Amazon Cloud Drive vs SkyDrive vs Dropbox
Now that Amazon has entered the market for consumer cloud data storage, there are three main contenders to consider, if you want to back your files up safely online. They all have elements in common, as well as differences and different emphases. It really depends on your needs as a user, and only you can decide where you're going to cloud your stuff.
Perhaps the best known is Dropbox, where you can sign up in minutes and get 2GB of storage for free. For many users not backing up large media files, 2GB is fine, but you can gain additional blocks of 250MB up to a maximum of 8GB, by referring people - in fact if you click here you can help me boost my storage and grab some yourself too! If 16GB is still not enough you can also purchase additional storage, of up to 100GB per year, which is $200. This should accommodate most of your home movies, and Dropbox also offers a back-up feature (also chargeable), and allows you to retrieve deleted files. It's a comprehensive service that can serve the needs of most consumer users, with the range of paid and free options available, but Dropbox also offers one huge advantage over its competitors - the ability to synch with more than one computer. If you use different machines at different locations, such as at home and at work, or you need to view or edit documents on a mobile device or tablet, this could be the clincher for you. And for mobiles, there are a wide range of apps covering most major platforms. You can even use it to transfer files to other users easily and freely.
The downsides to Dropbox? Well, once you reach the 108GB threshold that's it - you can't add further increments at any price, at the present time. Of course that is a LOT of storage, and isn't likely to be a problem except to media professionals or developers. You have to work with their folder system, which might conflict with yours - it's really best used for individual files you might want to work on remotely. Also lots of users have problems with iTunes when synching across multiple devices - again it's a file structure thing, there are workarounds, but if you need to back up serious amounts of media a different service might be better.
Window Live SkyDrive
A fairly recent offering from those folks at Microsoft, Windows Live scores big on ubiquity - if you want to use cloud storage to share files with other people, chances are they already have a hotmail/Windows Live account, so won't need to install or download a thing to facilitate that. It's very easy to use, aimed at an entry-level consumer much like their IM, and it offers bespoke viewing options for videos and images.
It's free storage is a generous 25GB, and you really do get the feeling this service is aimed at family/consumer media files, though not feature length home movies as individual file uploads are capped at 50MB. There is not currently any option to purchase or score larger amounts of storage, or any separate backup arrangements.
However if you want to send clips of the grandchildren on the beach to a trusted network of messenger contacts, this is very simple and intuitive to use, and it does offer a good chunk of storage for free. It also integrates smoothly with all related Windows Live services, including the Office Online. It can be frustrating not to be able to see under the hood and control the files as much as you can with Dropbox, but it's serving a slightly different market and purpose.
Amazon Cloud Drive
The newcomer to the consumer cloud storage market is the familiar brand Amazon. But it's no rookie, having provided its S3 solution to developers (many working on Amazon apps) for some time.
Amazon Cloud Drive is heavily oriented at music lovers, as it comes with an integrated companion app, Amazon Cloud Player - currently available as a native Android app and a webapp, so you need never store another MP3 on your smartphone!
The official free storage allowance is a mere 5GB when you register, but as soon as you buy one Mp3 album from Amazon.com you get a bonus 25MB, which makes things get a whole lot more interesting. And it's upwards from there, offering scalable paid for services (at around 50% of the Dropbox rate) up to 1TB allowances.
Although it's a new service, many people will be drawn to the recognisable brand and reputation of Amazon, and clearly their hope is that they will also be lead to use Amazon for media purchases in future as well. The rivalry between Amazon and Apple is far from a secret, and this explains why there is no app available for iOS users - who's holding things up isn't clear, but Apple have done this kind of thing before, in fact the Cloud Drive webapp won't even launch in Safari.
Who know's what negotiations are afoot behind the scenes and this could change - pioneering early adopters will rave about the massive amount of storage available, but they'll have to cope with the rough spots being ironed out, whilst the rest of us sit back and wait and see.
Making the choice is a matter of personal preference - if the music streaming is the big deal for you then the new Amazon offering definitely looks very interesting, but if lots of free space and easy set up beckons then give Skydrive a whirl. But if synching across multiple devices is the big pull for you, then *for now* only Dropbox will do. Of course, you could have multiple accounts - if your life segments neatly that might work, or you could tie yourself in knots remembering which files are synched where... whichever you go for, the potential opportunities for consumer cloud storage are now more interesting and diverse than ever before. And greater competition can only benefit the consumers involved.
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