Hard disks can't be feeling very happy these days: from music to movies, email to invoices, we're increasingly storing our important data in the cloud. Now that reliable and fast broadband and mobile broadband are available to most of us, the lure of the cloud is getting stronger – and it's being helped by a price war between competing cloud providers.
What's so great about the cloud?
Convenience. You're probably already using a cloud-based email service such as Gmail, Outlook or similar, so you'll be familiar with the idea of accessing it on whatever device happens to be handy: your smartphone, laptop, tablet, or even a borrowed PC in a hotel lobby.
Cloud computing brings that convenience to everything. Instead of transferring media files to your phone you simply stream MP3s or movies from faraway servers. Instead of copying crucial documents to flash drives or burning them to disc, you stick them in the cloud where they can't be left in the office or on a train.
Even more conveniently, much of this happens automatically – so for example cloud-based music services know when you've bought new music and make it available to all your devices immediately, and cloud-based storage knows when you've updated a file and updates its copy accordingly.
What are the downsides?
The cloud isn't much cop without an internet connection, although most services enable you to download files for times when you won't be able to get online. Some services are limited to specific hardware, so for example Apple isn't particularly interested in sharing data with Windows PCs (although that will change later this year when iOS 8 brings iCloud Drive, Apple's alternative to the all-conquering Dropbox).
There are also financial considerations. Cloud services generally have multiple tiers, with a free service for casual use and paid-for versions for more serious or demanding users. As we'll discover, there are huge differences between the various providers' prices.
So, without further ado, let's begin our examination of the major cloud players, and find out which might suit you best.