Alternatives to iCloud for cloud based backups

When Yosemite introduced iCloud Drive, Apple pitched itself against a host of other cloud storage services. Here’s our guide to iCloud’s main online rivals.

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  • Apple iCloud Drive
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
  • Box
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • MacMate
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • SugarSync
  • More stories
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Apple iCloud Drive

The release of Yosemite and iOS 8 also brought new features to the iCloud storage options. It’s now possible store any file on the iCloud Drive, and the iApps like Number and Pages actually create their own folders on iCloud and default to storing their documents there.

It’s not just Apple apps either, lots of third party apps are iCloud enabled. Also, it’s not just documents that are shared from device to device. Settings for apps can also be shared. So some games can be played on the iPad, then carried on where they were left off, on an iPhone, or even a MacBook.

It’s still relatively early days for iCloud Drive, and it’s sure to become more important, the more apps support it. But it still lacks some of the great collaboration and sharing features that Dropbox has.

How It Works: Apple’s iCloud is great for uploading and sharing photos, contacts and other information across all your Macs and iOS devices. However, it does have limitations when it comes it other types of documents and files. The current Documents In The Cloud feature only works within specific iWork apps – so when you open Pages it will show you Pages documents stored in iCloud, but you can’t see Numbers or Keynote documents, or upload other types of files that you might want to store online.

That’s a key weakness when compared to Dropbox and other cloud services, which is why the forthcoming iCloud Drive got a big round of applause when it was announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference recently. When Mac OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) is released later this year, it will display the contents of your iCloud Drive in a window on the desktop of your Mac just like any other folder. You can drag and drop any type of file into this folder, and there’s a corresponding iCloud Drive feature built into iOS 8, as well as a Windows version of the iCloud software so that you can easily transfer files to all your devices.

Pricing: Apple has cut its prices for iCloud storage. You’ll get the same 5GB of free storage that iCloud currently provides, but upgrading to 20GB will cost just 79p per month, or £2.99 for 200GB. That’s much cheaper than iCloud’s current prices – and also very competitive when compared to rivals such as Dropbox.

20GB (79p per month)
200GB (£2.99 per month)
500GB (£6.99 per month)
1TB  (£14.99 per month)

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.10 (Yosemite), iOS 8, Windows 7/8 (TBC)

Read: How to manage iCloud storage & back up

Read: Yosemite tips for beginners

Read: How to work as a team using iWork for iCloud

Read: How to transfer contacts from iPhone to iPhone

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The release of Yosemite and iOS 8 also brought new features to the iCloud storage options. It’s now possible store any file on the iCloud Drive, and the iApps like Number and Pages actually create their own folders on iCloud and default to storing their documents there.

It’s not just Apple apps either, lots of third party apps are iCloud enabled. Also, it’s not just documents that are shared from device to device. Settings for apps can also be shared. So some games can be played on the iPad, then carried on where they were left off, on an iPhone, or even a MacBook.

It’s still relatively early days for iCloud Drive, and it’s sure to become more important, the more apps support it. But it still lacks some of the great collaboration and sharing features that Dropbox has.

How It Works: Apple’s iCloud is great for uploading and sharing photos, contacts and other information across all your Macs and iOS devices. However, it does have limitations when it comes it other types of documents and files. The current Documents In The Cloud feature only works within specific iWork apps – so when you open Pages it will show you Pages documents stored in iCloud, but you can’t see Numbers or Keynote documents, or upload other types of files that you might want to store online.

That’s a key weakness when compared to Dropbox and other cloud services, which is why the forthcoming iCloud Drive got a big round of applause when it was announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference recently. When Mac OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) is released later this year, it will display the contents of your iCloud Drive in a window on the desktop of your Mac just like any other folder. You can drag and drop any type of file into this folder, and there’s a corresponding iCloud Drive feature built into iOS 8, as well as a Windows version of the iCloud software so that you can easily transfer files to all your devices.

Pricing: Apple has cut its prices for iCloud storage. You’ll get the same 5GB of free storage that iCloud currently provides, but upgrading to 20GB will cost just 79p per month, or £2.99 for 200GB. That’s much cheaper than iCloud’s current prices – and also very competitive when compared to rivals such as Dropbox.

