Update on August 20th, 2012: Now Box offers 25 GB for free!
My mom asked me if I knew what the cloud was and if I could explain it to her. She told me she's thinking of investing in this. I guess it really is everyone and their moms now...
I think the first cloud file service I used was box.net in 2005. It was pretty good and I had it integrated with Netvibes, like iGoogle. It was useful but not too user friendly and a hassle to use sometimes so I haven't really kept using it. Only now have I started using it again because of its desktop client. Box provides limited free storage, 5GB. It has a good web interface and allows you to see what your friends have shared in a facebook newsfeed way. Its desktop sync is for enterprise users but as a personal user, somehow I got an email inviting me to use the Box Sync for free. It works like dropbox but there's a file limit on file size of 100 MB or 2GB for business.
Dropbox is the easiest to use and most consumer friendly cloud storage and sync service. I started using it in 2008 when I was interning at Seedcamp and started telling people about this product ever since. I have 18GB for free because in addition to the 2GB of free storage, they give you 500mb for each person you invite, and other bonuses such as if you use their camera import service. Dropbox has a great desktop sync service and poor web interface, but it's usability is fantastic especially for consumers. You can actually use it to host files publicly and I used it when I didn't have web hosting.
Skydrive is Microsoft's attempt at cloud storage. I have tried it several times but didn't like it much because it simply never works for me. I get bugs when I use it on Chrome and the desktop client is incompatible with my mac because it's only for Lion OSX. I dislike Lion like a lot of people and have kept OX 10.6.8. Normally you get 7GB of free storage. If you have a Microsoft email account such as hotmail or live, you can get 25GB for free! I think the strongest advantage of Skydrive is you can edit word and excel on the web. It also has a beautiful gallery viewer. I definitely am keeping my eye on this product and it should be a very exciting space to watch. I wonder how Box and Huddle will react to this?
Google Drive allows you to manage your google files on the cloud with 5 GB for free. Once you install the desktop clients you get access to all your google docs and files natively your computer. If you want to edit the file (.gdoc), you get sent to google docs. Unlike Dropbox, it doesn't allow you to share the file publicly or with friends from your computer. I think Google still needs to do a lot of work to make this competitive with Dropbox.
iCloud is Apple's effort to make file syncing easy and powerful across iPad, iPhone, Macs, etc. You just turn it on and it syncs. It's pretty useful for backing up all your apps, messages, etc. I believe it is 5GB free for backups but somehow I have 25GB maybe because I used to have Mobileme as a former Apple employee? Not sure. Anyways, iCloud is a lot more seamless and more for backup and apps than for direct file sync. But even then, it's pretty much just a wireless backup service. I don't have the same apps installed on my computer as on my iPhone. So if I'm playing a game on my iPhone can I continue it on my computer or iPad? And Photo Stream syncs your iPhone pictures with other devices but I don't really know how to access it from my computer... I don't even use iPhoto... So yeah Apple also needs to work on it's cloud services.
Here's a quick summary:
|Service||Free Storage||Good Part||Bad Part|
|Box||25 GB||Great rights management, security, and web interface.||Enterprise, not very user friendly.|
|Dropbox||2GB but up to 20+ GB free||Super user friendly and very powerful. Great apps available. On Mac, PC, and mobile.||Web interface isn't too good. Limited free storage.|
|Skydrive||7 or 25GB||Ability use web-based Word and Excel directly to create and edit docs.||Buggy web service. Not available on non-Lion OSX macs.|
|Google Drive||5 GB||Easily access Google docs.||A lot. Functionality. Ease of use. Sharing. Not even an iPhone app yet.|
|iCloud||5 GB||Good for backing up.||Quite a lot of missing functionality. Hard to understand exactly how it works.|
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