Ask LH: Are There Cheaper Alternatives To Dropbox?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently bought a MacBook air and I love it but I find it very frustrating trying to keep files in sync with my iMac all the time. I have tried Dropbox but $120 a year is too much to pay. I need to sync about 40GB of files. What can you suggest? Thanks, Out Of SyncDear Out Of Sync,

While we’ve offered guidance on tactics for getting more space in a free Dropbox account, there’s no way that will get you anywhere near 40GB. The Pro 50 account which offers 50GB costs $9.99 a month; you can make a minor saving by paying for a year in advance, but you’ll still be out $US99.

While there are a number of Dropbox alternatives, the stark reality is that for the volume of storage you’re looking at, very little is going to be cheaper. Disk space and bandwidth are cheap, but they’re not free — nor, more signficantly, are the software smarts needed to make them work across multiple platforms.

If you really don’t want to pay for sync options, one potential cheap alternative is to use an external drive or USB stick to store all your documents, and sync between the two machines by the simple expedient of connecting to whatever you’re working on at the time. That doesn’t offer online backup, but it doesn’t involve any cost beyond the initial purchase of the drive, and it will work even if you can’t get Internet connectivity. It wouldn’t be my preferred solution, but it’s better than nothing.

The other method to consider is to sign up to multiple free online storage services, and use each one for a specific type of data. We’ve outlined this approach in the past, and it’s also a possibility, but it requires you to be very disciplined in where you store everything, which means you can’t necessarily take advantage of the default Mac storage arrangements for photos, music and the like. Relatively few free storage services offer syncing, so you’ll also have to be comfortable with some data being largely cloud-resident rather than on both drives to adopt this approach.

Readers: any other approaches you’d consider before paying? Tell us in the comments.


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