The next major battle between online services is taking shape. And this time it’s not email or calendaring, search or social networking. It’s storage. Good old fashioned storage. It’s just that it’s all online instead.
Of course, online storage isn’t a new concept. Remember GMail Drive, the add-in for Google Mail that enabled you to use the space to store files, for example. And then there’s Windows Live SkyDrive, offering 5GB of password protected online storage. And then there’s online backup solutions such as Carbonite or BT’s Digital Vault.
But the game has moved on a little. Now it’s also about synchronisation, so not only can you store files online and share files with others, you can also synchronise them across your different computers. Microsoft has just refreshed the beta of Windows Live Folder Share that not only enables you to share folders and sync file ‘libraries’ across your computers, but you can also access files from your PC over the web via the client (provided it is switched on, of course).
This is extremely powerful, especially as it enables you to sync different files with different machines. So you can sync your home accounts across your home machines for example and choose to do the same with a completely different set of files across, say, one home machine and one work machine. Crucially, this isn’t just restricted to the PC – a Mac client is also available.
It is slightly perplexing why Folder Share isn’t integrated with SkyDrive considering there are some of the same features. But FolderShare isn’t yet integrated with the Windows Live ID system either, so we’re guessing it’s just early days for the technology and Microsoft doesn’t want to push it out to too many people currently.
Sync files across platforms
Then there’s Dropbox, another file sync app currently in closed beta. This is a lot more focussed than the sprawling Windows Live offering. It simply adds a folder to your Mac or PC which is synchronised across all your machines and is accessible via a web interface. Seems like a far more elegant solution to us.
The key aspect with these solutions is that you can save or copy documents directly into the folder, so you can treat it just like a normal drive.
What about a different approach? Humyo is a service that is designed to “replace your hard drive”. It’s essentially web-based, but unlike the other services we’ve mentioned here, the client is most definitely secondary to the experience but does enable you to access the files via your filesystem.
The company admitted to us that it’s still early days for the service and it needs consumers to put their trust in online storage before services like Humyo can really take off.
Humyo does have some handy facets though, such as the ability to slideshow your photos or play your music from any computer as well as mobile access.
For the moment, we’re more of a fan of the ‘shared folder’ approach rather than storing everything online. But it’s only a matter of time before we’re more comfortable with storing data on the web, keeping it there and nowhere else.
Humyo’s service is an interesting one and it also has the ability to work offline with files if you so desire. For the moment though, we’re happier with a service like Dropbox. Things will change though.