When online storage services were in a nascent stage, they only offered basic services such as uploading via a Web interface, and often, the services were slow and cumbersome. The services have evolved fast, though, and a lot of recently-launched services offer new-age features such as data encryption, file tagging, public sharing, RSS feed support, and most importantly, many of them are free!
Here, we'll be looking at Box.net, Apple's .Mac, Jungle Disk, Omnidrive, Streamload, and Openomy. This is not an exhaustive list: there are other services such as Xdrive and GoDaddy that can be considered.
Imaging Shrikrishana Patkar
Box.net (www.box.net) offers a clean though somewhat flashy interface. You can sign up for a free 1 GB account, or buy a 5 GB account for $4.99 (approx Rs 225) a month with a bandwidth cap of 20 GB per month. If your requirements exceed this, there is also a 15 GB account for $9.99 (Rs 450) a month, with a bandwidth cap of 50 GB per month.
With the free account, there is also a 10 MB cap on the size of the files you can upload.
The service only allows for uploading via a Web interface, but they're launching a desktop client soon. It supports most browsers including IE, Firefox, Safari, and Opera. We created an account and did a trial run, and we didn't encounter any problems with these browsers.
The "Box Desktop", soon to be launched, will enable you to save and sync files to your Box.net account from your desktop. Box.net offers their API to developers so they can integrate and utilise Box.net's storage service in their applications.
With an account at Box.net, you get a slew of features including drag and drop support, file tagging, and RSS feeds so you can receive updates on the files you upload. You can also post, on your blog or Web site, pictures, movies and other files hosted on Box.net. The service lets you share files with others. If you make any file or folder public, you will get a URL for that file or folder so that others can access it anywhere. However, this is a premium feature. Users with a free account can only share files with other Box.net users.
Also provided is optional shell access for data transfer. Shell or SSH is a network protocol that allows for sharing of files between a local and a remote computer. It means more security, since the transmitted data is encrypted.
Features such as tagging help you organise your files better so you can retrieve the files at a later date without hassles. Being an ad-free service is an added plus for Box.net.
The actual cost comes to around $0.001/MB per month for the 5 GB account and $0.0006/MB per month for the 15 GB account-very impressive. Help and support is offered via e-mail and a set of FAQs.
.Mac (www.mac.com) is about much more than just online storage-it is an e-mail plus hosting plus syncing plus storage service. All this comes at a price though-you pay $99 (Rs 5,600) per year for 1 GB of space. This space is divided between e-mail and iDisk (the hosting and online storage). If you aren't sure of going ahead and spending so much on a service you haven't used, you can try out .Mac for 60 days for free.
.Mac is the only service in this review that supports site hosting
The Box.net interface is clean and simple
The .Mac interface
.Mac offers cross-platform support with Windows and OS X. We did not face any problems accessing the service using popular browsers, on Windows as well as Mac.
iDisk is a feature-rich storage service. You can upload files via a Web browser, and also via the iDisk utility for Windows and OS X. The iDisk utility is unique in the sense that it mounts as a drive on your computer. You can save items to your local iDisk drive even when your Net connection is down; then, whenever your computer connects to the Internet, the local drive synchronises with the server, and your files are uploaded.
.Mac's features list is impressive: Web site hosting, iCards-a service that offers online cards for various occasions, discussion groups, bookmarks and system synchronisation (you can synchronise Safari bookmarks and other system settings with .Mac and other machines), public and private sharing, backup tools such as Backup 3 (Mac OS only), integration with iLife applications, an e-mail service, third-party application support, a free VersionTracker subscription, and more.
.Mac is the only service in this review that supports site hosting. A good feature for OS X users is iLife integration: you can update your blog, podcast, photocast and much more with a single click! Photocasting is a term coined for the service that allows people to share photos (using iPhoto- Mac OS X only) with others. For creating a basic Web site, .Mac offers quite a few readymade templates.
The cost for .Mac comes to $0.1/MB per month-somewhat expensive, but decent enough when you consider the features it offers. There's a comprehensive set of FAQs at the site, along with a support forum for users who need help with the services. .Mac is one of the best storage services out there, and if Apple considers revising the rates a bit, their offering will get even more attractive.
Jungle Disk (www.jungledisk.com) is a unique storage service in the sense that it uses Amazon's S3 storage service to store your files and folders. The pricing model is also different from that of the other services we've reviewed. You'll need to sign up for Amazon's AWS service, which uses the pay as you use model-this means you'll pay for only the space and bandwidth you use. Dave Wright, Jungle Disk's founder and lead developer, says that Jungle Disk is at an advantage over other services, since Amazon provides the storage. He mentions that since Jungle Disk is based on S3, it is an open system and not closed and proprietary like the other online backup solutions. Since it is open source, you can download the source code and write your own Jungle Disk application!
Jungle Disk offers cross-platform compatibility with Windows, Mac, and Linux. The desktop client they offer integrates with Windows Explorer, and you can copy files to it just like you do to a local hard drive. It is the only service here that does not offer a Web interface-though they're considering putting up one.
