MobileMe looks and functions exactly like you would expect an Apple product to act, which is to say: like a Mac computer and the iPhone. If you are used to a Windows computer or like using a Web 2.0 site that emphasises Java and a good design over making a web site look like a computer, then MobileMe is likely not the best option.
However, it is one of the best ways to easily back up files. For $99, the service offers 20GB of storage space. You can easily mark folders as public and share the contents with any user (which they can then access online), or select a file or folder and add an e-mail address to share with any recipient.
As you might expect, Apple offers an iPhone client for MobileMe and it works better than any other mobile app we have tested for online storage sites. There is also a Windows client.
In tests, MobileMe also had another perk: it actually ran incredibly fast for backups, typically operating just a notch faster than other services when testing the same files over the same internet connection. For example, a 50MB file transfer to the service at Me.com took only five seconds, whereas other services took twice that time.
The integration with the Mac OS is remarkably fluid as well – the iDisk icon is available in the Finder view so you can easily drag and drop files to your online storage.
When you need to retrieve a file, it is just a matter of double-clicking the same icon and copy the file back to your local drive, or using Me.com from any computer to access your online folders.
The only real complaint about MobileMe is that it is just a hair more expensive that other services, but the extra cost is not a major issue since the service has plenty of storage and works so well.
MozyHome is an exceptional service that matches and, in some cases, exceeds the power of Apple's MobileMe service. It costs about $5 per month, and provides unlimited storage for files.
MozyHome, the service we tested (since there is also a business version), uses 128-bit encryption for file transfers and runs as an app that is similar to most desktop apps that archive to a local disk.
One of the most unique features is called bandwidth throttling. When you configure the app, you can choose whether Mozy uses most of the bandwidth for backups or a minimal amount. The service was also the best at prompting you for which files to back up, such as music and video files, documents, and contacts stored on your computer.
There's an easy way to pause backups and resume, and MozyHome worked reliably for all of our back-up tests. However, it did not match MobileMe for raw speed of backups and tended to take just a few seconds longer on the same Internet connection.
MozyHome even offers a free version with 2GB of space, which is a great way to test out the service with a few important files to see if it works well for your computing needs. The service works with both Mac and Windows computers, and has an excellent support page and knowledge base.
Dropbox was the easiest service to use of all the ones we tested. When you visit Dropbox.com, you see a large download link to get started with the program, not the typical customer testimonials or features summary.
The service is free for 2Gb of storage, or $10 per year for 50GB and $20 for 100GB. Like MobileMe on a Mac, DropBox integrates well with your computing activities. You can right-click on any file and send it to your Dropbox (similar to how Carbonite works), but there is also a desktop icon you can use for drag-and-drop. And, unlike Carbonite, you can visit Dropbox.com to view archived files.
Dropbox watches files and folders and folders and will detect when a file charges and then make a new archive of that file. The interface for electing which files you want to back up is exceptionally easy – matching the design flare and accessibility of the MobileMe interface.
Like MozyHome, you can set a bandwidth throttle to use all of your feed for backups or a small amount. The search at Dropbox.com is powerful: you can search archives for any file, then rename and delete them at will.
When you upload photos to Dropbox, the service actually creates a slideshow for you automatically – and, of course, you can share any links as public storage locations with anyone you want. Like Elephant Drive, files are encrypted locally before transfer using 256-bit AES and secured with 128-bit SSL during transfer.
The iPhone app is powerful as well. You can take photos and video (with the iPhone 3GS), then sync those files to your Dropbox account. And, there's a way to view photo slideshows, too.
So where does Dropbox fall in the grand scheme of things? We ended up liking MobileMe a hair more because of its speed and a few minor interface design perks. Still, Dropbox is an outstanding service that worked reliably, has several unique features, and is not as expensive as MobileMe.
8. Google Docs
Not instantly recognized as a storage service, Google Docs recently implemented a new feature: you can store any file on the service you want, not just media files and documents. In fact, if it is a file you can email or upload over the web (so, maybe not a 1GB high-def movie) you can store it with Google.
The free portal offers 1GB for any type of file, or pay .25 cents per GB for more space. (In the past, industrious users figured out how to hack Gmail to let them store files, so this is now the preferred option.) Google Docs works well with Gmail and other Google service, partly because you tap into the storage you have for all Google services and can pay extra for more storage.
Google uses a smart shared folder model where you can upload files and then give anyone access to your public files. If you do work regularly with docs on the service, Google Docs even behaves a bit like Google Wave in that you can work on documents collaboratively.
Docs has a viewer for any file type, including photos, and the entire portal for files is searchable. For example, if you use Docs for uploading PDF files, you can search for any phrase and Docs will search through the PDF text.
Because Docs is intended more as a word processing, spreadsheet, and slideshow suite to compete with Microsoft Office, the service tends to be a little hard to use.
There is certainly no desktop integration, since that is not really the purview of Google to begin with. And, there is no obvious point-of-entry for quick backups and uploads. As a free service, Google Docs does work well and can become part of your Google experience, but it's in no way a serious competitor to MobileMe or Dropbox.
Whichever storage site you choose, one axiom will quickly emerge: with the storage at your fingertips, and the sites available without a lot of fuss, it is easier to make them a daily part of your routine.
This was more true with MobileMe, Dropbox, and Carbonite because of how they integrate with your computer. They are like a constant reminder that you should be arching important files.
Yet, every online site does provide a quick way to make backups and negates the need for a USB keydrive or even an external hard disk drive that you use just for a single PC backup.
Even with the mobility they provide, there is one caveat to mention: space is often limited with these sites, and when there is unlimited storage, the other gating factor is that your internet connection is not the best option for backing up a 250GB laptop drive.
In that sense, online storage is no replacement for a good dedicated network back-up process, which is a better choice when you do happen to be chained to your desk.