Online storage, or storage in the cloud as the marketers would call it has been around for a while (one of the first services to my knowledge was Yahoo Briefcase, now discontinued). However because of increased bandwidth and Internet penetration the popularity of online storage products has risen dramatically. There are several benefits of having your files stored online, they can be accessed from any computer you happen to be at and they are backed up so if your house burns down or your computer fails you still have your precious files.
There are probably a gazillion of storage products out there; we have chosen to review the ones that we have used previously. They have all been reviewed from a consumer / small business stand-point, larger enterprises would of course have different needs. We have only chosen to review free alternatives.
Skydrive is Microsoft’s attempt to conquer the online storage segment, which actually isn’t much to conquer since most larger players got rid of their similar solutions (AOL, HP and so on). Skydrive is pretty basic; you can upload files in a web-browser from any computer.
It is possible to create public folders, but maybe more importantly share them with selected groups (synced with your MSN Messenger account) or individuals.
Skydrive offers 25 GB of storage, which should be enough and is considerably more than what other storage services offer. For example Dropbox offers only 2 GB in their free (basic) account.
The limitations on Skydrive becomes pretty clear after a while, most other cloud storage services have a client or the possibility for the user to mount the service as a drive on their computer. Skydrive has no such functionality, which means that you have to open a browser window every time a file has to be uploaded. It can’t be used as a good backup solution either, since it has no ability to automatically sync files. Skydrive has however one advantage, you do not need a separate login since your Windows Live ID can be used.
Dropbox has been around for a while, the free version offers a limited 2 GB but if you fork $19.99/ month you get 100 GB. The whole point with Dropbox is storing and sharing files in work-groups. Dropbox is tightly integrated with the Dropbox client, available for Windows, MAC and Linux. The client sits in your tray but also enables you to upload files using a drive mapped on your computer.
There are several options in the client such as audio notifications as soon as someone in your work-group updates a file. It is also very easy to just open an edit a file directly without having to login to a web-interface. Sometimes it’s almost too easy, if you have a large work-group or a novice work-group there is a risk that files get involuntarily replaced. Dropbox also has a web-interface, very similar to Skydrive. Unlike Skydrive Dropbox has the ability to automatically sync documents, making it a perfect backup solution.
Esnips is more community oriented and wider in scope than most other online storage services. It is for example possible to create profiles with pictures and info about yourself. Esnips even have a marketplace where designers, photographers and others can sell their content files. The storage itself is however pretty basic, 5 GB with a web-interface and a toolbar client allowing you to upload files directly from your computer more easily. However the client is not as easy to use as the one from Dropbox.
Apart from the community and storage the solutions Esnips has some unique features, such as the ability to take snippets from web-pages and directly import them into Esnips. Esnips also has a post to Twitter feature, which works quite well.
Box.net offers 1 GB of storage for free, although you can get 30GB for $15 per month and user. The service is more oriented towards small businesses than individuals. Box.net has a desktop client, collaboration workspaces, versioning, mobile access and a lot of other business oriented features. For example it is possible to view CAD-files without using a CAD program etc.