Choosing a cloud service

These days, it seems everything is in the “cloud.” But what exactly is a cloud? Put simply, it’s a secure place on the internet to store and access your data.

In the past, we stored files mainly on our computers – on hard drives, flash drives, CDs, and decades ago, floppies. That was fine when we had just one computer. But now, it’s common for a single user to have a desktop at work, laptop at home, a smartphone and a tablet. Maybe a smartwatch and smart TV as well. So an email, document, calendar, book, photo or song that lives only on one device doesn’t do you much good when you’re on another device. And working with other people who also have multiple devices, you see how impractical the old model is. You’re constantly chasing down the right version of each file… and hoping it doesn’t get lost.

That’s where the cloud comes in. Save your data to the cloud and you’ll have access whenever and wherever you need it. Share live data with the people who need it and everyone’s on the same page.

Almost every tech company has their own cloud, and it seems to be getting cloudier every day. So which is right for you?

Many people are familiar with Dropbox. It was the first popular cloud sync service, and probably still is. You install Dropbox on your computers & devices, then drag files to the Dropbox folder. Dropbox takes care of uploading & downloading files, keeping all the Dropbox folders in sync. You can even share items in your Dropbox with other users. The downside? Dropbox is pretty basic – don’t expect special features based on the type of data, app or platform. And you only get 2 GB of storage for free – the only paid option is 1 TB or 1,000 GB for $10/month.

iCloud is the essential cloud service for Apple users. Enable iCloud on Mac & iPhone/iPad, then check off the items you want to sync. Because customized support for iCloud is built into every Apple app, it’s much better than Dropbox. Sync Contacts, Calendars, Notes, Safari bookmarks & passwords, Pages & Numbers docs, Photos & iTunes music & movies – all between Mac, iPhone & iPad. Many other apps sold in the App Store sync with iCloud. For everything else, you can use iCloud Drive. Like Dropbox, it’s a folder that syncs between computers. To access your iCloud Drive, click the Go menu and choose iCloud Drive, or look on the left sidebar of Finder, Open & Save windows. Learn how to use iCloud Drive app on iPhone & iPad. If you’re an Apple user, you’ll want to use iCloud for everything you can. You can save lots of space by offloading your Documents & Desktop folders to iCloud by enabling Optimized Storage on your Mac. Apple provides 5 GB of free iCloud storage, or upgrade to 50 GB ($1/month), 200 GB ($3/month), or 1 TB ($10/month).

Google Docs made a splash when it debuted a few years ago. Simple word processor, spreadsheet & presentations you create and edit right in a web browser. The standout feature is collaborationshare docs with others and several people can edit them, even at the same moment. No more emailing different versions and trying to piece together multiple revisions. The downside of Google Docs is that you live in a browser… and without many features we’ve come to expect from modern apps. Google also offers Google Drive for Mac, iOS & other platforms. Like Dropbox, Google Drive syncs a folder with other computers devices. If you have Gmail, you have Google Docs & Google Drive. The downside is that unless you’re using Google Docs, Google’s offerings aren’t very compelling. Free accounts include 15 GB (more than Dropbox); upgrade to 100 GB for $2/month or 1 TB for $10/month.

OneDrive

If you use Microsoft Office, we highly recommend Microsoft OneDrive. It’s deeply integrated with Word, Excel & PowerPoint – in fact, the vastly improved Office 2016 versions take you to your OneDrive by default every time you open or save. Like Google Docs, you can share files with others and it supports simultaneous editors. The difference? You can work in the full Microsoft Office apps designed for Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android & Windows. OneDrive can also sync other types of files between computers & devices. Like iCloud, the free OneDrive includes 5 GB of storage. Upgrade to 100 GB for $2/month or 200 GB for $4/month. If you use Microsoft Office, OneDrive is a great deal – it’s included with Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions. For $7/month, you get Microsoft Office apps for your Mac or PC plus smartphone & tablet… and 1 TB of OneDrive storage. For $10/month, 5 people each have Office apps and their own 1 TB OneDrive. Business plans are available too.

Adobe Creative Cloud is much more than cloud storage – it’s Adobe’s brand for their professional graphics software. Your Creative Cloud subscription includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and a dozen other Mac/Windows and tablet apps for $50/month. Each user has 20 GB of cloud storage. Skip sending large graphics files for approval – store them in your Creative Cloud and send a link. Recipients can view and mark up live versions without needing Adobe apps of their own. Adobe Document Cloud is part of Acrobat ($15/month) and is perfect for sharing PDFs. Edit, digitally sign, mark up, or share libraries of PDF files right on your computers and portable devices.

So which is best for you? iCloud is a must for personal Apple users and Microsoft Office with OneDrive is very compelling for business. The others serve specialized purposes. And sometimes you need a particular cloud service because it’s already chosen by other collaborator on a project.

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