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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Comparing free Cloud storage options

One of the main things that makes it possible for a Cloud Age author (and, lends us the title of the Age itself) is the ability to create content on any kind of a device, store it "In the Cloud," and later access it from just about anywhere.

This freedom can be had for, well, free (as in beer), and should you choose to there are also options if you'd like to pay for some extra storage or capabilities, but today I'm just going over the options that are cost-free. When there are products that have a free basic level and a paid option I'll certainly note the upgrade options, but reviewing them will come another day (if needed). Also, Windows users, I will post an additional blog entry a little later which covers Windows and these various items, how to download and install them, etc. I use a Mac at home, and an iPad while mobile, so my focus is initially on how to make these items work for Mac and iPad authors.

So, in alphabetical order, here are some of the top free cloud storage solutions:

Amazon Cloud Drive

  • Free storage: 5 GB (with paid upgrades if you need more storage)
  • File size limits: None specifically listed that I could find.
  • How it works:
    • Mac users will download an app from the Amazon website (you must already have an account with Amazon, however), and then drag the app into their Applications folder (or wherever you store your applications). Double-clicking on the app will place an icon in the Mac system menu bar, which looks like this:
    • Clicking on the icon gives these options:

    • The main option here is "Open Upload Window" which then opens this window:
    • Dragging files & folders here will upload them to the Amazon Cloud Drive.
    • Using the cloud drive on the iPad requires some finesse; since uploading files requires Adobe Flash, it is not possible at the moment to upload files through Amazon Cloud Drive on the iPad. 
    • Using the cloud drive on an Android device is done through any web browser which supports JavaScript and Adobe Flash; uploading through the web's interface and downloading by clicking the file you'd like to download.
  • Verdict: For sharing documents between your home computer and your Android device, Amazon's cloud service is fine; avoid it for your Cloud Age writing projects on the iPad (so far, I have not come across any apps that connect to the Amazon Cloud Drive, at least not that advertise being able to do so, and there is no "download" per se on iPad. I am working on a way to do so using iDownloader, but have run into a couple of issues). Having said that, the Amazon Cloud Drive is a fine option for sharing documents you'd like people to see, such as short stories or your book proposal, if your agent will accept them in this format (it might save considerable time if you can get your agent to read it from the Cloud). Also, this is one good option for storing your manuscript when you want to later retrieve it from your printing location, or if you send your document out for language translation or conversion (say, from RTF or DOC or whatever format into .mobi or .epub format). Sharing the document is easy, through the web interface:

    • Clicking the "Share..." option shows a pane with a URL you can copy and paste into an e-mail to your editor or formatter or agent or whomever, allowing them to access that document specifically.

Apple iCloud

  • Free Storage: 5 GB (with paid upgrade options)
  • File Size Limits: varies with the apps used; no specific file size limits listed for Pages documents
  • How it works:
    • Apple's iCloud is essentially a seamless background storage, in the cloud, for any of the items you choose to include in the iCloud storage pane. To access this, open up the Settings app, either on your iPad or on your Macintosh. Select the items you wish to be synced into iCloud (keeping in mind that some of these items share the storage space; Apple's website states that purchased items such as music or movies do not).

  • Verdict: iCloud is the easiest and most natural way to use Mac and iPad devices to edit common files. If you are already using Pages on your Mac, and have Pages on your iPad, then using Pages to edit your files from the cloud wherever you are and access them on your Mac at home is ridiculously simple. Since Pages is not free, and my point is to find Free ways you, as a Cloud Age Author, can be mobile and not pay much more than the cost of your daily latte and the iPad itself, I have to refrain from recommending iCloud as a tool for the Cost-Free Cloud Age Author ("patent pending"). It certainly does have it's uses, though, even then; for example, the Photo Stream makes it simple to take pictures and movies while out-and-about, and then edit them when you get home.


