Dropbox isn't the only remote storage game in town. Consider flexibility and security as you check out these alternatives.
The recent security snafu at Dropbox, which left files unprotected for four hours, has us looking at alternatives to the popular file-sharing service.
Whether you're a road warrior, early tablet adopter, or just someone wanting to share files, photos or other information between family, friends, or computers at home and at work, there's likely a choice for you. And there are new entrants showing up all the time. (Want to go really low tech? Check out our recent review of iTwin's interesting gadget. Or check out low-cost services aimed mostly at backup.)
We rounded up a few of the best, current cloud file storage options and compared them based on ease of use, storage capacity, and cost. Let's take a look.
Storage: 5 GB Free, with Personal and Enterprise Plans Available
Desktop Support: PCs with Windows XP or later and Mac Desktops 10.4 or later Browser Support: IE, Firefox 3 or later, Safari 4 or later, Chrome
Mobile Clients: iOS 4, Android 2 or later, Blackberry OS 4 or later, Windows Phone 7, and Symbian
SugarSync, a well-executed folder sync system that's been around for a while, provides a basic way to sync folders across devices. It also supports file versioning. SugarSync supports backup of any file on your computer, making it visible to any connected sync point or via a Web browser. It also supports streaming of music files to mobile devices.
The file sync service on my Mac client seems to take up an excessive amount of CPU when performing a synchronization check. Among the five DropBox alternatives considered here, this was the only product or service that made my machine's cooling fan repeatedly turn on while synching. SugarSync is the closest to a drop-in replacement for Dropbox, from a price and features standpoint.
Amazon Cloud Drive
Storage: 5 GB Free, or 20 GB free with purchase of an album from the Amazon MP3 store
Desktop Support: Any OS that supports Flash
Browser Support: Any browser with Flash 9 or 10, newest browser versions preferred but not required
Mobile Clients: Android 2 or later, and browser support for Apple devices with iOS 4
Amazon's drive offering is particularly attractive if you're looking for a way to store your music library. They recently added Safari support, so if you're on an iPhone or iPad you can now use the service. If you're already set up with a Cloud Drive account, and have some music in it, just point Safari to the Cloud Player sign in page and you'll see the desktop interface on your iOS device. Sign into your account and you'll see the desktop interface on your iOS device.
On the downside, there's no sync service or automated way to add your non-music files. It's all manual upload and download. This is a fair place to hold your music library, but not useful for much else, given the options available today. Also, being forced to manually upload files via a Web browser gives the product a rushed and unfinished feel. However, it's hard to complain about a free place to store your music. If you're looking for a good place to store and stream your music library and can use some rudimentary non-music file storage as well, then Amazon Cloud Drive may work for you.
Windows Live Mesh
Storage: Up to 25 GB Free, per SkyDrive Account
Desktop Support: Windows Vista SP2 or later, Mac OSX 10.5 or later
Browser Support: IE 7 or later preferred
Mobile Clients: None
Windows Live Mesh is part of Windows Live Essentials, a set of free programs and services offered by Microsoft. Live Mesh, formerly Live Sync, allows you to create and sync files, pictures, and Microsoft Office documents between Microsoft SkyDrive and any number of PCs or Macs running Vista SP2 or later or OSX 10.5 or later.
Both desktop interfaces look clean and straightforward. You can manage your documents either via your PC or the Web, and changes are reflected everywhere as soon as a connected sync point comes online. You can manage the contents of your SkyDrive via your browser or desktop client.
Integral parts of Live Essentials as well as Office Web Apps, Live Mesh and SkyDrive take your data to the cloud and let you access work anywhere there's a compatible browser with an internet connection.
Unfortunately, Microsoft limits your storage at 25 GB per SkyDrive account with no options of increasing the amount of storage; and while Live Essentials, Live Mesh, and SkyDrive appear to support mobile devices notifications, no Live Mesh mobile client could be located. We reached out to our contacts at Microsoft about this, but received no comment before this review was published.
Live Mesh makes sense if you want to store and share pictures, videos, and office documents. It's targeted at consumers and not at the enterprise.
Storage: 5 GB Free
Desktop Support: Windows Vista SP2 or later, Mac OSX 10.5 or later
Browser Support: Mobile browser--Web Kit compatible
Mobile Clients: iOS 4.0 or later, Android 2.0 or later
Box.net offers 5 GB of free cloud storage with a 25-MB file size limit. Storage is accessible by only one user, and access to your data via mobile app also is free. Box.net provides paid options for 25 GB and 50 GB at $10 and $20 per month, respectively, with 1-GB file size limits each.
Box.net offers up to 500 GB of shared storage, the most among the products within this roundup, with a collaborative toolset and workspace for up to three users for $15 per user, per month. Enterprise customers with needs beyond three users are encouraged to call Box.net for pricing. The features and functionality offered here are best suited to enterprise customers. Box.net's complete set of collaborative tools, larger shared storage allotments, and associated costs are geared toward businesses with distributed work teams.
Storage: 2 GB Free, with Personal and Enterprise Plans Available
Desktop Support: PCs with Windows XP or greater, Mac 10.5 or later, and the more popular Linux distributions
Browser Support: Most modern Web browsers
Mobile Clients: iPhone and iPad with iOS 4, Android 2 or later, Blackberry 4 or later
SpiderOak delivers a solid sync, sharing and backup offering. It has a serious focus on security and has recently introduced advanced security features not found in some other services, like two-factor authentication. The interface for syncing a folder across computers proves more complex compared to other services, but once set up, it works perfectly. Backing up my entire working directory structure of over 45 GB was very fast compared to some pure backup systems I've used in the past, such as CrashPlan and Mozy.
The helpful mobile apps on iOS and Android allow easy access to your data. If a file is in a backup set, you can get to it from practically anywhere. You can even back up files that are on your mobile device.
Sharing works via a concept called "Share Rooms" and gives you control over what files you share and with whom.
With full file versioning and the combining of sync, sharing, and backup into one service, SpiderOak deserves a serious look for those whose top concern is security. Bottom Line: SpiderOak offers everything that Dropbox does, but with better service offerings and benefits, plus a superior price point.