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The best cloud hosting & syncing services


With increased broadband and cellular speeds, as well as the proliferation of mobile devices like smartphone and tablets, the way we access our data is changing: our files no longer have to be stashed away on a local hard drive, with cloud storage offering an alternative place for our data that's always switched on and can be accessed from anywhere.

There's no shortage of services looking to take advantage of this brave new world of file streaming and syncing. All of the major players in the computing world have their own bespoke services, while there are some top-quality independent solutions that are well worth taking a look at too. In alphabetical order (rather than ranked by quality), they are as follows.

Dropbox Dropbox has been going since 2007 and is everything that a file syncing program should be: fast, reliable and very simple to use. Anything dropped into your Dropbox folder is automatically backed up to the Web and synced to your other computers, be they Windows, Mac or Linux. A variety of official mobile apps are available, while the sharing features make collaborating on projects or sending large files and folders to other users a cinch. Sign up and you can get 2GB of storage space for free.  

Dropbox

Dropbox has been going since 2007 and is everything that a file syncing program should be: fast, reliable and very simple to use. Anything dropped into your Dropbox folder is automatically backed up to the Web and synced to your other computers, be they Windows, Mac or Linux. A variety of official mobile apps are available, while the sharing features make collaborating on projects or sending large files and folders to other users a cinch. Sign up and you can get 2GB of storage space for free.

 

Google Drive Google Drive focuses mostly on online office apps, covering word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. However, there is also a file storage and syncing element to the package. By downloading the Google Drive desktop client you can sync any kind of file to your online account, and photos, music and video can be streamed directly from the Web. Mobile apps are also available for your smartphone or tablet, and new users can get their hands on 5GB of storage space free of charge.  

Google Drive

Google Drive focuses mostly on online office apps, covering word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. However, there is also a file storage and syncing element to the package. By downloading the Google Drive desktop client you can sync any kind of file to your online account, and photos, music and video can be streamed directly from the Web. Mobile apps are also available for your smartphone or tablet, and new users can get their hands on 5GB of storage space free of charge.

 

iCloud As you would expect from Apple, iCloud is very much a Mac OS/iOS product, though Windows users can take advantage of some functionality through a separate desktop client. iCloud works well as an integrated solution for software running on Apple devices, and is less of a standalone storage and syncing package than the other solutions we've looked at here. The service is also used to back up settings and other data from iOS devices. New users can get their hands on 5GB of space for their files for free.

iCloud

As you would expect from Apple, iCloud is very much a Mac OS/iOS product, though Windows users can take advantage of some functionality through a separate desktop client. iCloud works well as an integrated solution for software running on Apple devices, and is less of a standalone storage and syncing package than the other solutions we've looked at here. The service is also used to back up settings and other data from iOS devices. New users can get their hands on 5GB of space for their files for free.

SkyDrive  Microsoft may have to change SkyDrive's name due to a licensing disagreement, but despite this small problem it's otherwise a very reliable and appealing product. The Web interface includes stripped-down versions of the main Office products for getting your work done on the go, while SkyDrive is also tightly integrated into the latest Windows 8.1 operating system. It offers the same sort of storage and syncing as Dropbox combined with the on-the-go Web apps of Google Drive, without being quite as good in either area. 7GB of space is included with the free package.

SkyDrive 

Microsoft may have to change SkyDrive's name due to a licensing disagreement, but despite this small problem it's otherwise a very reliable and appealing product. The Web interface includes stripped-down versions of the main Office products for getting your work done on the go, while SkyDrive is also tightly integrated into the latest Windows 8.1 operating system. It offers the same sort of storage and syncing as Dropbox combined with the on-the-go Web apps of Google Drive, without being quite as good in either area. 7GB of space is included with the free package.

The rest

You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to file storage and syncing. Other services worth a mention are Box, Mega, SugarSync, Amazon Cloud Drive and Ubuntu One. When comparing services against one another, look for the amount of storage space offered, maximum file sizes and bandwidth use, supported file formats (for direct streaming and so on) and any extra features thrown in (like official mobile apps).