Ask LH: What Cool Things Can I Do With All This Free Cloud Storage Space?

Dear Lifehacker, Anytime I see an offer for free cloud storage, I'm all over it. I have over 8GB of Dropbox space, 5GB on Google Drive, 20GB on Amazon Cloud Drive, 50GB on Box and 7GB on Microsoft's SkyDrive -- and I want to take advantage of all of it. Any suggestions? Thanks, Drowning in Free Space

Dear Drowning,

We hear you! With all the cloud services handing out free space like it's candy, it's easy to end up with a lot of unused space just waiting to be filled. Unfortunately, there's no way to consolidate all that storage space spread out across your accounts (though you can use services like previously mentioned Otixo and Primadesk to see all your online drives at once). One way to make use of all of these services without too much confusion is to separate the types of files you store across services, and you can do so in a way that takes advantage of the strengths of each.

For example, you can dedicate Dropbox to your active projects, because it's the syncing service where you have the most storage space. Use other services for backing up your photos, music and other data.

These services all have unique strengths that can help you decide what to use them for. You don't need to use every single one of these services, but if you want to mix and match, here's an overview of what they're best for:

Best Uses for Different Cloud Services

Sync Your Music with Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon Cloud Drive doesn't sync your files, so it's not useful for storing stuff that needs to always be up-to-date. It is, however, ideal for your music files.

Sync Files Instantly Over Your Local Network and Access Useful Apps with Dropbox

Dropbox has a couple of advantages over the competition: LAN sync and the incredible breadth of apps that use the Dropbox API.

LAN sync speeds up syncing files over a local area network. Before syncing a file, Dropbox will first check if it resides on another Dropbox folder on a computer on your local network, and if so, syncs the file locally rather than downloading from Dropbox's remote server. This makes Dropbox perfect for storing things for all your networked computers to share, such as disk images of programs to install, program settings and portable apps, iTunes library, and emails and settings for your desktop email client (Outlook or Thunderbird).

Lots of apps make Dropbox a robust tool that goes beyond syncing and file storage as well. Use Dropbox to host web pages, process files (for example, automatically send files to Kindle, convert audio, or zip files and email them), request files from others and more. Many services, such as password-managing 1Password and the Day One journalling app, only sync to Dropbox, so save some space in Dropbox for these kinds of services.

Create and Edit Office Documents and Project Files on Google Drive or SkyDrive

Both Google Drive and SkyDrive excel at creating and editing office docs -- text documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

Google Drive integrates Google Docs, naturally, and your Google Docs don't count against your storage limit (which starts at 5GB of free space). Google Drive is also ideal for storing PDFs and image files, because Google Drive can search for text inside of them -- so you might use this storage bucket for saving reference files, menus and scanned receipts. Because the Google Drive viewer can open special types of files (Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files, Autodesk AutoCad files, archive files, some markup/programming code and more), Google Drive may be great for storing your project files that you want to share with others who don't have the programs installed to open them. Google Drive's whopping 10GB max file size means you can upload and share video files and other huge project files without worry. (Google is also adding third-party apps for Drive, a la Dropbox, such as faxing and document signing. Watch out, Dropbox!)

SkyDrive is your best option if you need to work with Microsoft Office files or share them with others. You can view, edit and create Microsoft Office documents in your browser, with no need to have the software installed on your computer. SkyDrive would be a natural place to store your OneNote notebooks for syncing across all your devices.

Securely Collaborate and Share Files with Box

Box (formerly Box.Net) also doesn't offer file syncing -- unless you're on a paid Business or Enterprise plan. However, if you grabbed one of Box's previous promotions for 50GB of free space instead of the typical 5GB free (it sounds like you did), you've got an enormous amount of space to play with. Whether you have 5GB or 50GB, you can use this repository to back up those files you don't need to update often, such as product manual, your phone's APK files or Titanium backups. (Keep in mind the 100MB file size limit.)

Box's key strengths, though, are on the professional side. You can embed your Box files into your professional LinkedIn profile -- so perhaps use Box to store your portfolio or other work samples. You can also embed Box files on your website or blog via a widget (nice for distributing ebooks or other things you've made).

As the most business-oriented cloud service here, Box has the best collaboration features of the bunch. Share files or folders with a link and get notified when others view them. You can add tasks to files as well as comments/discussion threads and passwords for specific files or folders.

What You Can Do with Any Cloud Storage Space

All of these services (and others like them) serve the same purpose: providing you with online storage space for whatever you want to store there. Most of them (except Amazon Cloud Drive and Box) also automatically sync your files so they're always up to date wherever you log in from.

Here are some things you can store on any of them:

  • Photos and Videos: Back up your pics and videos and share them on one of these services. Dropbox, Google Drive/Google+ and SugarSync auto-upload your photos and videos -- a huge plus for automatically backing up precious moments. Dropbox, SkyDrive and SugarSync offer a gallery or album view of your photos -- great for sharing with others. (Note: SugarSync has no file size limit and Google Drive's is 10GB, so these might be best for really large media files.)
  • General backups: You can back up anything, really, to these services. If you're storing sensitive information online, though, make sure you encrypt the files first (see this Dropbox example of your options).
  • Shared files: Although Box has the best access controls and file-sharing features, all of these services are useful for sharing files and folders with others.
  • Password manager files: Keep your KeePass or Roboform databases in sync.
  • Game saves: Store your game saves in a central, synced location, and you can pick up your game where you left off on another computer with that game installed.
  • Torrent files: If you use a BitTorrent application that monitors a specific folder for new torrent files, save them to your syncing folder of choice. (See original post for Dropbox.)

As mentioned earlier, you don't have to use all of these services; if you want to simplify things, you could use just a couple (or even just one), based on your needs and how much free space you have on each -- as well as platforms availability, max file size and price per GB should you want to upgrade.

Hopefully, this gives you more ideas for how to divvy up and make use of all that free storage. For even more ideas, learn how to use Dropbox for more than just file syncing and check out the clever things you can do with Dropbox that you might not be using. These can also work with other services.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Unfortunately filestork.net from the "request files from others" article says it's shutting down on 15 June.

    The problem with free storgage is that inevitably proper encryption is sadly lacking. I have GBs of documents I'd like to backup online and access using both OS X and Windows devices but because of the nature of these documents and the lack of adequate security I'm loathe to store them in the (free) cloud.

      @Bobby - could you utilize a local folder encryption and then replicate the folder to one of these services?

      Try Wuala. It's a very secure cloud service based in Europe. All files are encrypted before upload, and the service cannot access your files

    Cloud storage is fine, that is if you've got all day to wait for the upload to finish.

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