Review: What to expect from Mega's free 50GB of cloud storage

Review: What to expect from Mega's free 50GB of cloud storage

Summary: 50GB of free storage sounds great, but Kim Dotcom's new Mega cloud service still has many bugs.


Who wouldn't want 50GB of free Internet storage? Dropbox is all fine and well, but it starts with a mere 2GB of free space. Kim Dotcom's newly launched Mega cloud storage service with its free 50GB of storage sounds much better, but how well does it really work? Let me open by saying it's a long, long way from perfect.

Mega may be great some day, but for today expect to spend a lot of time staring at a semi-frozen display.
(Screenshot by ZDNet)

To get your free 50GBs of storage, you first must register your account with a valid e-mail address. Once you've done this — and it may take a while, since the system is heavily over-burdened — you'll get a link to use to log in to Mega.

You can use any Web browser to access your new storage so long as its actively supporting JavaScript. Mega recommends Chrome, but I was also able to use it with Firefox. However, Internet Explorer 10, Windows 8's default browser, is known to freeze up after uploading approximately 100MB of files.

Even with Chrome, I found the site often locked up on me. In particular, Mega promises that, if you don't close your current browser session, you can restart interrupted uploads and downloads . It didn't work for me. I will say, however, that getting an estimated upload time of infinity was one of the more amusing error messages I've ever seen.

Once you make it into Mega, you're presented with a typical file folder-style display. You can upload both single files or folders. You can also download files at the same time as you're uploading others. Unlike more sophisticated cloud storage services, such as Dropbox, Mega's storage won't integrate with your file system. You can only access your files via a Web browser.

That may change soon. Mega is opening its application programming interface (API). The functionality already appears to be there to integrate Mega with your PC's existing file system.

For now, you can either drag and drop files into Mega from your file manager or use the site's upload buttons. If you're using Chrome, you can also try to drag and drop directories. Regardless of how you do it, be ready for long waits. In these early days, Mega is anything but fast.

Once loaded, you can right-click on a file to get a link for it or download, rename, move, copy, delete, or reload it. You will also be able to drag and drop your files into new Mega folders.

Mega does indeed appear to give you 50GB of free storage. Your files, however, may not be the files that are actually stored on the cloud.

To quote from Mega's terms of service, "Our service may automatically delete a piece of data you upload or give someone else access to where it determines that that data is an exact duplicate of original data already on our service. In that case, you will access that original data." So, for example, if you saved a copy of Star Wars to Mega and someone else had uploaded the exact same video, only his copy would be saved, and when you accessed "your" copy, you'd really watching "his" copy.

There's nothing new about this, of course. Apple uses the method with iTunes Match, as does Amazon with its Cloud Player service. What we don't know, however, is how Mega does it because Mega also only stores encrypted files and the company stated that it doesn't have access to your encryption key.

To be exact, when you get a Mega account, you choose a password. This password also serves as your symmetric encryption key. By "symmetric," Mega means you use the same Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128-bit key that's been derived from your password to both encrypt and decrypt your files and folders. This coding and decoding is all done on your computer.

Indeed, Mega doesn't keep your password/encryption key at all. If you lose your password, or it's hacked, Mega can't help you. Your files will be, for all practical purposes, toast. Even if you know for a fact that you'll never forget your password "password," you may find that you can't log in anyway. While it didn't happen to me, I've heard reports of users finding they couldn't log back in, even though they knew they were using the right, simple password.

So, how can Mega know that your files are an exact duplicate of another user's? We don't know. There are many theories, such as these discussed on Y Combinator, but, for now, we're all just speculating.

Personally, I take Mega's warning about the safety of your data seriously: "You must maintain copies of all data stored by you on our service. We do not make any guarantees that there will be no loss of data or the services will be bug free."

That aside, if you want to share your files privately with someone, Mega uses far stronger encryption: 2,048-bit AES asymmetric encryption. This means there's both a public and private key pair. With this, you should be able to securely share files with friends.

You can also use this method to share file directories with other users who also have Mega accounts. If you choose to share files or directories this way, you also control how much access your colleagues have to your shared data.

Of course, you should be able to share files with URLS that have your password embedded in them. With these, anyone who has the link can download the file.

I say "should" because once you start trying to use Mega, you'll quickly find that the system is totally swamped. Dotcom is well aware of the problem. He tweeted, "The massive global PR around the #Megalaunch is simply to big to handle for our start-up. I apologize for poor service quality." He then added, "We are working 24/7 and expect normal operations within 48 hours. Lesson learned... No fancy launch event for Megabox ;-)"

So, exactly how overwhelmed is it? "If I would tell you how many signups we had since the launch you wouldn't believe it. I can't believe it. So, I won't tell you." Maybe Dotcom can't, but what I can tell you is that, at best, I was seeing upload speeds of less than 1 Kilobit per second from my 5 Megabit per second Charter cable Internet connection. A lot of other basic functionality, such as simply being able to obtain the URL of an uploaded file, frequently failed for me.

The long and short of it is that Mega may prove to be a useful, free service ... someday. For now, it's very much a work in progress. If you want good, free, and reliable cloud storage today, go to Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft SkyDrive. If you have to have 50GB of free storage, check out MediaFire's offering. But as for Mega, you'll be better off holding off for at least a week before trying it. You'll be glad you waited.

