What is the cloud?
With the launch of Google Drive, everyone who has a Gmail account will have access to cloud storage on Google’s servers.
It’s not quite ready for everyone yet – you can sign up to be notified at drive.google.com – but when it becomes available, it may be the best way to share files and work with others that we know of.
However, we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. What is cloud storage in the first place, and what makes Google Drive – or Dropbox or Skydrive – different.
What is cloud storage?
In a nutshell, cloud storage is simply a bit of space reserved for you on someone else’s servers. So if you use Dropbox, for example, you’ll have a folder on one of their hard drives that is uniquely yours. You can access what’s in there wherever you have an internet connection, and it’s copied to your hard drive so you can access it offline. It means no more emailing yourself files to an from work, and you’ve always got a back up of recent files stored online.
How do I upload stuff?
Cloud storage is more than just a more convenient way of getting files from one PC to another though. It relies on ‘syncing’ to be successful. If you’re using Dropbox or SugarSync, for example, you install a program on your PC that watches the contents of a particular folder and automatically uploads them in the background to the cloud servers. Then, you install the same program on your work PC, say, and it downloads all the files automatically.
It’s called syncing, though, because it guarantees the contents of those three (or more, if you add more PCs) folders are always the same. If you change a Word doc on one PC, it will update on the other – and because you have an offline copy of the latest version on your hard drive, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get internet access. You can still work.
What about mobile devices?
This is where cloud storage really comes into its own. All of the big services – Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, SugarSync, Google Drive, Microsoft’s Skydrive and so on – have mobile apps, so you can access your files from your phone or tablet too. So put you music collection into iTunes, say, and it will appear in iTunes on your phone too. The whole experience is designed to be as seemless as possible.
They won’t necessarily download the full 5GB, though, because that would take up too much space on your phone.
Can I share files from cloud storage?
In almost all of the available services, yes. Some might have a ‘Public’ folder for moving files like photos, home videos or documents into, others simply involve right clicking the file you want to share. Usually, you’ll be given a link you can send via email to direct people to the file, which can be private or encrypted. It’s generally safer and better for moving things around than simply publishing on the web!
What’s more, some of the more established services, like Dropbox, crop up regularly in other apps. So some internet-enabled TVs or networked hard drives can automatically view files or download files you’ve shared – making it perfect for family photos, for example.
Which is best?
There’s a lot of choice out there and all the services have something that differentiates them. Dropbox is very simple and looks and works like any other file browser on your PC or tablet.
- ASUS Sync comes free with ASUS tablets.
- Box is really good for collaborating on documents at work
- Google Drive works really well with Google’s office services
The good news is that most of them are free to use for the basic amount of space – you just pay more for extra storage. So you can try out as many as you like until you find the one for you!
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