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Software Reviews - Cloud storage aggregation

It's great to have multiple companies offering free storage in the cloud - until you realise you can't keep track of it all. Here are a few packages to help you fix that.

Gladinet

Gladinet Cloud

Free, or from $6.99/mth after an initial 14-day trial

Most cloud services work by syncing a local directory or directories to the cloud, and indeed for many purposes that is ideal. If you need to work offline, or sync existing local data while keeping it in place, you need your cloud stuff synced to your hard disk.

However, if your cloud store is a large one, as it might well be if it's shared with other users, or if you need stronger permission locking to prevent two users opening and updating the same file at the same time, then attaching it as a network drive may be better. Network drives look and can be used like any other other drive, for example under Windows they can get a drive letter.

Gladinet therefore works by creating a network drive, with all your clouds in it as folders - you attach your cloud storage either via the Gladinet website or through the local client program, which is available for Windows and Mac, though only the Windows version is free. Paying customers can also get file viewers for Android, BlackBerry and iOS clients, and a Windows server application, which can be deployed on your own site as private cloud storage.

The local PC client lets you sync local folders to the cloud. Premium account customers also get 10GB of Gladinet's own public cloud storage, to which they can attach local folders. Local folders can be shared with other people via the cloud too, plus there is a team edition with extra features for collaboration and shared workspaces.

The one surprise is that Gladinet does not support Dropbox. Of course Dropbox has its own local drive-style clients for pretty much every platform, including Windows, Mac and Linux, but Gladinet's option to sync individual local folders to the cloud - in the paid-for editions, at least - is more flexible and capable.

 

Tacit Software

FolderSync

£1.95 or free trial

Perhaps the simplest approach to cloud aggregation is to pull them together on the device itself. Many third-party file managers will also log on to and manage cloud storage now, but a more powerful option, on Android at least, is Tacit Dynamics' FolderSync.

Not only does it work as a full file manager - able to connect to and use a raft of online services, from cloud storage through FTP and WebDAV servers to Windows shares on your local network - but it can sync any local folders on the Android device to any online storage.

For instance, you could use it'to sync your photos to both your NAS box and a cloud service, or keep multiple mobile devices in sync with a collection of music stored in the network. Yes, you can do some of that with the dedicated cloud clients - Dropbox for Android or Skydrive on Windows Mobile, say - but not with such granularity or cloud independence. One nice touch is that sync can be one-way (backup style) or two-way, and you can turn synced deletion on or off.

FolderSync is clean and simple, and works very well, even if set-up is occasionally not quite intuitive - for example, while selecting folders to sync the 'ticking' metaphor is used in two slightly different ways, as are the item names in the file manager.

If there is a downside, it is that with FolderSync, each storage service is connected individually to each device, whereas with the likes of Otixo and Gladinet, you link to each of your storage services via the website, then each PC, tablet or phone merely needs a single connection to that. Then again, it is a lot easier to connect storage on your own private network - a NAS box, say - at the device level than via a web service.

It is also fairly simple to backup your FolderSync connection settings on one device and restore them on another - you can even use FolderSync to sync your FolderSync settings from device to device.

The free version is ad-supported, while the paid version removes the adverts and adds a few features, such as tasker/locale support and user-defined sync filters.

 

ZeroDesktop

ZeroPC

Free, or from $2.99/month

A purely web- and mobile-based cloud integrator, ZeroPC takes a rather different approach from its rivals. Instead of - or perhaps as well as - a 'file manager'-style overview of your cloud storage, it'gives you a web-based virtual PC, complete with apps, reporting tools and a 'cloud desktop'.

Not only does this cloud desktop provide a single point of contact in the cloud for all your storage services, just as Otixo and Gladisync do, but it is surprisingly effective and usable as a virtual PC. It provides a range of web-based apps, for example Google's document viewers, the ThinkFree office tools (these require Java) and the Pixlr image editor.

It can be PIN-protected and also has useful analysis tools, such as a graphical view showing how much storage space you have left and where, and what content types you have stored. There is a search tool that runs across all your storage service and includes photo previews; we were also impressed by the responsiveness of ZeroPC's online tech support when we had a problem getting this working properly.

The web-based cloud desktop is designed for desktop browsers, ideally with Java enabled, but mostly worked when we tried it on an Android tablet. There are also ZeroPC cloud content browsing apps for Android and iPhone/iPad; these cannot edit in place but can download and share files, and add them to a collection, which is a virtual folder that can 'store' files from multiple clouds.

ZeroPC also offers an Android'app called Photo Connect. This is for phones only, and acts as a unified picture viewer that aggregates the photos in all your clouds and previews them by date. Again, you can consolidate photos from different sources into virtual albums and then share those. Photo Connect is a nice idea but we did find it rather slow, both for the initial indexing and subsequent previews. It also is only available on phones, not tablets, which seems foolish, given that it feels cramped on a smaller screen.

While the free version of ZeroPC is definitely useful, it is limited on monthly bandwidth usage and file upload size, and it lacks a number of features that only come in the paid-for premium versions. These include password-protection for file and folder sharing, extra cloud storage space beyond the initial free 1GB, and a cloud backup feature which automatically copies your content from one cloud to another.

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