The emergence of consumer-level cloud storage systems is not necessarily a new thing. However, the popularity and realization of their functionality have boomed in recent months, particularly with the release of Google Drive, the search giant’s new flagship cloud storage solution. The dust and hype from that release has now settled a bit, and it is time to examine the current major players in the cloud storage space with a little more objectivity. I refer, of course, to Google Drive, Dropbox, and one that may have slipped under the radar for many: Microsoft Skydrive.
Storage capability is the first and most basic functionality of a cloud storage system. Without getting into too much detail, Google Drive offers 5GB free with upgrades to 25GB for $2.49/month, 100GB for $4.99/month and a whopping 1TB for $49.99/month. Skydrive offers 7GB free, 20GB for $10/year, 50GB for $25/year, and 100GB for $50/year. Dropbox limps in with 2GB free, 50GB for $9.99/month or $99/year, or 100GB for $19.99/month or $199/year. Dropbox also offer a “Dropbox for Teams” option starting at 1TB for $795/year for five users which I discussed in greater detail here.
Looking at it purely from the storage perspective, both Google Drive and Skydrive trump Dropbox in terms of price/storage. While Dropbox does offer additional storage for referrals, that will become more and more difficult in the wake of these other storage options. Between Skydrive and Google Drive, it really depends on what pricing plan you’re most comfortable with. If you can spring for the yearly pricing, then Skydrive works out to be a bit cheaper, but many may find the monthly pricing of Google Drive to be more flexible.
Because people complete more and more work remotely from personal devices, the mobile apps for these solutions make a big difference in day-to-day functionality. Currently, Skydrive has apps on both Android and iOS. Google Drive only has an Android app, though Google promises an iOS app is under development. Dropbox offers apps on all major operating systems with the exception of Windows Phone.
While Dropbox seems to have the upper hand here, consider the fact that the vast majority of phones are either running iOS or Android right now. That being said, the fact that Dropbox can be used from numerous platforms does lend it some flexibility, particularly in industries requiring employees to use Blackberry phones. Google suffers the greatest disadvantage here, but when it releases its iOS app it will be just as competitive as Skydrive in the mobile solutions category.
Google has long had an interest in allowing shared documents and collaboration in both their Google Documents program and the now retired Google Wave. Google Drive continues this trend, particularly because Google Documents will be stored in the Google Drive account once it is activated. Changes made to Google Documents files will be reflected in real time so users can truly collaborate online, and comments and notations can be made and viewed by anyone with access to the file. Skydrive provides similar functionality, but only for Microsoft Office documents. Meanwhile, Dropbox allows for the sharing of folders and files, but they can only be read, not edited.
Here is where people will get particularly gung-ho depending on their ecosystem of choice. If someone is already a heavy Google user with Google+ accounts, Gmail, and familiarity with Google Documents, Google Drive offers a fantastic system because all of these will link with the Drive account seamlessly. For instance, it is possible to post photos uploaded to a Drive account to Google+, and to save images from there as well. Another function that is useful is the ability to use Google to search within folders for specific files and even images. For instance, typing the word “airplane” would bring up all documents with the word airplane and even images that have airplanes in them. This kind of sci-fi supertech is very exciting and the functionality is both apparent and immediately useful, particularly for users who intend to keep a large portion of their documents in the cloud.
As mentioned, Skydrive links with Windows Live accounts and Microsoft Office documents, though the diversity of integration doesn’t really compare with Google. That being said, Microsoft products are so popular with enterprise offices that the diversity of Google’s offering might take a backseat in importance to the depth and focus of Skydrive. Again, depending on your ecosystem the advantage could go either way, though Google certainly has more features.
Dropbox offers a wealth of integration through other applications that might sway some users. For instance, in many iOS apps it is possible to save documents directly to a Dropbox account. Still, in terms of functionality and integration, Dropbox does not offer the flash of either Google Drive or Skydrive. Additionally, as of May 2, Apple put a hold on apps with Dropbox integration because users were being redirected to a page that allowed for payment options, violating Apple’s App Store policies.
What to Do, What to Do?
Though Dropbox was once king of the mountain, they have struggled to keep up with some of the advances made by Google Drive and Skydrive. That being said, the fact that they have an established user base and a history of secure storage keeps them in the race. However, for users who have a strong presence in either the Windows or Google environment, the choices become far more interesting. Ultimately, price and storage size are relatively similar for both Skydrive and Google Drive, so it mostly depends upon which environment a user wishes to hang their hat, so to speak. For me, I tend to lean towards the Google Drive system. The functionality offered by the deep integration with the full Google suite of services makes it incredibly valuable. However, both Skydrive and Google represent fantastic options for either casual or enterprise users, and the close competition will spur continued innovation from both services. It’s a good time to be online, folks.