Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My 10 best free cloud storage services







With the increased use of mobile devices we are all heading to the cloud for storage solutions. Cloud storage is both easy to access and easy to use, in the majority of cases. Cloud storage is a simple way of backing up important files so they can be share securely between devices wherever you are.  So instead of taking a CDR, DVD, USB or external drive with you a safer method of taking your files with you is to use the cloud.  If you have ever had a hard drive failure or needed to reformat a computer you will be aware of the need to back up data in advance so you can restore everything. In the age of computer attacks from all sides, putting your data in the hands of other as a backup is a very sensible idea.


I have been a regular cloud user for a number of years now and present my ten favourite cloud providers. They are ordered in my own personal order based on convenience, ease of use, free storage amount and security.  Most providers give a certain amount of storage free but you can top this up by using apps or recommending friends. Most cloud storage providers also provide apps and desktop software for Windows, Linux and Macs. A consideration is whether you install the desktop client which gives you a Windows Explorer view. You might want to specify which folders you want to download to the desktop client as you can easily fill your computer heard drive with files from your cloud clients.


1.      Dropbox (dropbox.com): the first and possibly the most widely used cloud provider. It gives you a basic and poultry 2GB of space but this can easily be added to but is enough to store key songs, books, photos and documents.


2.      Copy (copy.com): My surprise second favourite provider gives you a hue 15GB of free storage. Copy also shares your storage space when you share file space with someone else.  So this is ideal for business use as you only use half both parties involved in the share.

3.       Box (box.com): A close third. Box gives 10GB of free storage and a reasonable desktop client. A solid performer which I use regularly.


4.      Google Drive (drive.google.com): Google Drive is a useful cloud provision, as you can work in the cloud through Google Docs and save them directly to your cloud storage.  You get a generous 15GB of space when you open a Google, but this also includes the space taken up by your Google mail provision.


5.      OneDrive (onedrive.live.com): Microsoft’s venture into the cloud is a good effective and stable platform offering 7GB on signup. This is a useful place to put your documents and photos. If you have a Microsoft computer this is a good bet.

6.      Tresorit (tresorit.com): Tresorit is a useful edition to the top providers. Offering 5GB as standard and expandable to 16GB. This is worthy of inclusion as it is the place to store really important files as it uses using AES-256, TLS and RSA-4096 protocols to encrypt your data. Although all the other providers encrypt your data and will keep it safe Tresorit adds further layers of encryption so is ideal for the files you cannot afford to be without. (2015 update: Having used Tresorit for a few years this is my number one provider for work related storage).


7.       MediaFire (mediafire.com): Another provider offering a massive 50GB of free storage but with a stipulation that individual file sizes cannot exceed 200MB. So a great place to backup and store your precious photos.

8.       SurDoc (Surdoc.com): SurDoc offer 100GB of free space! It claims military security so your documents should be safe. I have used this for a while and find the Windows app ok but uploading 100GBs of data might take a very long time. One issue With SurDoc is that after 12 months you have to renew your storage, which means that users are sent renewal notices requesting them to advertise SurDoc on Twitter, Facebook and through other methods in order to retain the storage offered.  Consequently, many people will use this for minimum storage rather than the whole amount available as this would require 100 adverts retain it annually. (2015 update: I stopped using SurDoc as after a year they require you to renew by tweeting or advertising their service.  I have little objection in doing this in principle if I believe I want to do this but to be forced to do so is unacceptable. I have since pulled almost everything from SurDocs).


9.       Shared (Shared.com): I include shared here because it offers 100GB of free storage but has no apps of desktop software to go with it. So it is just a web based share system, which places certain difficulties with uploading files and folders.


10. Amazon Cloud drive (amazon.co.uk/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000655803): Amazon offer 5GB of free storage for your music and photos. There is not a lot to say on this one you either like or hate Amazon. (2015 update: Amazon have rescinded the free storage and only allow a paid for option. This is a shame and consequently I have removed all items from their storage.)


Cloud storage is here to stay and whilst other physical media such as CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear in the future, virtual data storage is going to grow. If you want to share data such a photos with friends and family or want to collaborate in business with associates’ securely sharing documents then the cloud is the place to be. 

One other provider I did not mention but deserves a mention is Bitcasa (bitcasa.com) who offer 20GB of free storage which is supposedly secure. I use to use this provider a lot as they offered a photo backup for my phone and computers, which most other providers now do. What I liked was their “infinite drive” which appears as a new drive on your computer. It is easy to drop things into the infinite drive so storage is easy. What I do not like though is their software seems to want to clone your whole hard drive in a viral way. When you install the desktop software the default is to upload your whole hard drive to their infinite drive. I also noticed that the resources for this drive were excessive so have removed it from all my devices and use it online only.

If you download all the cloud providers mentioned in this article you have the potential of a staggering 329GB of free cloud storage.  

Cloud storage also disproves the adage, ‘size is everything’. Good software, ease of access to files and good security are all as important if not more. 

What is your favourite and why?

Update: PCloud (https://www.pcloud.com/) offers 20GB of storage and seems to have good apps to download to upload and download your files. This could be one to watch and a possible alternative to SurDoc.

2015 update: I still use cloud storage a lot but am more concerned with security and longevity of free storage.  With many providers adding stipulations of changing from a free to a paid for service it is wise to choose with care. I now use One drive for photos, Tresorit for business, Copy for other files, Dropbox for everyday storage (short-term) and Google Docs for miscellany which I wish to keep. It is also important to consider the footprint on the storage on mobile devices when using the cloud managers as Dropbox seems to download all of its content to my tablet but not my phone, hence blocking my tablet up. Box is similar but allows you to choose what to download, as does Mediafire.  What is essential is that you monitor the conditions on storage providers for changes and have the flexibility to move your storage to another provider should the terms and conditions change.  I also recommend that you, as a must, keep backups on physical external hard drives as Cloud storage is fine but it always pays to back up things yourself.