Popular alternatives to iCloud
A brief comparison of different consumer cloud services.
iCloud has severe limits if you want to synchronize and share files, or use Web apps to edit common document types. It's also not available to Windows users or Macintosh users who rely on Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or earlier.
Three popular services offer alternatives.
Dropbox (dropbox.com): The granddaddy of desktop file synchronization (even though it's just a few years old), Dropbox synchronizes all files and nested folders in a folder named Dropbox in a desktop operating system, including Mac and Windows. Mobile apps allow access to files to view and delete, and to upload images and video.
One of Dropbox's key features allows folders to be shared to other Dropbox users' accounts. Changes made to any files in the shared folders are immediately reflected in the desktop and Web version of those folders among all shared users. This allow easy remote collaboration, although you can also easily have conflicts, which Dropbox helps resolve.
Dropbox offers previews of common document types, such as images and Word files, through its website, as well as sharing public links for direct downloads.
The company offers 2GB of free storage, with up to 18GB free available by uploading photos and referring other users (free or paid). Paid storage starts at $10 per month for 100GB of storage.
Google Drive (drive.google.com): Google finally launched its sync service Google Drive a few months ago, offering 5GB of free storage. Desktop software allows synchronization, and mobile apps allow roving access. On the Web, Google Drives shows all stored files and folder, and allows Google Docs files to be edited in its Web apps.
Google Drive can share files for editing through Web apps or for download, but doesn't sync shared files to shared desktop folders. Google offers additional storage starting at $15 a year for 25GB.
Microsoft SkyDrive (skydrive.com): The revamped SkyDrive took a complicated and incomplete service Microsoft offered even before Dropbox and made it powerful desktop sync program. The service includes 7GB of storage in free accounts, and Office documents synced via the desktop or uploaded via the Web can be edited through free, basic versions of Microsoft's suite of Web apps.
SkyDrive shines at providing photo galleries with a minimum of fuss. Like Google Drive, shared files may only be accessed via the Web apps, and aren't synced on the desktop. Microsoft offers storage starting at $10 per year to add 20GB to the free allotment of 7GB.
-- Glenn Fleishman