Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sync files with your partner, family, tablet, smartphone and PC using the cloud

I was in need of a home/small business end to end solution capable of giving me and my partners and/or family access to a set of files, no matter the location and the device we were using.

Feature
Google Docs
Microsoft Skydrive + Live Mesh
Dropbox
SugarSync
Wuala
Main advantage
sharing read+write anonymously
25 GB
ease of use, good mobile apps
configurability
privacy
Web based access to files (download)
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
Offline access from PC (Windows and Mac)
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
iOS, Android apps
no
yes
yes
yes
yes
API
yes
yes
yes
yes
no
Sharing files read-only with a link (no sign-in required)
yes
yes
yes
yes
no
Sharing FOLDERS read-only with a link (no sign-in required)
yes
yes
no
no
yes
Sharing files read+write with anyone without sign-in
yes
no
no
no
no
File retention (versioning + keeping deleted files)
yes
no
yes
yes
yes
Ability to read and edit some documents in browser
yes
yes
no
yes
no
Sync some settings (Favorites and Microsoft Office Settings) between one's PCs
no
yes
no
yes
yes
Free space
1 GB
25 GB
2 GB
5 GB
2 GB

While there are the big guys - Google Docs and Microsoft Skydrive - that offer you web based access to your files from both PC, tablet and smartphone, access is not optimized for quick access, for offline use on PC and neither for the ability to open files directly in a client application. Skydrive even recently introduced apps for both iPhone, Windows Phone and Android which made working with files on mobile devices more seamless (quicker and offline access), lack of functionality still remains for the desktop.

And here comes Dropbox! While I have been using Dropbox for a while now, I've just recently realised it's full potential: web based and offline access to both your files and files shared by others, from PC (Windows + Mac), smartphone and tablet. Synchronization is fast and you're notified almost instantly on PC if new files are added or old files are deleted. Block level file deduplication means that updates to large files don't eat your bandwidth (only updated blocks are synced). As a plus, you get free 30 day retention for all files without old and deleted files counting for your quota.
2GB will get you started for free with your documents and you can upgrade to 50GB, 100GB or even more if you go for the Team Edition.

As for the current features of the three, my clear winner is Dropbox, but I leave you to decide wich is best for you. Important to note that Windows 8, which is to be released this year will most likely be integrated with Skydrive and most probably Live Mesh will dissapear which should change things considerably in Skydrive's favour.
Comments are open.

UPDATE: I found SugarSync which seems to beat Dropbox in features and free space. Added it to the comparison matrix:

UPDATE 2: just added Wuala to the comparison chart. Although Wuala is not so feature-rich, it's top "feature" is privacy (the provider claims they don't have access to users' keys).

UPDATE 3: If you want extra privacy with Dropbox you can use TrueCrypt on top of it. You'll have to enable hot keys to mount/unmount the drive(s) to let the container file sync back to the cloud and you won't be able to access the files from your smartphone, tablet or from the web, but at least small changes will sync quickly thanks to the block level deduplication mechanism.