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Cloud storage

Cloud storage has changed the way we use computers and data.

Thanks to the cloud you can breathe easier. Your files are safe, even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet.

You can have near-instant access to any of your files from almost everywhere.

There’s a chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or Microsoft Office 365. You also get free cloud storage if you use Gmail or Google Docs.

Free storage is good, yet it’s worth paying extra. That way you can get the cloud storage plan that best suits your needs. When you pay, you get more storage. You may also get more features and tools or extra security. In some cases paying means you can not only store more data, but also store larger files. You may also be able to share them with friends or colleagues.

Most, but not all, cloud storage services double as syncing services.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive is the default cloud services for Microsoft Windows 10. It integrates well with the operating system. It also works well with Office.

If you’re a Microsoft 365 customer you get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your account. If not, Microsoft’s 50GB Basic plan costs US$24 a year.

Microsoft offers a comprehensive set of cloud tools and apps. This includes web versions of Office apps like Word and Excel. In practice OneDrive seems to be slower at syncing than the other options listed here. While there are apps for iOS and MacOS, the integration isn’t always smooth.

Apple iCloud

Apple customers often use iCloud in a different way to how Microsoft owners use OneDrive. iCloud is more about syncing between devices than simple storage. Although it does that too.

If you own Apple hardware and use Microsoft software you may end up using both services.

There is a 5GB free tier. The 20GB for US$12-a-year plan gives you 50GB. The price of the 200GB plan is US$36 a year while a terabyte of cloud storage costs US$120.

iCloud is a must for Apple users. You only get one 5GB allocation even if you have many devices. If you have a Mac, iPhone and iPad you may find it isn’t enough. Windows users can sign for any iCloud plan.

iCloud can be confusing at times. Apple designed it to work with Apple apps. That is still where it shines the most. Even so, it is easy to install on Windows computers and there is a great web interface.

Google Drive

There’s more to Google Drive than cloud storage and sync. You could say the same about OneDrive and iCloud. Those services complement Microsoft software and Apple hardware offerings.

Drive goes further. It is a key part of Google’s collaborative online office suite. The emphasis is less on backing up your phone or PC docs than replacing them in the cloud.

Google Drive’s 15GB is generous compared to the other cloud storage services. Yet it is not as generous as it first looks. The allowance includes mail messages and images stored with Google Photos.

Some find Google Drive harder to navigate than OneDrive. Of the three big services, it is the least geared towards conventional back up. In practice backup works well enough.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the independent alternative personal cloud service. You get less storage for free, but it’s independence means flexibility. It is also a great way to share files with others.

 

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freeStoragePrice
Apple iCloud5GB50GB$12
200GB$36
1TB$120
Microsoft OneDrive5GB50GB$24
Office 365 Home 1TB is included$80
Google Drive15GB 100GB$20
Storage shared between 1TB$100
Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos10TB$1200
20TB$2400
30TB$3600
Dropbox2GB1TB$120
Box10GB100GB$138
Unlimited$204
Mega50GB200GB$65
500GB$130
2TB$260
4TB$390
All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up

wellington cloud

Google gave cloud storage prices another down twist this week announcing Google Drive for Work.

The service is a business version of Google Drive. It comes complete with administrative controls and APIs. However, the headline story is Drive for Work offers customers unlimited cloud storage for US$10 per user per month.

Google announced Drive for Work within days of Microsoft cutting prices for its OneDrive cloud service.

Despite appearances — and the way some media outlets tell the story — the two are not in direct competition.

Google told me: “Drive for Work is a new premium offering for businesses that includes unlimited storage, advanced audit reporting and new security controls”.

Business class Google Drive

Which means Drive for Work is what the label says: a strictly business proposition. Companies have to sign five employees to the service to get the US$10 a month unlimited storage.

Cloud storage is a fast-moving market, most likely Google will push the same offer, or something similar, to consumers at a later date.

