A deep dive into Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Google Drive

A deep dive into Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Google Drive

Summary: Free online file storage services look similar at first glance, but a closer look reveals some big differences. Here's what to look for if you're checking out the three leaders: Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive.

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TOPICS: CXO, Google, Hardware, Storage
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  • Microsoft released the long-awaited utility that connects Windows Explorer to a SkyDrive account so that files can automatically be synced. Like Dropbox, SkyDrive lets you choose where to create your local folder for sync purposes. It then adds a shortcut in the navuigation pane.

    The green checkmark overlay shows synced files, which otherwise look and act exactly as if they were stored only locally.

  • Like its competition, SkyDrive syncs the contents of a single folder and its subfolders. But unlike either Dropbox or Google Drive, SkyDrive allows you to browse the file system of a connected PC. If your remote PC is on and this option is enabled, you can browse its file system and retrieve files you left behind, even if they're stored outside your synced folder.

    This "Fetch" option is enabled by default. You can disable it during setup, or afterwards by right-clicking the SkyDrive icon in the taskbar, opening the Settings dialog box, and clear =ing the "Fetch files" option.

  • When you browse the contents of a folder filled with photos, the resulting gallery is visually arresting. A pane along the right lets you add or edit details. It also shows current sharing options.

    Note that you can adjust the permissions for folders with muchmore granularity than you can in Dropbox. You can set up shared folders so that some users can view files but not edit them or add new ones. In a feature that's been part of SkyDrive for a long time, you can click to get a link and share a file or folder even with someone who isn't signed in with a Windows Live account.

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Topics: CXO, Google, Hardware, Storage

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24 comments
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  • Excellent review, as usual.

    As the article intro states, no "winner" declared, which cynics will no doubt view as a negative.

    As a SkyDrive and DropBox user, this proved instructive. Highlighting features that I was unaware of in the Windows client. Always good.

    One question, do either SkyDrive or Google Drive allow granular selection of files / folders to sync a la DropBox? My online storage falls into two categories; 1) files I want available everywhere 2) files from my home server to be backed up offsite for prudence (family photographs et al) that take a lot of space and I don't want synchronized to my work computers.
    mountjl
    • Google Drive yes, SkyDrive no

      Dropbox and Google Drive both allow selective syncing in the master folder, SkyDrive does not.
      Ed Bott
      • Cheers, Mr B

        As above.

        Helps in determining the best solution for my needs.
        mountjl
      • Google Drive yes, Sky Drive no

        Sky Drive folder in PC not available for XP Users !!
        quynh.dao@...
        • Upgrade

          It's past time to upgrade your OS. XP had a good run. Now move on.
          Warrzone
    • Sync v Backup

      For those files that need to be backed up, I would suggest a service such as CrashPlan. Sync files (to a sync service; DropBox, Drive, etc) that need to be constantly updated or worked on. Backup (CrashPlan, Carbonite, etc) files that are important or need to be moved, or removed, off-site. In either case, don't rely on one service to do sync or backup. Use at least two to do it. It's just prudent not to put all your 'eggs' in one basket.
      aart12
  • Is anyone else starting to see duplicate file bloat?

    Certainly there are others like me who have an account with each of these services. The BIG problem I have with all of these is the single, proprietary, folder model... rather than sync any local folder where it is.

    So, is anyone else starting to see duplicate file bloat?

    What I mean is, the problem with these cloud sync services is that they are based on you putting your files in their own sync folder on your local machine...
    Well, if you are like me and have a SkyDrive, DropBox, now Google Drive... among others... each requiring you put the files you want synced into their individual sync folders...
    Now I have THREE (in this example) duplication's on an already full C drive (yes, I am able to put SkyDrive and DropBox on D drive. But that's not really my point).
    Three duplication's!? Really? Why can't these sync services do like SugarSync (and I only mention SugarSync because they don't care where your files are, which is a GREAT model. I don't particularly like SugarSync as a company) and let you select the folders you want to sync from anywhere on your local system. Obviously it is possible.
    Is there, possibly, an issue with version control or some other head-butting that could happen between services? If so, it is because there have not been any standards established yet. There is no single protocol for working nicely together. I am thinking it is time for a 'third-party' to establish some protocols to put an end to the wasteful duplication!

