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 subscription1TB is included$80
Google Drive15GB Storage shared between Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos100GB$20
 1TB$100
10TB$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

There’s no shortage of good options for storing data in the cloud.

Here is a list of the six best-known inexpensive services that consumers and small businesses can use with little specialist expertise. I’ve tried all of them myself and regularly use four of the services listed. All of them are free or inexpensive and reliable.

I’ve almost never had a problem saving or retrieving data. On the whole files, even large files, tend to move quickly to and from these services. At least most of the time. The only exception to this is Mega, which is slower than every other service.

Most cloud storage services either come with apps or use a web-app to move files between your devices and the cloud. Often folders show up on your hard drive that are, in effect, mirrored on a remote cloud server.

Are they all easy-to-use? That depends on what you mean. Moving files between folders isn’t difficult. But there are often direct cloud links from applications like Microsoft Office or Apple’s iWorks. It isn’t always clear when a document is stored locally or in the cloud.

Personal cloud storage recommendations

What do I recommend? If Apple, Microsoft or Google are where you spend most of your life, then the associated cloud should be your first choice. After that, pick Dropbox.

Dropbox isn’t the cheapest option, nor does it offer as many features as some other services. However, it works with almost everything, is simple to use and isn’t likely to disappear overnight.  It’s also the best, read easiest, option if you share files with someone else.

If you’re looking for something closer to home, New Zealand-based Filecloud offers a small business cloud service with prices starting at NZ$15 a month (NZ$180 a year) for 250GB storage.

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freePrice
Apple iCloud5GB20GB$12
200GB$48
500GB$120
1TB$240
Microsoft OneDrive15GB100GB$24
1TB Plan includes Office 365200GB$48
subscription1TB$84
Google Drive15GB100GB$24
Storage shared across Drive,1TB$120
Gmail, Google+ and photos10TB$1200
20TB$2400
30TB$3600
Dropbox2GB1TB$100
Box10GB100GB$72
Unlimited$204
Mega50GB500GB$128
2TB$255
4TB$383
All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up

 

Apple MacBook 2015

Apple’s newest laptop upstaged the Watch during this week’s announcement.

The MacBook is thinner and lighter than the already skinny MacBook Air. It has a 12-inch display with the same high-resolution Retina display found on flagship MacBook Pros.

There’s just one port and that mainly works as a fast battery charger. There’s a new keyboard design and you can choose from three iPhone-like colours.

Best of all you can buy the MacBook in New Zealand for $2000.

Exciting MacBook

The new MacBook is hands down the most exciting new computer in recent years.

There are possible flaws. Reviewers who got early looks report the keyboard takes a little getting used to. There are question marks over the Touch Force feature on the redesigned Touchpad.

And some geeks complain the computer isn’t powerful enough. As Owen Williams notes, that’s missing the point.

Geeks have never loved Apple. They wouldn’t love the MacBook. The rest of us will.

Journalists need a device we can carry all day more than we need to number-crunch the data coming out of the Large Hadron Collider. There are lots more people who prize, compact, light and long times between battery recharges over raw power. That’s why I chose the MacBook Air.

As for ports, who needs ’em?

Living on a cloud

Not me. Not even for back-ups. Most of my back-ups live in the cloud.

By chance, there’s an external drive plugged into my Apple laptop’s USB port as I write this. It’s busy making a secondary Time Machine back-up.

Plugging drives in ports is handy, but not necessary, The main back-up sits on a network drive connected to a wireless router. I’ve also got a Seagate Wireless Plus drive which would be just fine with a one port computer.

The only other time I use the USB ports on my MacBook is when my iPhone battery is running low and I’m too lazy to hunt for the wall charger. That’ll have to stop.

What Watch?

What about that Apple Watch?

The first crop of so-called smart watches do nothing for me. They don’t have features I need. I’m happy to go on living without another device that needs charging every night.

Apple’s Watch is more interesting than what has gone before, but we are a generation or more from a computer watch being as compelling a buy as a smart phone or a tablet. And I’m the kind of person who sported a digital watch with a built-in calculator at the end of the 1970s.

So I’ll let the geeks and hardcore gadget fans get excited about the watches. Meanwhile I’m working on a business case to replace my MacBook Air with a new MacBook.