Google Drive for Work highlights another important cloud storage trend: Companies offering cloud storage don’t stop at packing bits into a data centre, they are wrapping services around their offers.

Storage is treated as something to lure customers into paying for non-commodities and that’s where the battle will be fought between Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Where this leaves other cloud storage providers like Dropbox, Box and Mega is not clear, but it will not make life easy for any of them.

wellington cloud

Free, or almost free, unlimited consumer cloud storage moved a step closer overnight. Microsoft increased the free storage on its OneDrive cloud service to 15 GB. This is more than double the previous seven GB and is free to all comers.

Microsoft also boosted OneDrive storage for customers of the company’s Office 365 software to a whole terabyte from 20 GB.  For most users, that’s effectively unlimited cloud storage. The terabyte applies to all Office 365 subscribers including Office 365 Personal which costs $NZ110 a year.

Until yesterday Microsoft sold 200 GB of OneDrive storage for US$100 a year — so in effect, it has boosted the storage and thrown in the Office software.

Consumer cloud storage: the battleground

Microsoft, along with Apple, Google and a host of smaller, more focused cloud service providers are in a cost-cutting spiral. Earlier this month Apple slashed the prices of its iCloud service. Overall personal cloud storage costs have dropped and free allocations have soared in the past decade.

It all started in 2004. At the time Microsoft allowed Hotmail users 2M of free storage, then Google came along offering Gmail users a gigabyte.

Microsoft, Apple and Google realise people tend to use the applications associated with each company’s cloud service. OneDrive users are most likely to create documents using Office, Apple with iWorks and Google with Google Apps.

Cloud sells software, hardware, advertising

This means whoever stores the documents, gets first option to supply the editing tools.

Given that Microsoft still earns rivers of gold from selling Office, having the most generous storage offer makes economic sense: it sells software. In Apple’s case free cloud can sell hardware while Google gives away free storage to, eventually, sell advertising.

For each of these three companies adding terabytes of storages costs little. And let’s face it most consumers will only use a fraction of their allocation so it’s not a matter of one terabyte per customer.

The next step in this game is that it will become difficult, perhaps impossible, to charge consumers for cloud storage. This has implications for focused storage companies like Dropbox and Mega who don’t sell software, hardware or services on the back of storage.

In May Google changed Google Docs to make it work more like Dropbox. It also gave the service a new name: Google Drive.

Like Dropbox and Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive lets you store files online and sync documents across devices. While three services are direct competitors in some departments, each has its pown strengths and weaknesses.

Google Drive’s strength is close integration with the company’s online application suite. The programs are free web-based alternatives to the most popular Microsoft Office applications. Google sells a paid-for version to businesses as a low-cost Microsoft Office competitor.

If you find Google’s applications meet your needs better than Microsoft Office, then Drive is your best choice for an online home base.

Great for collaboration

I use Google’s apps every day for one of my freelance journalism jobs. The apps are great for collaboration, but I run into problems when zooming small text to make it easier to read: the cursor gets out of sync with the characters on-screen.

For this reason, I go elsewhere for word processing when I don’t have to use Google Docs. Your mileage may differ.

All your Google Drive documents are always stored online in the cloud – you can get them from everywhere. Google uses proprietary document formats. In practice moving documents between the Google world and Microsoft Office or any other format is rarely a problem, although you may lose formatting along the way.

Microsoft gives you more free storage, 7GB compared with Google’s 5GB. Dropbox is more complicated, the basic free account is just 2GB, but thanks to special offers, I get 27GB – that’s plenty for my work needs, but not enough for music and movies. In all three cases you can buy more storage.

Best search

As you’d expect, Google beats Microsoft when it comes to searching through your documents to find something.

I find DropBox works best when moving between smartphone, tablet and desktop. SkyDrive is a close second. Google Drive is more clumsy. The mobile site is difficult to use and not responsive enough – even on an Android phone.

Keep in mind that you can use any combination of Google Drive, SkyDrive and DropBox features – choosing one doesn’t lock you out of the others.