20GB (79p per month)
200GB (£2.99 per month)
500GB (£6.99 per month)
1TB  (£14.99 per month)

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.10 (Yosemite), iOS 8, Windows 7/8 (TBC)

Read: How to manage iCloud storage & back up

Read: Yosemite tips for beginners

Read: How to work as a team using iWork for iCloud

Read: How to transfer contacts from iPhone to iPhone

 

Amazon Cloud Drive

How It Works: Amazon has a cloud service for business users called AWS – Amazon Web Services – that is horribly complicated and really not worth touching unless you have IT staff with big brains who can sort it all out for you. However, a couple of years ago it also decided to launch Cloud Drive for ordinary folks like us.

Unfortunately, Cloud Drive is still fairly basic, and focuses primarily on providing a simple online backup option for photos and videos. There’s no desktop app for Macs or PCs, so you can’t automatically upload files as you can with Dropbox and most other cloud services. If you want to upload files then you have to log into the Cloud Drive web site using an existing Amazon account, and then do it the old-fashioned way by locating and selecting files individually before uploading.

There is an iOS app, though, which can be set to automatically upload photos and videos from your iPhone or iPad. The app also runs on Amazon’s own Kindle Fire tablets, and if you buy one of its new Fire Phones then all the photos you take with the phone will be uploaded and stored for free – in a similar fashion to the way that iCloud lets you store photo-streams from iOS devices.

Pricing: Amazon Cloud Drive gives you 5GB of storage for free, and you can then upgrade with anything from 20GB to a full 1TB of online storage. Pricing isn’t bad, but you do have to pay by the year, rather than on a monthly basis, starting at £6.00 per year for 20GB, £32.00 for 100GB and £64.00 for 200GB.

Platforms supported: Mac/Windows – via web browser, iOS 7, Android 2.3.3 or later, Kindle Fire

More info: www.amazon.com/clouddrive/learnmore

Read: What to do if your hard drive or SSD crashes and you have no backup

 

Box

How It Works: Box does provide free Personal accounts with a useful 10GB of online storage for personal use, and the Box Sync app works just like rivals such as Dropbox and OneDrive, by creating a folder on your Mac where you can store all the files that you want to upload into the cloud.

However, Box is primarily focused on its paid-for business accounts, which provide a wide range of additional features for larger organisations. There’s a variety of different options available, including version-tracking controls, and tools for online collaboration and project management. Sharing is obviously important for business users, and Box gives you great control by allowing you to specify preview, editing and downloading permissions for all your files.

Box recently added a new feature called Notes, which allows you to log in to the Box web site with your browser and create simple documents so that you can quickly share ideas with colleagues. Box also works with Google Docs, allowing you to create more complex wordprocessing and spreadsheet documents as well. Box is also very secure, providing features such as data-encryption and multi-factor authentication, and it conforms to EU standards for collecting and protecting personal data.

Pricing: Personal accounts give you 10GB of free storage, with the option to upgrade to 100GB for £7.00 per month. Teams of up to 10 people can share a Starter account with 100GB of storage for £3.50 per person per month, while larger organizations can contact Box to get a quote for group accounts that provide unlimited storage and various other features.

Platforms Supported: Mac OS X 10.7 or later, Windows XP, 7 and 8, iOS 6 or later, Android 4.0, Windows Phone 7.5 or later

More info: www.box.com

Read: Google Docs app vs Apple Pages for iOS

 

Dropbox

Dropbox is probably the most familiar service to many people, as it was the first to bring cloud based folders to the public’s attention. Microsoft technically got their first, but it was initially only for Windows users. Dropbox is the only contender that is solely focused on live backup, as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have other fish to fry. So I feel that the others are in many ways playing catch-up with Dropbox.

Dropbox is available on pretty much every platform, from OS X, Windows, Linux, plus most mobile platforms. The only ones left out are Windows phone users. It also just works really very reliably. It lets you share folders with other Dropbox users, and there’s a lot of them out there already. It also gives 30 days grace for if you accidentally delete something you didn’t mean to.

Best of all, it just seems trustworthy, and tested. Not that I’m saying any of the others aren’t. But trusting your data to the cloud means giving control of your most precious stuff. I also know people have trust issues with a lot of big international companies, like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, whether well founded or not. But I’ve not had any reason to feel creeped out trusting my files to Dropbox. It’s not the cheapest, but all things being equal, I’m inclined to think of it as the best.

How It Works: Dropbox was the first service to bring cloud storage to a mainstream audience, and it set the template that most of its rivals still follow. When you install Dropbox it creates a special Dropbox folder that you can place anywhere on your Mac’s hard disk. Any files or folders that you place inside that Dropbox folder are automatically uploaded to the Internet and then synced to any other computers or mobile devices that are linked to your Dropbox account.

