5 free online services that store, sync and share your files
By Howard Wen
July 23, 2010 06:00 AM ET
When trying to describe to neophytes what "syncing to the cloud" means, people often cite Dropbox as a prime example. Launched in early 2008, Dropbox has garnered a large following -- the San Francisco-based company announced it had 4 million users as of January 2010.
How it works: The Dropbox software installs itself in the form of a desktop folder. To sync files, you drag and drop files into the Dropbox folder or into one of its subfolders, and the files will immediately be uploaded to Dropbox's servers.
The Dropbox folder can be treated like any other folder on your local drive. For example, if you create or save a document directly to the Dropbox folder, the document file is automatically uploaded to your account on the Dropbox servers. This file will then be instantly downloaded to any of your other computers on which the Dropbox client program is installed.
To share your subfolders with others, you right-click on one of your Dropbox subfolders and select "Share This Folder." This brings up a Web form in your browser where you enter the e-mail addresses of the people you want to share the folder with. They are sent a link that will allow them to access your shared folder through the Dropbox site. (Non-users of Dropbox will be required to register for a free account.)
If the people you've selected have the Dropbox software installed on their computers or mobile devices, then your shared subfolder will appear under their Dropbox folder and its contents will be downloaded to their local hard drives.
What's good: File syncing was fast and instantaneous, and it happened as soon as I logged my remote notebook into a Wi-Fi service.
Dropbox provides client programs for a variety of operating systems, making it an attractive choice if you own a number of devices that run on different platforms.
What needs to be fixed: The client software has a bare-bones set of features. You have to log into your account through the Dropbox Web site for extras, such as the ability to read a log that lists the files that have been updated, uploaded or deleted from your Dropbox folders.
Bottom line: Despite its minimalist desktop software, Dropbox is a very direct and easy-to-use service, abiding by the "it just works" mantra. It's obvious to see why it has become the most popular choice among cloud-based, store-and-sync services.
OS: Windows XP/Vista/7, OS X 10.4 or later, Ubuntu Linux 7.10+ and Fedora Core Linux 9+
Mobile apps: Android, iPad, iPhone
Storage size: 2GB
Maximum file size: Unlimited using client software; under 300MB when using Web site
Daily data-transfer limit: None
Paid plans: $9.99/month (or $99/year) for 50GB; $19.99/month (or $199/year) for 100GB