Dropbox may well be the market leader in personal cloud storage and sharing, but the big IT mega-companies are slowly waking up to the threat and launching their competing products. Microsoft beefs up its defenses, as Google prepares for its offensive. Guy Daniels reports.
Back in February, Microsoft revealed its plans for expanding the reach of its cloud-based synchronised file storage solution, SkyDrive. As viewers of Hawaii 5-0 know all to well (thanks to a phenomenally expensive product placement deal with the TV show), SkyDrive is Microsoft’s solution for sending files between different platforms and devices – the essential crime fighting tool.
The company has now made its file cloud more accessible with HTML5 and mobile apps, improved integration with Microsoft Office and third party apps, and built a device cloud for Windows and Windows Phone. Mike Torres and Omar Shahine, joint group programme managers for SkyDrive, wrote in a blog post that:
“You can now take your SkyDrive with you anywhere, connect it to any app that works with files and folders, and get all the storage you need – making SkyDrive the most powerful personal cloud storage service available.”
It needs to be. Dropbox has got the drop on the competition and is growing at an incredible rate. It’s even won over hard-core sceptics like myself, who once thought it was doomed after its founders turned down a multi-million dollar offer from the late Steve Jobs, believing (quite rightly, as it turned out) that they could do a better job themselves. Incidentally, for any iPhone-wielding writers out there, Scrivener+Dropbox+iWriter = the perfect combination.
Microsoft has updated the SkyDrive apps on Windows Phone and iOS devices, bringing better management features and sharing options (and it adds that these apps have been installed on over 2 million smartphones since their launch last December). A new preview app allows Windows users to view and manage their personal SkyDrive directly from Windows Explorer on Windows 8, 7 and Vista. And Mac users are also accommodated, with a new preview client for OS X Lion, letting you manage your SkyDrive from within the Finder.
But what catches our eye the most is Microsoft’s free space allocation – 7GB. Why 7, why not 5 or 10? It turns out that 7GB provides enough space for over 99 per cent of people to store their entire Office document library and share photos for several years.
It’s enough for over 20,000 Office documents or 7,000 photos, according to the company, which has also calculated that 99.94 per cent of SkyDrive customers today use 7GB or less. As Torres and Shahine explain:
“One of the challenges in building personal cloud storage for billions of people is scaling capacity and managing costs, while also meeting the needs of both enthusiasts and mainstream users. Different cloud providers take different approaches. Our model for SkyDrive is friendly and accessible to all, and just as importantly, provides a gimmick-free service that strikes the right balance of being free for the vast majority of customers, and low-priced for those who want more.”
There are also paid storage plans that reach up to 100GB per year (for a $50 fee). Those early adopters who signed up for the very generous 25GB of free content can keep their allocation.
One of the causalities of the new set of improvements is Microsoft’s Live Mesh system, which proved to be too complicated and convoluted to use. And whilst Mesh offered 25GB for free, you could only sync 5GB of that, as well as only upload files with a maximum size of 500MB – it’s now 2GB.
There is still no native Android app for SkyDrive, although Microsoft recommends several third party alternatives. And Linux uses will have to stick with Dropbox, as there is no sign of support for the open source OS.
Interestingly, Microsoft says that 70 per cent of Mac users also regularly use PCs – most likely we’re talking about a Mac for the home and a PC for the office. If this is the case, then these people are more likely to sign up for a Windows-friendly SkyDrive cloud storage account (especially if they get their company’s blessing), which they can also use at home. This would pose a serious challenge to Apple’s iCloud solution (which is somewhat lacklustre at the moment, although its deeper integration with the forthcoming Mountain Lion OS will hopefully rectify this).
Meanwhile, we are awaiting Google Drive – the cloud storage offering from Google, which may also incorporate or replace its Google Docs service. If you believe Reuters’ source, we could well see the new service sometime today. The report suggests that the basic free service will offer 5GB of storage, increasing to 100GB with monthly fees. Aside from those basic facts, the report has nothing further to add.
Writing on The Sociable blog, Piers Dillon Scott adds to the mounting speculation that Google Drive will launch sometime this week, and explains why it might have more in common with Google Docs than one would think:
“It looks like Google Drive will replace Google Docs, if directories referenced on the drive.google.com domain are an accurate measure.”
It’s all to do with the presence of a file called robots.txt that is currently hosted on what is expected to be Google Drive’s domain (drive.google.com) and that is used by website owners to control what search engines can index. It’s techie, but those with pens in their top pocket can read more on his site.
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