Dropbox also installs a little pull-down menu in your Mac’s main toolbar, which allows you to monitor your files as they are uploaded, and you can also set Dropbox to automatically upload photos from your iPhone or iPad, or even to upload your entire iPhoto library for safekeeping. It’s also possible to share specific folders with friends or colleagues, although this process is a bit tedious as you need to log into the Dropbox website and set up the sharing options for each folder individually. Like many Mac users I still rely on Dropbox for backing-up my important work files, so it’ll be interesting to see if iCloud Drive can finally tempt me away from Dropbox.

Pricing: You only get 2GB of free storage with Dropbox – although I personally find that more than adequate for my day-to-day work files. There’s also a big jump when you start to pay for extra storage, costing $9.99 per month for 100GB and $19.99 for 200GB. There are discounts available if you pay annually, but Dropbox is still one of the more expensive cloud services currently available.

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.4 or later, Windows XP or later, Ubuntu 7.1, iOS 7 or later, Android 2.1 or later Blackberry OS 4.5 or later

More info: www.dropbox.com

Read: iCloud v Dropbox comparison review

Read: How to back up your Mac: Three types of backup all Mac users should be using

 

Google Drive

If you use Google+ or Google Docs, you’ll likely already know about Google Drive. In fact documents created with Google Docs are already stored there, and they don’t even count towards the 15GB you get free from Google.

As with many of the services, Google Drive has features that are specific to fans of the other Google services. For example, there’s a setting that will convert Excel files into Google Docs format when they are copied to Google Drive. Really handy if that’s your preferred way of working. But if you’re a Microsoft Office user, then there’s less appeal.

If 15GB isn’t enough space, 100GB per year is reasonably priced at around £15 per year (actually priced in dollars at $1.99 per month). That makes it one of the cheapest ways to get 100GB, the same as Microsoft’s OneDrive. Although the lure of terabyte of this kind of storage seems appealing. 100GB is a perfectly useable amount of space, so would be a good value way to secure your most recent documents.

If 100GB isn’t enough, then the next step up is 1TB, will cost around £75 per year ($9.99 per month). There are cheaper options, but Google fans still get a decent deal compared to Apple and DropBox, which are more expensive.

How It Works: Google Drive is very similar to Microsoft’s OneDrive, providing online storage and syncing features along with a number of other online services. Like most of its cloud storage rivals it works by creating a special Google Drive folder on your Mac’s hard disk and then automatically uploading any files that you place within that folder.

You can log on to your Google Drive using a web browser as well, and Google Drive will also allow you to create and edit documents using the online Google Docs apps for wordprocessing, spreadsheets and presentations. The web site also includes a Google Drive Viewer option that will allow you to open and view many different types of files even if you don’t have the necessary software installed on your Mac, and there’s a useful search option that can scan text within PDF files and other documents.

Pricing: The main attraction of Google Drive is that it gives you a full 15GB of storage for free – far more than Dropbox or any of its other cloud rivals. If you need more than that then you can upgrade to 100GB for just $1.99 a month, or a full one terabyte for $9.99. Those are very competitive prices – but there are some quite big strings attached as well. Your Google Drive is linked to other Google services, such as Gmail, which means that emails and file attachments that you both send and receive take up part of your storage. And if you upload high-res photos (4MP or larger) to your Google+ account then those will take up some of your storage space as well. Don’t purchase your extra storage from within the iOS app either – it’s a lot more expensive than if you buy it through the Mac desktop app.

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Windows XP or later, iOS 7, Android (version depends on device)

More info: drive.google.com

Read: Best bootable back ups for Mac

 

MacMate

How It Works: MacMate is run by MacAce, a British company that specialises in providing Internet services for Macs. It was designed as a replacement for MobileMe – an earlier Apple service that was eventually scrapped and replaced by iCloud – and like Mobile Me it provides web hosting and other features in addition to simple online storage.

If storage is all you want then you can sign up for a basic account that provides 10GB for free. Once you’ve installed the MacMate Launcher program it displays your online storage on your Mac’s desktop just like an ordinary external hard disk. You can then drag and drop files onto the MacMate disk and they’ll automatically be uploaded and stored on MacMate’s web servers. MacMate doesn’t provide the slick syncing features of iCloud or Dropbox, but the MacMate app runs on Macs, PCs and iOS, so it’s easy to transfer files from one device to another. You can also access your files using a web browser, and set up a public folder for sharing files with friends or colleagues.

