For those who are… shall we say, less technologically inclined, the entire notion of “the cloud” is a tough one to grasp. It’s a word that’s bandied about in the broader space, and if you’ve been curious about what exactly it is, why it’s important, and which is the best cloud for you — well, you’ve come to the right place.
The consumer cloud is a system by which your most important files, photos, videos, contacts, text messages, etc. are backed up on a server that’s far, far away from you. The server farm that holds your data resides under the image of “the cloud.” Considering that many have their entire lives on their phones and computers, it makes sense to store as much of that as possible in backup form on hard drives that reside elsewhere. That way, if something happens to your hardware, the data isn’t lost. And, that data is automatically and immediately transferrable to all devices (including new ones, if you lose one hardware soldier). But, which cloud to cling to? And for what devices? It’s time to bring the tech troposphere down to ground level.
If you’re looking for a simple answer to what cloud drive service you should go with, sign up for Google Drive and don’t look back. Drive excels on a number of levels, but its multi-platform capabilities are what really sets it apart from the competition. Unless you’re a zealot, you probably utilize varying platforms. Perhaps a Windows 7 Enterprise machine for work, a MacBook Air at home, a Kindle Fire for the kids, and a smartphone or two. Google has made Drive compatible with everything, and apps for each platform are truly exemplary. The entire premise of the cloud is to enable you to access and edit your files from anywhere, with any device, and no one sets you up to do that better than Google.
Your first 15GB of storage are free, and there are no restrictions as to what you can host. To boot, the Google suite of office tools are excellent at editing complex Excel and Word files on the go. If you need more storage, you’ll pay just $1.99 per month for 100GB, or $9.99 per month for 1TB.
For years, Microsoft did its best work on its own platforms, while leaving others wanting or out in the cold. Now, the company’s mantra is shifting, and its consumer cloud option (OneDrive) supports Windows, Android, Mac OS X, iOS, Windows Phone and Xbox. Similar to Google Drive, new users get 15GB for free, while 100GB will run you $1.99 per month. The real ticket is the company’s $6.99/monthly plan, which kicks in a gratis copy of Office 365, Microsoft’s continually updated suite of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access.
If you need that software anyway, Microsoft’s OneDrive pulls ahead. Throw in 60 monthly Skype minutes and VIP-level phone and chat support, and the value proposition is clear. OneDrive’s interface is a little clunky, and it feels like fewer apps and services support automatic uploading to OneDrive as compared to Google Drive, but it’s certainly worth a look.
If you’re looking for a quick-and-dirty service for sharing files and storing changes in a work environment, Dropbox is a solid bet. Its no-frills attitude keeps things simple: on your computer or phone, your Dropbox home looks like another file folder. Except its contents are hosted on a server farm. The Basic plan provides a near-useless 2GB of space, so those opting for Dropbox best be prepared to pony up $9.99 per month for its 1TB “Pro” tier. If you’re looking to utilize gobs of space at a business, $15 per user, per month, nets you “as much storage as you need” with unlimited file recovery. You’ll be hard pressed to beat that in terms of a safety net.
Amazon Cloud Drive
While Amazon has been hosting the world’s data for years, most of that belongs to enterprises. Recently, the company unveiled its own consumer offering, and it’s just as stout as you’d imagine. Amazon Prime members get 5GB free to store videos and whatever else they wish, with unlimited storage for photos. Given that most folks value perpetual photo storage over everything else, this may well be enough. If you need more, you can get unlimited storage for anything — and yes, they mean unlimited — for $59.99 per year. You won’t find any pricing options in between, but the unlimited plan is so compelling that we don’t really have any qualms with it. Amazon also offers free apps for every major platform, so if you’re willing to start fresh (or you’re open to a three-month free trial), it could be just what you’ve bee after.
Box, iCloud, and the rest
Box is very, very similar to Dropbox, but it lacks one major thing: widespread adoption. In the business realm, it’s not unusual to see emails fly between companies that involve Dropbox files. It’s the unspoken standard of choice, which makes B2B relationships a lot easier on the file-sharing side of things.
Apple’s iCloud isn’t a realistic contender. You’re only given 5GB for free, and a 1TB plan costs you $19.99 per month. Plus, it’s next to useless on anything other than an Apple product.
Cloud upstarts aren’t uncommon, but remember: when you commit to a company, you’re committing to an entity that will soon be hosting very precious goods — items like home videos, photos of your kids and critical work files. You need to select a provider that stands a better than average chance of being around for many years to come — far longer than yourself, actually. Google and Microsoft, barring an apocalyptic event, should be here for decades, if not centuries. When it comes to coffee, you don’t stand to lose a lot by trying the latest shop around the block. When it comes to storing your memories, make sure you select a company that’ll stand the test of time.