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Cloud-based storage options for Mac OS X

Apple offers its iCloud service, but there's a variety of alternatives that might be more appealing to OS X users.

With more and more computing devices becoming mobile or located in different areas besides the desktop, the need for online storage and syncing options to manage files created or edited on these devices is increasingly important. To tackle this need, Apple has explored various approaches to online document management and sharing with its MobileMe and .Mac services, but these options have been phased out in favor of newer and more integrated approaches to online storage and syncing options.

Apple has its online storage offerings that so far have culminated into its iCloud service, but there are others as well, which include Amazon's Cloud Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and SugarSync. While Apple's iCloud is built into versions of OS X that support it, the other options can quickly and easily be set up by downloading and installing a small tool.

  • iCloud
    If you are a Mac user, one of the first options for online storage that you will be presented with is Apple's iCloud service, which offers quick syncing of immediately generated content like photos taken with an iPhone, or music or applications purchased from Apple's iTunes and App stores.

    iCloud is convenient, but does have its limitations. For one, it is only accessed through applications that have integrated it, so users cannot make use of it directly in the OS X Finder. Therefore, if you have a current document that you would like to sync to iCloud, in order to do so you will first have to open it and then re-save it to iCloud from within the application. After doing this, the original will remain on your computer and the synced version will be the only one accessible from all relevant devices.

    In essence, iCloud's document management is a small replacement for the Finder and the Mac's file system, which might be convenient in some cases, but might not be desired in all instances.
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
    Amazon recently released its Cloud Drive application for OS X that interfaces the system with its cloud-based storage. Amazon's cloud lets you purchase content and have it stored in the cloud so you can access it from any device, but this new application allows you to upload any file from your system to the cloud and then access it from other systems at any location. The program is a Java-based tool that provides a local interface to Amazon's service, and gives you the ability to upload files to the Cloud Drive through contextual menus in the Finder. To access your files for download or organize them on the Cloud Drive, you still need to log into the service via the Web, a link for which is available in the Cloud Drive menu extras.

    As with iCloud, the service offers 5GB of free introductory storage, which you can upgrade at a later point, if needed.
  • Microsoft SkyDrive
    As with iCloud, Microsoft's SkyDrive is available through its Office programs that can save files directly to it; however, in addition Microsoft has recently released a preview of its SkyDrive management application for OS X, which allows you to access and organize the files on the drive directly from the Finder.

    Microsoft offers a 7GB base storage level for its SkyDrive service.
  • Google Drive
    Similar to Microsoft's SkyDrive, Google Drive offers a Finder-integrated option for storing and managing files on its Cloud service. To integrate the service in the Finder, the Google Drive program for OS X will create a local storage folder called "Google Drive" within your user account, which you can then move files to. These files are then synced with Google's online service so they are available anywhere, and will be pushed to other systems of yours that are set up with the online service. As with Amazon's Cloud Drive, Google's solution is also available via the Web, a link for which is accessible via the menu extra that the program installs.

    As with other services, Google's base storage amount is 5GB.
  • DropBox
    A popular online syncing option that has been around for a while is DropBox, which has provided its Web-based file upload and organization tools for some time. DropBox's application for OS X will by default create a local DropBox folder within the user's account (similar to Google's drive), though you can place this drive anywhere on your system, if needed. The application will then automatically sync all files and folders in this local folder to the DropBox service, or alternatively allow you to specify which folders to sync.

    While DropBox does have contextual menu options for managing files in the Finder, these options are only available for the items within the local DropBox folder, and are not available elsewhere in your user account as is the case with Amazon's Cloud Drive service. The contextual options include Web links to either view the selected file or folder in DropBox's online interface, or quickly get a link for the file so you can share it with others.

    Unlike the other online options, DropBox offers a smaller initial storage amount at 2GB per account.
  • SugarSync
    A final cloud-based storage option that you can use with your Mac is SugarSync, which like the others offers a quick local syncing interface to the SugarSync online service. The SugarSync program for OS X allows you to select any file on the system to upload to the service, and will actively sync files in specified sync folders, which can be located anywhere on your system and not just in a special location as is the case with DropBox and Google Drive.

    SugarSync's starting storage space is 5GB.

These options for cloud-based storage should be enough to get you off the ground and ensure that documents you specify or that you are actively working on can be accessed from multiple locations without having to continually upload or copy them to a flash drive. These services are also independent, so you can install multiples of them if needed and make use of them. While I would not recommend setting each up with the same folders to sync, you technically could do this to have your same cloud-based files and folders are accessible from any of these services.

Do you have other cloud-based storage recommendations for OS X? If so, then let us know about them in the comments.

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