Pricing: A free MacMate account will give you 10GB of online storage, or you can step up to a Classic account that provides 25GB of storage for £3.99 per month, or a Pro account that starts at £6.99 a month for 100GB. That’s more expensive than iCloud Drive for simple storage but, as we’ve mentioned, MacMate provides other features as well. The Classic and Pro accounts both include web hosting and email services, so they’re a really good option for people who want to start up their own web site or have their own personalized email address. And if you sign up for a whole year you get the first two months free.

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.3 or later, Windows XP or later, iOS 4.3 or later

More info: www.macmate.me

Read: MacMate review

 

Microsoft OneDrive

If you happen to subscribe to Office 365, it has until recently included 1TB of OneDrive storage. Now Microsoft has increased that to unlimited, which may sound amazing. But it merely illustrates that for most people, the limitation isn’t the online storage, but the size of the smallest drive being synched to the cloud. 

But if you have Office 365, you don’t really need to look any further. It isn’t as fully featured as Dropbox. However there’s an upgrade that offer more features due in later this year. There has also been a recent upgrade to the OneDrive iOS app that makes it more appealing. It now supports Apple’s Touch ID and has a PIN code lock. For people using Office Mobile on iOS, it’s a pretty good option.

Other reasons to choose the OneDrive might be for people using mixed networks. If you work on Macs and PCs, and even Xbox, you might favour the OneDrive. But the user experience from the Mac point of view is currently limited. It’s a bargain for Office 365 users though, so in that scenario it would be hard to justify spending additional money on a competitor.

It would be the number one choice for Office users, especially users of Mobile Office. But for those not using Office, there may not be enough features to be attractive.

How It Works: Originally called SkyDrive – but recently renamed after a bit of a legal hoo-ha with Rupert Murdoch and Sky TV – OneDrive very much follows the format that was pioneered by Dropbox. The OneDrive app creates a special folder that you can place anywhere on your Mac’s hard disk, and any files that you place within the OneDrive folder are automatically uploaded to the Internet and then copied across to any other devices that are linked to your OneDrive account.

OneDrive does have a few ideas of its own, though. A key feature is the ability to use OneDrive with the latest versions of Microsoft Office. You can tell Office apps such as Word and Excel to save your documents to OneDrive, and people who subscribe to Office 365 get an extra 20GB of storage in addition to the standard 7GB that is available for free. You can also access your files by using a web browser to log on to the main OneDrive web site, and when you do this you can even create and edit documents within your browser by using the online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Pricing: You get a useful 7GB of free storage when you sign up for OneDrive – compared to 5GB for iCloud. Upgrade prices are competitive, but you do have to pay for a full year rather than monthly, which will cost you $25 for 50GB, $50 for 100GB, or $100 for 200GB per year. Microsoft also offers special accounts for business users, although pricing depends on the number of users and the amount of storage required.

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.7 or later, Windows Vista, 7/8, iOS 6.0 or later, Android 4.0, Windows Phone 7.5 or later, Xbox 360/One

More info: onedrive.live.com

Read: Microsoft OneDrive vs. Google Drive and Dropbox: what is the best file sync service for Mac?

 

SugarSync

How It Works: Cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive all work in basically the same way, by creating a special folder on your Mac where you place the files that you want to upload. The problem with this approach is that you can’t keep your files organized in the way that you prefer – if you want your files to be uploaded into the cloud then you are forced to move them into that special folder.

SugarSync can create its own upload folder on your hard drive just like its rivals, but if you don’t want to move your files into that folder you can also use its File Manager option to upload existing folders without having to move them. This is really useful as it allows you to keep all your files and folders organized just the way you want them. And if you’re uploading an assortment of folders from different locations you can display them all together as a virtual ‘SugarSync Drive’ on your desktop for easy access.

Pricing:  The bad news is that SugarSync doesn’t provide any free storage at all. You can sign up for a 90-day free trial with 5GB of storage – if you can find the link hidden on the web site – but after that you have to pay a regular monthly subscription. Prices start at $7.49 per month for 60GB, $9.99 for 100GB or $39.99 for 500GB. Those monthly prices make SugarSync one of the more expensive cloud services, but the company is currently offering discounts of up to 50% if you pay for a whole year up front.

Platforms supported: Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Windows XP or later, iOS 7, Android 1.6 or later

More info: www.sugarsync.com

Read: Best remote backup options

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