Access your jungle Disk like any old folder
Because of its integration with Amazon's S3, Jungle Disk is the most secure online storage solution we've reviewed. You can encrypt your uploaded data using Amazon's AWS (Amazon Web Service) key or your own key. The client will prompt you to enter the key the first time you run the Jungle Disk client. The AWS secret key will be known only to Amazon and to you. However, if you are paranoid, you can provide your own custom key. The advantage of using the AWS secret key is that you can retrieve the key by logging into your account; if you use your own custom key and forget it, you will not be able to access your data.
You are charged $0.20 for every GB transferred and $0.15 per GB per month for storage. Jungle Disk provides a list of FAQs and a support forum. You can also use e-mail for support. Essentially, Jungle Disk stands out because of its pay-as-you-use model and the data encryption.
Compared to the other services, Openomy's (www.openomy.com) interface stands out as simple. This is reflected in their registration form and the file manager as well! Currently, they offer 1 GB of space for free. They do plan to increase this. The site mentions that they have plans to offer premium accounts and extra goodies. The official blog (http:// blog.openomy.com) is where you'll get more information about what's going on with Openomy. You can read the status of their service at http://openomystatus.blogspot.com
Openomy offers their API to developers so they can integrate their services into the applications they develop. The API documentation is comprehensive and well-structured.
Having a simple, traditional interface can be an advantage, especially with browser and cross-platform compatibility. However, the lack of features such as drag and drop, the use of AJAX, and an iconic interface are an obvious disadvantage when compared to services like Box.net. However, there is support for tagging and RSS feeds. The file upload process is another area where Openomy loses out: you don't get details about the amount of data uploaded, the upload speed, and so on.
You get support via e-mail, a set of FAQs, and via their blog.
The Openomy file Manager
Having featured in Time Magazine's list of the 50 "coolest" Web sites, Streamload (www.streamload.com) is an online storage service of note. You get a 25 GB account free upon signup, with a 100 MB/month bandwidth cap. Paid accounts have unlimited storage but limited bandwidth. For instance, for $4.95 (Rs 225) per month, you get 2 GB/month bandwidth, and for $9.95 (Rs 450), you get 25 GB/month. The bandwidth limitation explains the "unlimited storage"!
Streamload's desktop client is available only for Windows. However, we had no issues accessing Streamload with any browser.
The interface is simple, and drag-and-drop support is well implemented. You can upload files using the desktop client (if you're running Windows) and also via the Web interface, which offers options for single file uploading, batch uploading, video and photo sharing, and you can use the TV and Movie Locker (a fancy name for the feature for uploading videos). They call their service "the largest online media center."
Streamload, too, misses out on features such as AJAX implementation, RSS feeds, and sharing. However, one advantage is that you get permanent URLs for your files. Support is in the form of a set of FAQs, tutorials, and help via e-mail.
The Streamload file manager is quite nifty
If Streamload is to compete with top-level service providers, they'll have to take a hard look at the price plans, which offer unlimited storage on the one hand and limit the bandwidth to low levels on another.
The six services we've reviewed were close to each other in terms of features offered as well as price plans. While .Mac stands out for offering Web hosting along with online storage, Jungle Disk offers the best value for money due to their pay-as-you-use model. Box.net offers the best Web-based interface, and Openomy offers the simplest interface of all. Omnidrive (see box Omnidrive) is excellent, considering its early stage of development; the feature set is very impressive. Streamload loses out on cross-platform support.
Overall, we think .Mac is the best of the lot. Omnidrive seems to us a strong contender for top spot, but it's in private beta as of now, like we've mentioned. If JungleDisk decides to incorporate a Web-based interface in the future, it will probably share top spot with .Mac.
Currently in private beta, Omnidrive (www.omnidrive.com) is not offering accounts to the public. However, as of this writing, you can request an invite if you want to try out their service. Understandably, there is no information at the site about price plans-yet.
The Omni drive Interface
This is another service that provides cross-platform support with desktop clients for both Windows and Mac. Also, we encountered no significant issues while accessing their service from browsers on both platforms-quite surprising for a product currently in private beta.
The desktop client integrates with My Computer under Windows. You can copy files over to this folder, and your files will automatically be uploaded. It also synchronises with the remote server, updating files and folders as required. You can also access your account from a Web interface. Here you can upload files, share your files with other users, create new folders, edit your account settings, and customise the interface. The Web interface of Omnidrive is clean and resembles Windows Explorer.
Omnidrive offers more features than any other free solution does. Key features include drag and drop support, RSS feeds for users to keep track of the files you upload, file tagging, public and private sharing, developer integration through APIs and permanent URLs for files. With permanent URLs, others can access your files anytime, anywhere. You get encrypted storage and secure communication over SSL.
The Omnidrive Blog is where you get to read about the latest news and details about the service. They offer a set of FAQs and e-mail support for users. The site mentions that user forums and a re-vamped support centre is coming soon.