Free cloud storage is easy to come by these day, but the best cloud storage providers give you more than just storage. They offer high availability, multi-platform support, security options and app integration. This week we're going to look at five of the best cloud storage providers on the market today, thanks to your nominations.
Dropbox is a familiar favourite here at Lifehacker. We've covered Dropbox and services that support it extensively, and many of you have followed along with our tricks for getting as much space as you possibly can. Dropbox undeniably has a dominant position in the cloud storage market, but it isn't just first-mover advantage that makes Dropbox special. . Support for virtually every operating system, both desktop and mobile, experimental and beta builds that add lots of useful features, and a vast third-party developer community taking advantage of its open APIs to build applications on top of it make Dropbox a great cloud storage service, whether you use it for your files and just sync with the desktop clients, or you have another favourite app that uses Dropbox to keep your files synced across devices. Dropbox has its issues (especially with regard to security), but it's a stellar option — if it weren't, people wouldn't keep using it. Plans start with 2GB for free, but you can get way more than that via referrals, mobile app use, photo and video uploads. You can check out the paid plans here.
While it has only existed in its current form for a year, but has a longer legacy in the Google Docs and Picasa services whose storage it now incorporates. Within Drive, you can store all your pre-existing Docs files and 15GB of anything else (plus extra if you want to pay for it). If you're already using those tools in your day to day work, it makes sense to use Google Drive for file storage as well, and the fact that it's available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS makes it useful at your desk or on the go. Plus, with the right plugins, it can be even more powerful than other services you may also use. You can go here to check out Google's other plans (as well as see your current utilisation)
SkyDrive was pretty clunky and difficult to use in its initial release, but Microsoft's cloud storage service has come a long way since then. It's tightly integrated with Windows now, especially Windows 8 for desktops and tablets, and if you use Office 2013 at all — either on the desktop or on the web — using SkyDrive as cloud storage for all of your files is quick and seamless. SkyDrive also has mobile apps for Windows Phone, iOS and Android, so you can stay up to date on changes to your files and access them on the go. Desktop clients for Windows and Mac make working with your saved documents and syncing them easy too. If you got in while the latest iteration of the service was still in beta, you could have a cool 25GB of storage, but even if you signed up today, you'll still walk away with 7GB of storage, with the option to buy more storage if you need it. SkyDrive also has a third-party app ecosystem and open APIs, and a number of tools that tie nicely into it
SugarSync has been around for a long time, and is incredibly richly featured. It's not as widely used as some of the other big names, but that's no reflection on the options it offers. SugarSync has insanely detailed syncing options, and can back up or sync any files or folders you choose on your system, not just a single folder and all of its contents. SugarSync can work as a backup client, automatically backing up your files as you change them, or you can use it like a traditional syncing cloud service, complete with a drive on your system you drop files in. The service keeps an impressive revision history for each of your files, lets you share, lock down or password protect individual files on the web or on the desktop, and even makes streaming media to your mobile devices easy. While SugarSync doesn't make its free plan particularly visible, you can get 5GB for free, and make use of the service's wealth of features, along with the desktop apps for Windows and Mac and the mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. If you need more storage, the pricing plans are pretty attractive.
Bitcasa is a less-familiar but welcome addition to the list . Aside from having virtually unlimited storage options ranging beyond the terabytes, Bitcasa has syncing clients for Windows and Mac, and mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone (including tablet versions of all three). Bitcasa knows that you'll probably use that wealth of space for photos, music and movies, and makes it easy to stream that content to your mobile devices when you're on the go, or to your desktop when you want to use it. It even offers a Chrome extension that lets you use Bitcasa as your downloads folder. Bitcasa is free for 10GB, but if you're willing to pay, you can get infinite storage for $US99/yearr. If storage is what you really need — not extra bells and whistles — and you're willing to pay for it, Bitcasa is worth a look.
We have to give an honourable mention this week to everyone who suggested you Do It Yourself, using a NAS or other storage device at home packed with disks and any free software that lets you access them anywhere you go from any computer whether you're on your home network or off of it. It's easy to roll your own cloud storage solution with tools such OwnCloud, or simply by giving your NAS locked down access to the internet so you can get to your files when you're away.
Another honourable mention this week goes out to Box (formerly Box.net), which barely missed the top five, and earned strong praise from many of you for offering up to 50GB of free space to new users. Box walks the line between being a consumer-friendly storage and syncing solution and an enterprise-level document management service.
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn't included in the list? <on't just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is — and make your case for it — in the comments below.