The internet, an entire ecosystems of files, servers and devices, had—at least until a few years ago—never been a particularly friendly environment for transferring large graphic files for the average, non-techie user.
Email attachments, as we’ve all learned, work well up to a certain file size. The use of file transfer protocol (FTP) was available as a dedicated “high-volume” conduit, but required someone to have controlling access to an FTP server and both parties needed to have reasonable know-how about FTP clients (especially before web-FTP interfaces were really polished). There was even a period where file transfer via selected instant messengers—like AIM or Skype—seemed to be the most convenient way to move larger projects and files around, and was adopted by many in the design community when FTP wasn’t working out for one reason or another. At the end of the day, if you needed to bring work home or hand off to a client it was some form of physical media—ZIP disk, CD or USB thumb-drive—that got the job done.
All of these methods worked to some degree, but none were particularly convenient—especially when you end up with multiple versions of the same files floating around, or when different team members are working independently on sub-files or components that have to be reunified into some semblance of a final project.
Thankfully things have changed. Today there are dozens of cloud-based storage solutions allowing both personal and collaborative file access. These sites serve as a very reasonable secondary back-up solution for files you can’t afford to lose along with far-reaching large-file-size accessibility.
For most of these online storage services, installing a client application on your computer enables a folder that appears on your desktop that automatically syncs with the cloud-storage provider. When you save a file to the folder it’s sent up to the cloud and synced across any other device(s) connected to the same account. There is a slight delay while files upload to the cloud, and if some of your connected devices are deactivated or not connected to the internet they might have some catching up to do once they do get back online. But aside from those delays you can have access to your files from anywhere, anytime, no thumb drives required. Even better, your whole team or even clients can access the same files, allowing you to work collaboratively on projects. Most services offer both free and paid options, with different levels of support and storage for each.
Sounds great right? With the various options available though, where to start?
With over 175 million users (and growing) Dropbox is undoubtedly the current king of consumer cloud storage. In its first few years the company put heavy emphasis on ease of use and faultless functionality across all of the major platforms and secured itself a place on many desktops as a key tool for collaborative file sharing. The controls are intuitive, the file syncing near flawless, and the recovery options—should something disastrous ever occur—well thought out. On top of that, the company has incorporated a robust API that has allowed third-party developers to use the Dropbox system as a key component in over 100,000 apps and web services.
Tightly integrating with Google’s other services (like Gmail) and subsuming the former Google Docs, Google Drive has attracted both existing Google users as well as those looking for web editing of various file types through the Google Doc features that have been incorporated. While some users report having some file sync issues while Drive was getting up and running, most of the bugs seem to be ironed out at this point and Google continues to incorporate new and innovative features.
Soon to be rebranded under a new name due to a lawsuit over the SkyDrive moniker, Microsoft’s cloud storage offering is similar to the services mentioned above and adds a few unique features into the mix, such as always-on access to ALL of the files on a connected Windows PC—as long as the computer is on and connected to the internet with the SkyDrive desktop app installed. OS X users can fetch files from a Windows PC in this fashion, but not vice versa. Skydrive also offers web-based editing of most Microsoft Office documents using “Office Web Apps,” which allows users to create, view and edit basic office documents like Word, Excel and PowerPoint within a web browser.
In addition to the three majors, there are a variety of other cloud storage services both free and paid, some of which provide much of the same functionality—like SugarSync or Box. com or Copy.com—and others with more specialized purposes or different feature
sets, like Apple’s iCloud service.
Need plenty of free Storage? Try Mega.co.nz (beta), from the former founder of MegaUpload, which boasts 50Gb Free.
Need plenty of storage and don’t mind paying? Bitcasa.com“Infinite Drive” service offers unlimited storage/backup for $99 a year.
Need to manage different levels or areas of access for multiple employees without a per-user fee? Copy.com has company plans starting at $399 per year with flat annual fees regardless of the amount of users.
Need file encryption to ensure the best in data security? Take a look at SpiderOak.com, Wuala.com, or Tresorit.com—all specialize in client-side encryption, meaning that your files and information are encrypted on your local computer before being synced to the cloud, keeping them more secure from prying eyes.
Taking it to the next level
Developers around the world have pushed the boundaries of existing services with new and inventive ways to interact with them. Here are a few of our favourites:
Sell files, including ebooks, music or images, from your cloud storage via Sellboxhq.com
Create your own cloud storage service for personal use on your own web server with free software from ownCloud.org
Let clients, co-workers and friends send files to your DropBox account using DropItTo.Me
Note: All prices listed in this article are quoted in USD