SkyDrive software

Software reviews: online file hosting

Fancy a business upgrade to your file hosting package? We look at some of the cloud storage options out there.

Microsoft: Sky Drive

$50 a year for 100GB

Microsoft has been working on online collaboration for a number of years. Initially just available for its own enterprise customers, this new cloud offering will expand its reach to its small business and consumer customer base.

Like Google Drive and Dropbox, there is generous storage for its freemium product - 7GB if you are not an existing Sky Drive subscriber and 25GB if you are.

For the first time, you don't need to have Microsoft Office software suite to edit your documents, as you're able to work on documents online just as you would with Google Docs. But as the native file formats are Microsoft file formats, this software will appeal to Microsoft Office customers.

In fact, users of Microsoft Office 2010 or later will be able to edit Sky Drive documents from within their applications. Although Microsoft claims that this is a collaborative editing platform, conflicts can occur if two users of a Word document work on it at the same time; multiple versions are then offered. However, collaboration within Excel and OneNote is possible without these conflicts.

For anyone who requires more storage, it is possible to purchase extra as required - up to 100GB for $50 a year.

On PCs and Macs, the software does create a native folder in the same way that Dropbox and Google Drive does. However, integration in Apple Macs and iOS devices is not as sophisticated as integration in devices running Windows and Windows phone.

Dropbox: DropBox for teams

$795

We have reviewed Dropbox's consumer offering in the past. However, for the company to boost revenue, it has recently launched an enhanced business-grade service that may also interest power users.

Replicating the features of the basic free service (which features only 2GB of online storage), the business service offers a massive 200GB of online storage - for each individual user with a monthly subscription or an annual fee.

Whereas online storage is not a novel or new proposition, Dropbox has been very successful in increasing the reach of its light service which allows users to store software on a variety of devices.

It has incentivised its user base to entice their friends and anyone on a user's social network by offering an extra 250MB to the user if any of their friends or colleagues sign up for the service.

For example, on Windows and Mac systems, the company's software allows users to store their files using an API (application protocol interface) that creates a folder where files can be moved in and out using the familiar file structure and user interface of each operating system.

When connected, all the files are synchronised to the cloud and thus to any other device where the user is signed in. In addition to PCs, versions of the software are available for smartphones, tablets and, according to the company, TVs in the future.

But that's the freemium service. Dropbox for Teams offers a minimum of 1TB of storage with five users for $795. For every additional user, add $125 more per year.

Also, users get access to administrative tools, access to telephone tech support and unlimited version history. The Web version allows users to access earlier versions of files. Dropbox offers users several ways to share. You can move files to a special public folder which you can then send a link to anyone else who will be able to access the file online via the Web interface.

But where Dropbox falls down is collaboration. It's not possible for several users to access the same file at the same time - unlike rival services such as Google Drive (formerly Google Docs). If two or more people are editing the same file, Dropbox will automatically create separate conflicted copies.

One further issue is that each user has their own allocation of 200GB of data. Although users can share files without eating into the storage allocation of both users (a criticism of the freemium product), you cannot allocate different levels of storage to different users. This can cause issues as some users will need a great deal of storage whereas others will require very little.

In addition, each individual account is fundamentally just that - an individual account. This lack of tailoring may mean that several users may use one user account which could cause issues with accountability (who changed what and when?). Effectively, Teams is a daisy chain of business accounts - admittedly with a few administrator tools thrown in, but a more flexible approach to storage allocation and user accounts would be welcomed by many businesses.

Google: Google Drive

monthly subscription

Dependant on storage quota Google Drive is more than a storage box, it is a revolutionary reboot of Google Apps - the Web-based productivity software that was originally launched to rival Microsoft's suite of business productivity software, Microsoft Office and Exchange.

Since the growth of cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox and Microsoft's Sky Drive, it surely wouldn't have been long before Google launched something similar - and so it has.

Integrating the existing Google Apps services, Drive allows Google users to not only store documents, but to collaborate with colleagues and friends on these documents with almost limitless users.

For businesses Google Drive works well. The initial storage quotas are fairly small, but additional storage licences can be bought at various levels. For example, you can purchase an additional 20GB for £2.50 a month or an additional 200GB for £11.50 a month.

Similar to Dropbox, software needs to be installed on your PC, which creates a folder where you can drag files in to synchronise.

But if you want to edit a file when via the Web interface, it has to be converted into a Google Docs file format first. You can subsequently save it back to a Word file, for example, but this is another step and more advanced features in native formats will not all be supported.

Therefore, if you tend to work using Microsoft tools, you might find this more complicated. If you work natively all the time using Google Docs formats, this will not be a problem.This might be Google's strategy to increase the popularity of their web based apps. Certainly, integration with Google's Chrome operating system is the ideal scenario.

If you are an existing Google Apps user, you will know that you have to put up with Google text ads. If you subscribe to Google Apps for Business you can turn these off, but they are not disabled by default - but administrators will be able to create the same environment for all users

Still, it's an environment that will be jarring for many.

Cyberduck: Cyberduck FTP

hosting packages are separate

No review of file hosting solutions can exclude the granddaddy of them all - File Transfer Protocol or FTP for short. It predates the invention of the World Wide Web and is still the dominant file hosting system used on the Internet. Virtually all website servers rely on FTP to transfer files and content to them. As a means for transferring productivity files, such as Word and Excel, it works very well. However, you will not be able to work on these files while they are on the server.

But Windows and Mac have FTP clients built into them as standard. For example on a Mac, you simply use Finder to connect to an FTP server as you would connect to any network server. Similarly, in Windows, you can use Explorer to connect to any FTP server.

Additionally, there are a number of FTP software clients available. The best one, in my opinion, is Cyberduck. Not only is it very simple to use, it is completely free. It has the ability to bookmark your FTP servers - so that you do not have to enter a password each time you want to access your files.

You will still need to subscribe to an FTP hosting service or set up one yourself if you are reasonable comfortable with home networking. Many consumer NAS drives (such as the Netgear ReadyNas) have the ability to host FTP server software.

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