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The Cloud Bursts its Bubble

The cloud has been in the news lately. Prices are starting to drop for a number of cloud services – those online, in-the-ether file repositories. Google and Amazon have both lowered their prices recently, by about 50% for Amazon, and 68% for Google.

But iCloud still only offers you 5 GB storage, no matter how many Apple devices you have, upgrades to iCloud are expensive, and Dropbox is holding back for now on reducing its prices.

I’ve got storage on several cloud servers:

  • Dropbox: I have 25 GB; the initial free 2 GB, plus another 23 GB I earned by referring people to Dropbox, by using their camera upload feature, and some other promotions.
  • Google Drive: I have 65 GB on Google Drive. There’s a free 15 GB, and I earned another 50 GB – good for two years – when I bought my Motorola Moto G smartphone.
  • Box: I’ve got 50 GB with Box, which came from a promotion the company ran a few months ago.
  • iCloud: I’ve got a measly 5 GB on iCloud, even though I own a Mac mini, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, an iPad air, an iPad mini and an iPod touch. (I also have a few other iPods that can’t access the internet.) You’d think they’d give me a bit more to be able to back up all those iOS devices.

That’s a lot of space, and the only two I use regularly, for now, are Dropbox and iCloud. The former because I use it to collaborate with others, notably for my Take Control books, and the latter for apps, data and iOS backups.

But I’ve just added another cloud service, and this one is breaking all records for pricing. MediaFire has just released an iOS app, to go with its web-based and desktop service, and is running a promotion. MediaFire starts you off with a free 10 GB, and has two paid price plans. The 1 TB – yes, that’s 1,000 GB – plan is $5 a month, and the 100 TB plan is $50 a month. So, for $50 a year – you get a discount if you pay yearly – you get 1 terabyte of storage. Compared to iCloud, you’re getting 40 times as much storage for $10 more a year. Granted, it’s not baked into Apple’s apps, but the MediaFire desktop app works a lot like Dropbox, as does the iOS app.

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I’m tempted to grab the 1 TB plan, which is currently on sale half price: just $25 a year for now. I doubt I’d use all that space, though if I had enough upstream bandwidth, I’d use it to back up my music library. But it would be nice to know it’s there if I ever need it.

Cloud storage prices are going to continue to fall, and MediaFire has taken a bold step. They probably know that most users who take a 1 TB plan won’t use a lot of that space, but giving you that much for the price of a couple of movie tickets is impressive. It remains to be seen how reliable MediaFire is, but, for now, I like the way it looks.

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iCloud vs. Dropbox: Which is Better for Managing Files on Multiple Devices?

Over at the Mac OS X Hints website, which I edit, I posted a poll about using iCloud to store documents. With OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, iCloud is now a way for applications to store files in the “cloud,” or, more correctly on Apple’s servers. This is practical if you work with multiple devices: a desktop Mac and a laptop, or a Mac and an iPad. However, the limits in using iCloud make it more of a hassle than a useful tool.

The main problem with iCloud is that it is application-specific. If you create a document with TextEdit, and save it on iCloud, you can only access it with TextEdit. (You can get access to it on any computer linked to that iCloud account, but not on iOS.) So if I want to take a TextEdit document and work with it on my iPad, I can’t; there’s no equivalent app. I can’t import it into another application that supports its format. The same is the case for other apps that use iCloud for storage. If, for example, I use an iCloud-compatible text editor on my iPad, I can’t access its files easily on my Mac, unless there is a corresponding application.

Now look at Dropbox. All you do is put a file in your Dropbox folder and it’s automatically stored in the cloud and available on any other device or computer that can run Dropbox (which is pretty much every computer and mobile platform available today). No need to worry about having the right application to open a file, no need to go through convoluted processes to open or save files; the files are just there in the folder.

Not only does Dropbox allow you to sync files across devices, but you can also create shared folders for friends or co-workers. I have a number of them for projects I work on, and each person involved gets access to all the files, and can share their files easily with others. And, with Dropbox, you can put a file in your folder and right-click to get a “public” link, which you can use to share the file with others, even if they don’t have a Dropbox account. I find that this replaces the iDisk file sharing that was part of .Mac, which I used fairly often.

So while iCloud is nice for syncing data from apps where you don’t save files – calendars, to-do apps, etc. – it is far less practical than Dropbox for storing documents. If you already use Dropbox, this is probably obvious, but if not, its worth trying.

Don’t use Dropbox? Get a free 2 GB account; I get a 500 MB kickback if you sign up.

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