  • Free Storage: 2 GB (with paid upgrade options)
  • File Size Limits: unlimited from the desktop computer; 300 MB upload limit from the web interface.
  • How it works:
    • Dropbox is basically a remote disk you mount on your home computer like a disk drive, copy files to, and then it syncs in the background. On the mobile device, you download a free app, and use the free app to access the files you've stored.
    • Many apps on the mobile side, both iPad/iPhone and Android, directly connect to the Dropbox using their APIs, which means that opening files from Dropbox in many apps is trivially easy. I will discuss how to do that exactly when I review those apps, because the procedure depends on the app. For now, just keep in mind that this is possible, and fairly easy to do with both free and paid apps alike.
    • To upload from the computer, you download the application from the website and run the downloaded installer. Like the Amazon Cloud Drive, it installs a menu icon in the system menu (the green checkbox means "all items are synced"):
    • Which gives the following items in a menu when clicked:
    • It also installs a folder on the desktop:
    • This folder acts just like any other folder on your computer; you can create subfolders, or upload documents ad hoc to the base level of the Dropbox folder, or however you choose to organize. When items are dropped into the Dropbox folder, they immediately start syncing, and the menu icon (above) will switch from the green checkmark to a grey circle animation, with two arrows pointing toward each other and moving in a circle (this lets you know that the dropbox is syncing). When this is complete, the icon switches back to the green checkbox.
    • At this point, any files you have synced will be available in the Dropbox app on your mobile device (available through whatever application store your device uses, whether that's Apple's App Store, Amazon's Appstore for Android, or Google Play, or whatever). When you are in the Dropbox App, if you click on an uploaded file a preview of it shows in the pane. One of the icons (what looks like a desktop-type file basket with a curved arrow pointing down into it, in the upper-right corner of the Dropbox interface as I am looking at it in my iPad) is essentially the "open with ..." icon, and clicking on this icon allows you to select the application with which to open the current file. This alone makes it really simple to use for a writer, although there are apps that directly support opening Dropbox files within the app, and this is usually easier when you're in the heat of the writing streak and want to open (or create a new document and save it) a file in (on?) your Dropbox.
  • Verdict: definitely easy to use, natively supporting Mac OS, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS, it has a relatively limited amount of space compared to other services. However, if all you are going to do is store your writings, and perhaps use one of the other services for your photos, illustrations, or personal storage, the 2 GB limit should be no problem. Even massive novels written in Microsoft Word or Pages are unlikely to reach this size (a Microsoft Word file of 2 GB would be approximately 128,000 pages; given that War and Peace, one of the largest novels ever written, is approximately 1,440 pages, even filling only half of the space with one file would easily make it the longest novel in human history!). A highly recommended piece of the puzzle for any Cloud Age Author.

Google Drive

  • Free Storage: 5 GB (unlimited storage for any documents converted to Google Docs format)
  • File Size Limits: 10 MB for non-Google Docs format files
  • How it works: Similarly to Dropbox or the Amazon Cloud Drive, the Google drive can be accessed by installing the Google Drive application to your computer, or you can access it through the web interface.
    • From the Google Drive site you click to download the application, which you then drag to your Applications folder.
    • Open the application to begin; note that you will need to have, or create, a gmail (or have a google apps) account in order to use the Google Drive. It will step you through installing a folder in your home folder, and installing a menu bar item as well:
    • Clicking the menu bar item reveals the following menu:
    • Locate the Google Drive app in your choice of store (Apple's, Amazon's, or Google's, or whatever) to install the app on your mobile device.
    • From your computer, you can start syncing files by either uploading them through the web interface or adding them to the folder (selecting the "Open Google Drive folder" option in the menu takes you straight to it). Like Dropbox, you can create subfolders ad hoc and organize however you please.
    • In the google drive app on your mobile device, click on the file you wish to edit. Like Dropbox, you can elect to open a file with an application on the iPad by clicking the icon in the upper-right corner; unlike Dropbox, there is a built-in editor for Google Docs documents.
  • Verdict: An excellent choice, with essentially unlimited free storage if you convert your documents to Google Docs format. This gives a couple of advantages, most importantly the Google Drive has a free Rich Text Editor built-in for editing Google Docs text documents! While it is no Word, or Pages, it has the basic necessities for any writer to write text documents, and support some basic rich text like italics, bolding, underlining, and font control (basic font control; no kerning or leading adjustments), as well as bulleted and numbered lists. It also permits sharing with other users, if you use Google Apps (say, if you have an illustrator or editor you work with a lot, you might consider creating a free Google Apps account and sharing that way).

There are two other entries into this field, both somewhat newcomers, which I will review in a separate entry: Microsoft's SkyDrive service, and SugarSync. I will also cover a non-app storage option, Mediafire, which has quite a large storage option even for free users, but does not directly support mobile content creating while on-the go.

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