Six places to store your files online

This is a look at the pros and cons of six different online storage solutions.

Since we saw the beta release of Windows Live Folders a couple of days ago, I thought that now would be a good time to take a look at the different online storage solutions that are out there now. So, without further ado here are six places to store your files online.

Box.net

Box.net is one of the most talked about online storage solutions. It offers some really solid features, which make up for the storage being on the smaller end of the offerings. Of course, it offers the standard sharing between users that other services have, but on top of that Box.net offers mobile access, email uploading, and a killer Facebook app.

Their Facebook application lets you upload files into a special shared folder in your Box account from either the Box.net website or your Facebook page and share them with your friends, right in Facebook. It's good that they have features like this to keep people coming back because their storage limits are a little bit...limiting:

Free - 1 GB/10 GB of bandwidth/10MB file size limit
$80/yr - 5 GB/unlimited bandwidth/1 GB file size limit
$199/yr - 15 GB/unlimited bandwidth/1 GB file size

1 gig of storage space for free gives you a little bit to work with and you probably won't run into the 10 GB bandwidth limit, but my main concern is with the 10MB file size limit. While you should be able to upload most music to Box, aside from maybe Stairway, 10 MB is really limiting when it comes to video. The paid plans are also definitely on the high side for the amount of storage that you get for the price. Although there are other services out there with better price to storage ratios, the real value of Box.net lies with the additional features and services that it offers to compliment the storage.

Mozy

Mozy takes a different approach to online storage than these other services. While most of them encourage you to upload and store a file here and there, Mozy takes aim at full computer backups.

The shot, seen above, is of Mozy's client application. Upon installation, Mozy checked off a bunch of folders that I might want to backup. One more click and a backup of those files was scheduled for the next time my computer was idle. Granted, I did a clean install of my operating system about a month ago, so I do not have a ton of stuff on my computer right now, the entire backup only took up 33% of my storage limit. Speaking of storage limits, here's how Mozy breaks it down:

Free - 2 GB
$55/yr - Unlimited space

Both of these packages come with unlimited bandwidth and no restrictions on file size. The $55 a year package for unlimited storage allows for the backup of only one computer, so don't think that you are going to be able to backup every computer in your house at this price.

Omnidrive

One of the big selling points of Omnidrive is that there is no file size limit for uploading as long as it falls under the cap on your total storage. Here is how the total storage for Omnidrive breaks down:


Free - 1 GB/5 GB of bandwidth
$40/yr - 10 GB/20 GB of bandwidth
$99/yr - 25 GB/50 GB of bandwidth
$199/yr - 50 GB/100 GB of bandwidth

Omnidrive is a little bit on the low end as far as its free offering goes, but their paid offerings are priced competitively with the other services. For uploading, Omnidrive also offers the choice of a browser based tool or a standalone application for both Mac and PC. It also includes functionality for sharing with other Omnidrive users and also for making files publicly downloadable.

Xdrive

AOL's Xdrive definitely offers the most bang for your buck for storage space. As far as I can see, there are no caps on bandwidth or file size, even for the free version. A free Xdrive account offers 5 GB of space. For $120 a year, you can have an Xdrive with 50 GB of space.
This is the web based application for Xdrive. It looks pretty slick and seems to get the job done. It also includes an upload accelerator which, supposedly, lets you upload a file in half the time. They have also introduced a new feature called Xdrive Shows, which is basically a cool way to make slideshows from your photos and music in your Xdrive. A backup feature is also included.

Amazon S3

Another big company is also throwing their hat into the online storage ring. Amazon S3's main draws are it's pricing system and minimalist feel. S3 is not really going for the mainstream internet user crowd just yet, but rather opening up their platform for developers to create their own implementations of the service. Now, bear with me as I go through the pricing for S3 because it is a little bit different from the other ones that I have been covering:

Storage
$0.15 per GB-Month of storage used

Data Transfer
$0.10 per GB - all data transfer in

$0.18 per GB - first 10 TB / month data transfer out
$0.16 per GB - next 40 TB / month data transfer out
$0.13 per GB - data transfer out / month over 50 TB

The pricing may look a bit daunting, but it is really pretty simple. The concept is that you only pay for what you use. Why pay for 50 GB when you are only going to use 45? Amazon is hoping that people will see the upside of flexible pricing and start storing their data with them. The other benefit to going with someone like Amazon is that they are really reliable and fast. So, when that crucial moment hits and you absolutely need a file, it is almost guaranteed that Amazon will be there to serve it up.

Windows Live Folders

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Microsoft's entry into the online storage space ever since Ray Ozzie started talking about something called Live Drive in the spring of 2006. The Fortune article said, "With Live Drive, all your information - movies, music, tax information, a high-definition videoconference you had with your grandmother, whatever - could be accessible from anywhere, on any device." Well, that definitely sounds like a pretty ambitious vision, but certainly not out of reach for a company like Microsoft. Unfortunately Microsoft hasn't delivered on that promise quite yet.

Windows Live Folders, currently in the early stages of beta, provides the least amount of storage of any of these services that I have gone through. The free package, which is the only package that they have for right now, gives you 500 MB of storage and a cap on file size, set at 50 MB.

Chris Jones, Corporate VP for Windows Live Experience Program Management is saying that 500 MB is enough for this service since it is built to store and share documents as opposed to music and video, despite one of the default folders created with new accounts being named "Music." Although Folders does include the standard sharing and publishing features that the other services do, there is little else there right now. Keep in mind that this is a beta product and that by the time it is released, we could see drastic changes. It's not that Folders is a bad service by any means, but I personally expect a lot more from Microsoft and their web services. I think that they have the talent and the resources to be able to compete with anyone in the industry, but they need to take a step back and see what the users really want.

Conclusion

When it comes down to figuring out which of these services are the best, I like to take a few things into consideration. First, I'll look at the amount of storage space/bandwidth/file size limit. Second, I have to consider the pricing. Finally, the make or break factor: features.

AOL's Xdrive wins hands down in amount of storage offered. You really can't beat getting 5 GB of storage with unlimited bandwidth and no file size cap for free. Even the pricing for the paid plan is very reasonable. For pricing, I would have to say that I like Amazon's S3 the best. I really give them credit for going with a pricing structure that is completely different from any of their competitors. Although it is geared more towards developers, it would be really nice to see Amazon bring S3 into the mainstream. Who knows, maybe pay as you go is the next big thing. Finally, we come to features. Box.net wins the contest for best features in a landslide. None of the other services integrate sharing, widgets, a variety of access and uploading points, and third party application development anywhere near as well. Box.net's storage is on the low end, but as I said before, their innovative features and implementation more than make up for it.

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Tech Culture
About the author

    Harrison Hoffman is a tech enthusiast and co-founder of LiveSide.net, a blog about Windows Live. The Web services report covers news, opinions, and analysis on Web-based software from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and countless other companies in this rapidly expanding space. Hoffman currently attends the University of Miami, where he studies business and computer science. Disclosure.

     

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