By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
In a national survey on cloud computing commissioned by Citrix last year, more than a quarter of respondents said they thought "the cloud" had something to do with weather. More than half surmised that storms could interfere with service, while others associated the cloud with drugs, toilet paper, or pillows. For those not in the know, the term refers to a computer network that hosts information remotely and lets users access it from any device with an Internet connection. You may already be using a cloud computing service without realizing it. Perhaps you've collaborated with others on a document or spreadsheet using Google Drive (or its previous incarnation, Google Docs). If you have an Amazon account or an Apple product, you have access to 5GB of complimentary cloud storage.SkyDrive tops the list of the best free cloud services.
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These services let you back up important documents and other files and access them from anywhere, on multiple devices. They typically offer a limited amount of storage for free and charge for additional space. Cheapism.com compared cloud storage services and recommends these top providers.
1. Microsoft SkyDrive (starting at 7GB for free) provides more space at no charge than any other cloud storage service and offers competitively priced upgrades. Users can add an extra 20GB of space for $10 a year, 50GB for $25, or 100GB for $50. SkyDrive is one of the few services that lets multiple people access and edit files in real time. Online reviews note that users can also retrieve files from a PC with the SkyDrive application installed, even if the files aren't in the SkyDrive folder. This works only if the other machine is online with SkyDrive running.
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2. Dropbox (starting at 2GB for free) initially offers less free space than Microsoft but gives users multiple ways to earn more. Every time you refer a friend, for example, you both get an extra 500MB, up to a maximum of 16GB (so ask someone to refer you or search for a referral link online to get the bonus when you first sign up. A Lifehacker article from 2011 outlines a way to max out your referrals quickly. Although the specifics of the Dropbox program have changed since it was written, the technique still works). Dropbox will also award you 500MB for the first photo you upload from your phone and 500MB for each additional 500MB of photos or videos, to a limit of 3GB. If you still need more storage, Dropbox offers 100GB for $99 per year, as well as several more expensive plans. Reviewers highlight the service's ease of use and seamless syncing across computers, tablets, and smartphones.
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Beyond the usefulness of being able to save a file at home and access it on the go via the web, as well as the peace of mind of having files backed up, reviewers appreciate that these services provide desktop and mobile apps for accessing files stored in the cloud even when the user is offline. Both SkyDrive and Dropbox are available for Windows and Mac computers, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. SkyDrive also works with Windows Phone. If you save any changes offline, they'll be synced when you connect to the Internet, so you can access the updated version on all your devices.
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