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Battle of the File Syncing Services

Learn about 4 different file syncing services, their features, and how to choose which one would work best for you.

By
Eric Escobar,
July 4, 2012
Episode #036

Battle of the File Syncing Services

In this week’s episode I’ll explore file syncing services. File syncing services or programs do exactly what they sound like: They sync your files across multiple devices. This can be particularly useful if you go between multiple computers or mobile devices in any given day and need all of your files to be up to date.

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As of right now there are a handful of these services available, each with its pros and cons.

Why do You Need File Syncing?

If you don’t already use one of these file syncing services, let me give you an example of why you might want to start. Say you’re working on a file on your desktop computer at home, but your family insists you go with them to the family reunion in another state. You can take a copy of the file with you on a flash drive, edit the document on a laptop, resave it to your flash drive, and put it back on your desktop when you get home. Or you can save yourself all these steps and simply keep everything up to date with one click. A file syncing program will create a folder on your desktop and everything you put into that folder will be synced across your devices via the internet. So when you access that folder later on another device, it will appear exactly as it is on the computer you last worked on it. No extra work or transferring or different versions to worry about whatsoever!

If you don’t typically use two devices, don’t tune out of this episode just yet! File syncing services can also keep a copy of your files on the internet. This means if you go to a library or use someone else’s computer, you can access your files from a normal web browser anywhere. And if this doesn’t interest you, then you can use file syncing as a free cloud backup service for all your important files.

See also: An Introduction to the Cloud

What are Some File Syncing Services?

You’ve probably noticed that I keep calling them “services,” and that’s only because there are so many different programs out there that will do this for you. Today I’m going tell you about the biggest ones competing for your business. These are Dropbox, Google Drive, Windows Skydrive, and iCloud.

These services all pretty much have the same base features. They sync a folder that you specify across multiple devices and keep your files the same across all of them. They all use encryption while uploading your files, and they all keep versions of documents for later review. Lastly, they all have programs that make your files easy to access from anywhere. All four of these are free to use and also offer upgradeable plans that allow you to pay for more storage. But who wants to do that when they give you a ton of space for free?

But what makes one service different from another? Here’s how these 4 stack up:

#1: Capacity

Microsoft’s Skydrive wins this round with up to 7GB of space for free, followed closely by Google Drive and iCloud with 5GB. Dropbox brings up the rear with a meager 2GB.

However, these “free” options vary pretty widely due to some special promotional offers. For example, Dropbox will give you a ton of free space if you’re a student or if you refer friends who also sign up (I currently have 26GB of free Dropbox space because I’ve referred friends). Microsoft’s Skydrive offered a free 25GB plan to those users who signed up within the first few months of its release. Whichever service you choose, sign up for its email notifications and watch out for special promotional offers that will give you more free space.

#2: Compatibility

The next thing to keep in mind about these services is their availability on certain platforms. Dropbox, for instance, is very versatile and can be used across Android, Windows, Apple, and Linux devices. Whereas if you have Windows, the only service you will have the ability to use will be Microsoft’s Skydrive. I won’t go into this much further because it is very specific to the gear you have, but it’s important to remember that before you decide upon a file syncing service, you should consider the devices on which you’ll be using it and make sure that the service is easily available across all those devices. For example, I use a Windows computer and an Apple iPhone. My boss, on the other hand, has a Windows phone and a Windows computer. So it makes sense that he prefers Skydrive while I’m partial to my Dropbox.

#3: Comparison

Let’s take iCloud. This platform is pretty much the go-to for someone who has an all Mac household. It’s designed to work especially well with all Apple devices. And it succeeds.

Google Drive is the newest one of these services in the game, but even so, it’s feature-rich and will fully integrate with your Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar. So if you are a heavy user of Google’s other products, such as Android smartphones, then Google Drive will be your best bet.

Skydrive falls in the same boat as iCloud in that it works great with Microsoft-specific devices. It also has an amazing feature that sets it apart from the competition. This feature is called Fetch, and it gives you the ability to grab any other file from your computer even if it isn’t in your specified folder.

Last, but definitely not least is Dropbox. Dropbox is not backed by a major tech company such as Google, Microsoft, or Apple but it is well-designed with many features from the other services such as versioning, live syncing, online access, and public shared folders. It has a huge user base and is constantly updated.

Now if you notice, I didn’t single out any one of these services as being “the best” and that’s because each one is “the best” depending on what devices you use and what features you want out of this service.

Be sure to check out all my posts on the Quick and Dirty Tips website. If you have further questions about these or any other file syncing services, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

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