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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The End Is Near for MobileMe: Replace Your iDisk with Dropbox

The end is near! Not The End, but just the end of MobileMe. On July 1, MobileMe will be dead, and with it a number of features that you may depend on. One of the most practical is the iDisk, which I have long used to store files, and especially to share files with clients. When MobileMe’s demise was announced, however, I discovered just how easy it is to do the same thing with Dropbox.

If you haven’t used Dropbox, it’s a relatively invisible method of syncing files across computers and other devices (many iOS apps support Dropbox), but you can also use it to share files with others. There are two ways to do this. The first is to set up a shared folder, then invite another user. The second is to right-click on a file, then choose Dropbox > Get Link. You can then send this link to anyone so they can download the file. They don’t get the file from your computer, but rather from the Dropbox servers.

You can also use Dropbox for backups. Since the Dropbox servers save old versions of files, you can restore files from their web site.

There are some good and bad things about Dropbox’s plans and pricing. You can get a free account with 2 GB storage, but that’s not a lot, compared to Apple’s 20 GB iDisk. However, for many people, this may be more than enough to sync files and share the occasional file. The first paid price point is, unfortunately, 50 GB, which is much more than most users need; and it’s $100 a year. I’d long hoped that Dropbox would introduce a smaller capacity and lower price point: 25 GB for $50, for example.

In any case, if you don’t have a Dropbox account, get a free one now. Those 2 GB will be very useful, and can replace part of your iDisk. If you need more storage, the $100 may be a lot, but 50 GB will probably meet your needs.

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Dropbox and Automatic Camera Uploads

I don’t take a lot of pictures, but when Dropbox offered a beta of their software that automatically downloaded (and uploaded) photos, I tried it out. (I wrote about it in February.) When you connect a compatible device – digital camera, iPhone, etc. – Dropbox detects it and asks if you want to upload photos automatically. It creates a Camera Uploads folder in your Dropbox folder, downloads the photos (and videos) from your device, then uploads them to the Dropbox server. The photos are then synced to any other devices you have.

This is quick and practical, and for many people will be a good way to get all their photos onto their computer – and synced to other computers – with little hassle. Once they’ve been copied, you can go through the folder and see what you want to save, what you want to add to iPhoto, and what is good for deletion.

Personally, I use this for screenshots when I write articles about iOS software. Instead of hassling to get screenshots from my iPhone or iPad onto my Mac, I just connect the device to my Mac, and the files are there almost immediately.

If you don’t have a Dropbox account, you can get a free account with 2 GB storage that you can sync across computers and access from mobile devices. To get an account, click this link. In addition, if you sign up through my link, I’ll get some additional free space as well: 250 MB per user.

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