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BY CHARLES P. JEFFERIES ON MAY 17, 2012
Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. Everyone Else: Ranking the Top 6 Online File Sync Services
Online file storage and syncing is ubiquitous – the number of choices is mind boggling. We’re looking at five heavyweights: Microsoft SkyDrive, Box, YouSendIt, Dropbox, SugarSync, and the recently-released Google Drive. It’s just storage, right? Wrong – cost, security, terms of service, mobile app availability, and other differences mean choose wisely. We stack them up in our breakdown.
And in this corner … ah, we’ll skip the loudspeaker announcement. The products in this comparison are:
Keep in mind these services are designed to share and store files; they aren’t backup services (even though many people try to use them as such). There are more specialized products out there for backup. Think of the services in our comparison as online flash drives: they exist to make your data portable between PCs and other devices.
It’s simple – there are six products and for each section, whichever product(s) scores highest gets six points with the others getting some lesser value. It’s possible for products to get the same amount of points in sections, depending on how they compare. The one with the most overall points at the end wins.
Free Storage Space
You need storage – otherwise I’m not sure why you’re reading. The question is, how much? First let’s see what you get for free:
SkyDrive offers the highest limit. YouSendIt and Dropbox offer just 2GB which is less than half the average free storage for file-sync services. Again, there are other factors to consider besides gigabytes (GB) with these services so we’ll reserve judgment.
You’ll have to give up space in your wallet if you want more storage space. I’m lumping together similar plans, e.g. the 25GB/ 30GB plans, 50GB/60GB and so on. The costs are monthly.
The services are all over the map. Microsoft is the low-cost leader with SkyDrive; its yearlyprices (I divided them by 12 for use in our chart) are less than most competitors charge for a month. SkyDrive and SugarSync give users to the most freedom to choose a plan that works for them. YouSendIt is the opposite – you’re basically stuck with the $14.99 plan unless you want to pay $9.99 for 5GB, which almost everyone offers for free.
There are perks with the paid plans. Box ups its maximum file size to 1GB from 25MB; YouSendIt also ups the file size to 2GB from 50MB; Google upgrades paid users’ Gmail accounts to 25GB space; lastly, Dropbox ups its referral program to +1GB of storage for your account for every person you refer to the service.
This is a big ticket item especially if you’re planning on uploading files that contain personal information. We’re looking at the storage method the company uses – does the company make use of secure connections (SSL) for uploads and downloads? And of lesser importance (I’ll explain why), are the files you upload stored in an encoded e.g. non-readable-to-anyone-but-you format on the company’s servers?
Keep in mind the security only does so much – if you give public access to a file or folder then it’s kind of a moot point!
The major concern is SSL support – SSL is a technology that encrypts data you’re sending or downloading so no one else can read it but the sender and receiver (which would be you and the services, respectively). SSL is important for obvious reasons – you don’t want people ‘sniffing’ your files as you upload them. With SSL connections they can’t do that, even over unsecured wireless connections.
Whether the files are stored encoded on the company’s servers is more of a peace of mind thing than an actual concern. Half of the companies in our comparison store files in an unreadable (encrypted or encoded) format. So, even if someone got your files off the server they wouldn’t be able to read them. The other three services, well, it’s certainly possible those files could be read if nabbed but that assumes a lot of things, namely that someone can get to the servers past the network security, firewalls, and so on, AND the attackers happen to select your files out of billions of others. The odds are not worth considering; one way or another you’re taking a leap of faith with any of these companies by trusting your files to them, I don’t care what security methods are used. I’m only deducting one point from the services that don’t offer encoded storage.
Terms of Service
I’m not going to put a comparison chart in this section (it doesn’t make sense); rather I’ll point out some things to keep in mind when you use one of these services.
Non-commercial use – These services are for your personal use only. All of the services we’re looking at offer business plans.
Mobile Device Support
We’ve looked at getting the right amount of storage and security – the next big item is being able to access your data. All of these services work from a PC but some support more mobile device platforms than others.
It’s not even a question for these companies to support the Apple iPhone and iPad – oh wait, unless you’re Google and launched your product without support for them (expect to see it soon though, they say). SugarSync really shines here with support for everything, even Symbian – hello Nokia users. Blackberry support is offered by half the competitors (Box even has a PlayBook specific app). Windows Phone gets less love; just SugarSync and Microsoft toss their hats in the ring.
The lack of dedicated apps for some platforms doesn’t mean you can’t use SkyDrive on a BlackBerry, for example; you can still point your mobile device’s web browser at SkyDrive’s website and view your files.
The second-to-last category we’ll look at is sharing. The two items:
File/folder sharing support? – The ability to share files with other in a simple fashion.
Anyone can access? – Building on the above point, can anyone access the file/folder? Or do you need an account with the service?
Edit files in browser? – While all of the services allow you to upload files, how many allow editing and collaboration right in the web browser window?
Every one of these services allows sharing files and folders; I put that item in the chart to illustrate the primary purpose of these services once more. And all of them offer the ability to share with a random Internet stranger – the person you shared a file with via Dropbox does not need a Dropbox account to view the file or folder.
The last item is a hidden gem. Box, Google Drive, and to a lesser extent Microsoft SkyDrive offer different kinds of online file sharing – they include a collaboration element. Not only can you store files, but you and others you invite can edit files directly in a web browser (not just view them). To edit files with other services like YouSendIt you’ll have to download the file first, edit it, and then re-upload it (to be fair, some of the services simplify this process with “syncing” through desktop clients; it eliminates the upload part because the file on your hard drive is synced with the version stored online right when you save it). Google Drive is linked with Google Documents, SkyDrive with Microsoft Office Online, and Box has its own online collaboration workspace. If real-time collaboration is of interest to you, stick to one of those three. Box has the strongest feature set in this area.
The prospect of storing some or all of your valuable data in the cloud can be unsettling – especially if it’s the only place the data will be stored. This is especially true if you’re using the business storage services. This section will award points based on whether the solution offers an independent backup outside of the company’s own data centers (or wherever they outsource their data centers).
Google Drive is the only solution that supports independent backup via Backupify and theirBackup for Google Apps service, and similar services are available from some Backupify competitors. None of the other solutions have a formal independent backup service support.
The final point totals are:
And the winner is … Google Drive!
Google drive touched all the right spots in our comparison article to land a first class finish. It is the second least expensive solution behind Microsoft’s SkyDrive, offering 100GB of storage for just $4.99 a month. It’s a great place for collaboration thanks to its seamless integration with Google Apps. And it’s the only solution to support independent backup (via Backupify and others). Our only real qualm is that it doesn’t support a ton of mobile devices – but this should change in the (very) near future.
Microsoft SkyDrive comes in a close second; it’s the least expensive paid solution and offers the most free storage (7GB), is linked with Microsoft Office Online for online file collaboration, and supports a wide range of mobile devices. SugarSync comes in third; it has the best mobile app support covering six platforms, is reasonably priced, and has robust security features but lacks a collaboration feature.
On an individual basis we’d find it hard not to recommend any of these services, but based on the elements in our comparison, some stand above the others.
The above post was originally published at Backupif’s Blog. It is re-published here with permission.
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