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Topics: Storage, Cloud, Networking, Reviews, Security, Software Development, Start-Ups, New Zealand

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  • duplicates

    they are most likely using block level deduplication, not file based deduplication. Thin provisioning and storage side compression as well.
  • what to expect?

    malware, I would imagine.

    By the way, this upload issue with IE 10 is news to me. I've had a quick scan of the MSDN IE blogs and can't see anything. Maybe I missed it. Any info would be appreciated.
  • Proof reading..

    "You can just any Web browser to access your new storage so long as its actively supporting JavaScript"

    I suggest that you try proof reading things before you publish them :)
    • par for the course for Steven

      Don't bother. SJV doesn't proofread anything. Back in the 90s, he put his name on a "Mastering Windows NT Workstation" book (about 20 different actual authors, but his name went on it) , and it was chock full of wrong information. I wrote to him, detailing the multitudes of errors--not a peep.
      • SJVN "writes" and then moves on...

        His articles are rife with crazy typos and errors. Don't see that he pays any attention to the comments, nor corrects the errors. I suspect he "writes" and moves on, never looking back!
    • None of the ZD bloggers proofread...

      ... Whatever happened to professional pride?
  • SJVN - Please correct your article and don't spread FUD

    " However, Internet Explorer 10, Windows 8's default browser, is known to freeze up after uploading approximately 100MB of files. "

    - Can you explain to the readers here that how you arrived at this theory that IE freezes at 100MB of files?

    - I didn't use Mega, but for SkyDrive, IE10 allows drag and drop of multiple files (the size of a single file single file should not be greater 300 MB). For file size greater than 300 MB, users can use the desktop app which allows to drag and drop of directories and files of any size.
  • Chrome froze as well

    My registration went smooth and quickly ad I use Chrome. Then I tried one 450mb file. It went in about an hour or so. But every other file I tried, for the next 5 hours completely failed to even start to upload. I even tried in the middle of the night to see if that made any difference. I guess we'll see what happens in the next few weeks.
  • Chrome Nag Screen

    Currently on a machine with IE 9 and trying to decide if 50GB of free storage is worth the constant Google Chrome Nag Screen. I have said No Thanks over half a dozen times.
  • IMAGINE. . . this

    IMAGINE. . .
    Everyone put everything in 'The Cloud'. Then someone turns on a big fan and blew the cloud away.
    (sorta like a Steve Smalley scenario)
  • Synology NAS

    Do it yourself - Get yourself an entry level Synology USB Station NAS, and with a spare USB hard disk, for a $100 capital outlay you get 500Gb Cloud Storage. or spend a little more and get an even better experience with more app's and facilities with the full DSM 4.1. No real on-going costs.
  • 50GB upload via a web browser?

    No thanks!
  • what I love about dropbox

    besides it being dead simple to use, is that they keep giving me free extra space. I'm up to over 70GB, and I just have a free account. granted 50GB is from my phone being a samsung phone, but that's still more than 20GB added to my account for random free things.

      gave me 50GB for free too just for having an android phone, and their software is getting much better. I don't really feel the need to pick up more of these cloud services any time soon.
  • If security was really a concern

    If security was really a concern, why not upload files encrypted to begin with? Oh, they have been for many years with password protected RARs and ZIPs, etc.! I guess Mega is trying to protect them from themselves and doing a poor job. I love the press releases saying they are so talented and just can't keep from building great things while under litigation, but they seem to have a bit more learning to do from several fronts.
  • We need a superhero

    Hacking, DDOs, Piracy...the internet needs a superhero, not a super villain. Perhaps
  • Trust Kim dotcom?

    I wouldn't trust him if I were you. Consider this:

    First of all, he is a famous fraud. He once claimed to have "hacked Citibank and stole 20 million for greenpeace". Attrition labels him as a charlatan.

    He has been implicated in investment fraud a long time ago. He even tried "livestreaming his suicide"

    Not to mention that his last service was shut down, and how he is under investigation for piracy related stuff.

    For someone like him, I'm actually surprised that he isn't the target of an assassination yet.

    I simply cannot trust him with my files
    • Who to trust?

      What are the alternative's, those under the aegis of the NSA?

      Kim Dotcom is a rip off artist - his company should be called MEGARIPPOFF - his last venture MEGAUPLOAD was suddenly shut down and people who had paid for "memberships" had no way to get any of their money back. I have been contacting MEGA since it opened trying to get money back and after the usual run around replies of "We are working on this" "Your enquiry has been escalated" etc. finally all replies have stopped. Of Course Dotcom himself hasn't got the courage to reply personally - as big as he is, he is basically a very small person.
  • Real news doesn't try to manipulate readers' emotions

    "Who wouldn't want 50GB of free Internet storage?"

    Well, to make a long story short, educated and intelligent people do not.

    Why does even the opening line of this article try to sway?

    50GB is great, until one tallies up monthly broadband costs (50GB with a 56kb modem?!!), the fact that "free" things have hidden catches most people just can't be bothered to read up about (or wouldn't be able to do anything about if they realized how cornered they are), on top of a zillion other factors...

    Never mind this guy's overt record, if he ran a pirate biz and profiteered from it before, why will anything change now? Never mind his being given celebrity status by the tabloid corporatist media?