    One suggested work-around has been to 'nest' these services thus;
    'C:\SkyDrive\GoogleDrive\DropBox'
    Setup SkyDrive to sync everything under "C:\SkyDrive", Google Drive to sync everything under "C:\SkyDrive\GoogleDrive" and DropBox to sync everything under C:\SkyDrive\GoogleDrive\DropBox. Then, just put everything in C:\SkyDrive\GoogleDrive\DropBox and it should get sync'd by all three.
    This is an inspired concept, however, for those with limited space on their C: drive, or those who don't like having to include all their files in a system backup or image, it would be nice if there were a way to get SkyDrive to re-locate onto another drive like you can with Drive (only during install), and DropBox (any time).

    Another semi-work-around is to spread the data you want synced. Some data on one, some more on another, and so on.

    That still does not free up the C drive or the local redundancy issue.

    All these services need to modify their architecture to let you select sync files from anywhere locally and get rid of the this wasted space method... IMO
    aart12
    • I try not to use multiple synchronizers

      It's like running too much security software.
      Ed Bott
      • Agreed

        Between limited upload speed on my home ADSL link (circa 480kbps) and a suspicion that ISPs will move to a cellular style capped service with the goal of cashing in on customers who exceed allowances, I can't afford multiple sync services, even free ones.
        mountjl
    • Try Syncplicity

      Syncplicity has been around for years and multi-folder sync is their specialty. And they have far more business-oriented features and controls than these other products.
      DoseOReality
      • $yncplicity... ouch

        Yikes. A wee bit pricey.
        Sure, they do have all the features one could ask for... but, dang.
        aart12
    • 3rd party protocols/interoperability

      Interesting comment about 3rd party protocols. I wouldn't call it a common protocols (although that is an interesting idea) but my company is solving some of this (I'd call it interoperability or more accurately bridging) but for specific targets, particularly business apps with their own document storage. The tech world is littered with now dead interoperability providers (such as chat services connecting AOL, Yahoo, Skype etc.), but this did get me to wondering about a need (vs a "non need") to "connect" these cloud sync and storage providers. Can I ask you why you want to put the same file on multiple services? I can understand the need to use different services (since may be sharing with diff teams using different services), but less sure if you are talking about the same files at end of day. Or is it the convenience of having a single folder or provider (servicing all the other providers you may need to get your files to) what you are after/thinking useful?
      benb12
    • Useless!

      Exactly! Thanx for your posting. That's why these services are absolute useless for me.

      Im waiting for a simple and smart solution.
      Frank Quickmix Hassas
  • Excellent and Helpful

    While reading the article I upgraded my SkyDrive to 25 GB and installed the "utility that connects Windows Explorer to a SkyDrive account so that files can automatically be synced." Before this article I did not realize how easy those changes would be.

    The article says, "The green checkmark overlay shows synced files, which otherwise look and act exactly as if they were stored locally."

    Since "otherwise look and act exactly as if they were stored locally," implies to me they are not stored locally, I suggest adding "only" between "stored" and "locally," i.e., "The green checkmark overlay shows synced files, which otherwise look and act exactly as if they were stored only locally."
    AMusnikow
    • Done. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Good edit. I've made that change.
      Ed Bott
  • Multiple Account Support or lack thereof

    I use DropBox extensively and in many ways it is a fantastic app, especially since I use an iPad, an Android tablet, a Mac, a Windows PC and an android phone and its supported on all of them.
    However a problem with DropBox and potentially with the other 2 (I haven't tested them yet) is that there is no straightforward means to support multiple accounts. Say I have a DropBox account for work and a personal account, or I am a consultant working for several companies who give me access to their DropBox folders.
    While there are some ugly workarounds (the folders are not readily distinguishable or require multiple Windows users to be set up) people have come up with this is a significant shortcoming of DropBox.
    I believe this was to stop people simply creating multiple "free" accounts.
    Dansy
    • No multiple users

      Yep. That's the rationale that has been given... bummer, huh?
      All these almost-great products, and not one of them are really great... at a decent price.
      aart12
    • folder "collision" too

      Folder name collision can also be a problem - Or is the bigger issue that you can't tell whose folders are whose?
      benb12
  • SugarSync Allows Multi-Folder Syncing

    @aart12

    I believe SugarSync allows you to sync with any folder currently on your computer. I use the service in addition to a few others and it's been pretty solid.
    Of the three mentioned in the article I like Google Drive best just because it connects nicely to all of my Google docs.

    As for price, I think they're all pretty reasonable....I mean $2.50 per month for Google Drive will hardly break the bank.

    I've actually reviewed a bunch of cloud services at my website http://www.top10cloudstorage.com. Check it out if you have a minute. I'd love to hear your feedback!
    webstorage
  • what about box.net

    how did you not include Box.net? I have 50GB of free storage with them!
    knh@...