If you’re looking for cloud storage there are plenty of options. Most cloud storage providers offer a basic service for free. You may get by using these free services alone.

There’s no reason to choose just one provider. If you sign for all the free offers in this list you’ll have almost 100GB of storage at no cost.

There are good reasons to pay for personal cloud storage. In every case money buys you more storage

Paid plans can have other advantages. Some providers allow paying customers to store larger individual files — essential if you want to archive video footage. You might also get better support and other features.

Microsoft’s 1TB OneDrive plan stands out. It includes a subscription to Office 365. Although most people will look at that transaction the other way around: buy Office 365 and get 1TB of storage, If you use Microsoft software, it’s a killer deal.

The 1TB OneDrive plan is new since the last personal cloud storage plan comparison. Apple and Google have also introduced larger plans.

 

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freePrices
Apple iCloud5GB20GB$12
200GB$48
500GB$120
1TB$240
Microsoft OneDrive15GB100GB$24
1TB Plan includes Office 365200GB$48
 subscription1TB$84
Google Drive15GB100GB$24
Storage shared across Drive,1TB$120
Gmail, Google+ and photos10TB$1200
20TB$2400
30TB$3600
Dropbox2GB1TB$100
Box10GB100GB$72
Unlimited$204
Mega50GB500GB$128
2TB$255
4TB$383
All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up

Apple Keynote presentation app

Microsoft’s PowerPoint is better known, but many would argue Apple Keynote is the better presentation app.

Keynote (US$20 or free if you buy a new Mac) beats PowerPoint with features and ease-of-use. Those two departments are easy to measure. Less easy to measure is how it tackles creating presentations from a more graphical point of view.

And that makes for better presentations. PowerPoint almost forces users to build dull-looking, pedestrian slide shows. It all but text heavy and leaden slides.

Refreshing Keynote

After hours sitting in front of indifferent PowerPoint slides, I find Keynote presentations refreshing. So I was keen to try Keynote when I had to build a presentation last week.

It was my first time using Keynote to create a real presentation as opposed to just testing the software to write a review. Keynote is strikingly straightforward.

In the end I managed to build a simple, but good-looking 14-slide presentation in 30 minutes.

Ease-of-use

No-one gets ease-of-use quite like Apple. Yet even by that company’s standards, Keynote stands out.

There are dozens of pre-made templates you can use to get started.  Keynote ‘themes’ are, in effect, designs for an entire presentation.

There are 30 themes included with the software. Then within each theme there are 12 types of slide. Some do specific jobs: a front page, pages with big images, pages with lots of text, pages with bullet points and so on. Some of quite bare for you to use as you wish.

Presets

Each theme comes with preset fonts and colours. You can change them as much as you wish and edit either individual slides or alter the master slide from the layout panel on the right of the screen.

You don’t need to worry about placing images on slides. I just dragged and dropped the pictures I wanted directly into place. Resizing, cropping and reshaping take seconds.

Somewhere in the background Keynote uses gridlines to make sure things line up in the right places. I’ve used other presentation tools and spend ages nudging things around slides to get them looking right. It does this so well you barely notice it is happening.

Keynote on Mac and iPad

There’s full compatibility between the OS X and iOS versions of Keynote. That’s a powerful feature. I whipped up my presentation in 30 minutes using my MacBook Air and stored the file to iCloud.

The next day I took my iPad into town to present — in the event I had to send the file to another Mac for the actual presentation. What was noticeable is that I could make last-minute tweaks using my iPad or iPhone.

I tend to work alone, but if I was part of a team, iCloud makes it easy to collaborate with others.

Verdict

Long-time Keynote users were not happy when Apple refreshed the OS X software bringing it more in line with the mobile iOS version. I can’t comment on that because although I tested the earlier version, I’ve only ever used the latest Keynote 6.0 version for a real job.

Keynote has a clean user interface. It’s powerful yet simple to use. The software integrates beautifully with the rest of Apple’s technology including Pages and Numbers. You can create fantastic looking charts from numeric data in next to no time.

It’s hard to argue with the price. For many people the presentation software is free, for the rest it costs just US$20. If you use a Mac or an iPad it is the best way to go when creating presentations. It may also be a reason for Windows users to take another look at buying a Mac.