZs on a router.

      Also, it syncs my files without having to fire up an FTP client. On my laptop, all of the files are synced any time I have a connection. I can then unplug it and access them offline with no issues at all - any changes will be synced the next time I have a connection.

      On my phone, it's mostly the same except it's got limited space, and it won't keep files permanently unless I tell it to.

      Dropbox's popularity also means better integration with other phone apps. Many of the apps on my phone can use Dropbox directly to store and access files.

      Finally, I can even access it from the computers of other people if I wanted, thanks to Dropbox (or any of these services) having a web interface. I don't have to make sure they have an FTP client. This is something I rarely do, but can be a convenience if I forget to bring my own devices.
      • Ease of use

        Dropbox so far is the simplest and easiest to use.
        That alone keeps me using it.
        If I have a security concern, I encrypt the files.
      • @CobraA1

        Here, at least, SkyDrive works just the same as Dropbox. I have a folder on several machines that is synched into the cloud and between the machines. So far as I can tell, there is nothing to choose between them , although MSFT's 25GB is more generous.

        As has been said, with mutliple vendors giving stuff away, we all win!
    • I agree, who needs someone else's Cloud

      At Bubba Ville we use a Pogoplug device to that we connect a few TB HDD. Files/folders can be shared from our phones, and any internet connected computer. We manage our own cloud, much less expensive, we have complete control, and we do not have storage limits. Easy-Peasy Lemon-Squeezy.
    • remote vs local

      But all your drives in the same place..wouldn't you feel more protected with some remote backup in case of flood or fire?
    • That is fine until...

      ...your house burns down. For that very reason I have two independent physical backups on site and 1 off site in a bank safe deposit box. I bring it home periodically to sync it and keep it current.
      • And THAT is fine until...

        the beans, I used exactly the scheme you describe, i.e., two onsite backups and one in a bank vault that I swapped out periodically. Then came the day when both my onsite backups got corrupted AND the files I needed most -- my current projects -- were of course not on the drive in my bank vault. They never will be, unless you're "lucky" enough to have your data disaster right after your trip to the bank. That's why I started using Carbonite -- a worthy service that is reasonably secure, but not really practical for day-to-day syncing. Ideally, I want a cloud service that can handle both backup and syncing, and do so with pre-Internet encryption. Not too many candidates there and none free.
    • Clouds are more than backup!

      I backup my data periodically. The offsite location is probably not the best but it still a backup. I like cloud storage for teams of independents (that is non-corporate). Clouds eliminates emailing and helps track versions.
    • Who Needs Clouds?

      Better hope you never face fire or theft.
  • SkyDrive is now the King

    I would rather trust Skydrive, because I have been using MS software for the last 22 years and their products were around for the last 3 decades. Dropbox future is unclear and google products are a no-go area.