Online file sharing is big business nowadays. As connection speeds improve, and internet usage becomes the norm rather than the exception, more and more people are entrusting their data to the cloud. From backing up files to collaborative projects, online storage has a multitude of uses. The always accessible nature of cloud-hosted files is ideal for remote workers and offsite teams, as well as for backing up files contained on a device’s hard drive.
However, there’s a lot more to evaluate when considering online file sharing than simply the cost or the data allowance. While these are undoubtedly important, ease of use is also crucial. From automatic file synchronization and rollback features to interface simplicity, every online file sharing service performs a broadly similar role in distinctly different ways.
This is particularly true of security, something often overlooked by consumers who reasonably assume that every service will keep their data safe. Yet security may be affected by numerous variables, including encryption, password settings, and the physical protection afforded to a hosting provider’s data centers. Nor should file transfer speeds be overlooked: sluggish uploads and downloads aren’t always the sole responsibility of the end user. Some cloud providers have less efficient servers (or smaller bandwidth allowances) than some of their rival services.
Below are noted the best online file sharing platforms currently available, listed alongside price summaries. While they all offer a level of free storage, this is unlikely to be sufficient for regular use so we would recommend the paid-for versions:
#1. Dropbox Pro
Launched: 2008 Price: $9.99 per month for 1TB
Dropbox is one of the least generous free storage providers, offering just 2GB of space across unlimited folders. Conversely, the subscription-only Pro package is more favorable than rival providers, allocating a terabyte of fast-access storage for less than $10 per month. Tests suggest that Dropbox achieves superior upload and download speeds than other platforms, although uploaded files don’t always display until a folder is reopened. As well as running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS, Dropbox even works on Kindles and BlackBerry devices.
Pros: Sharing folders is easy, 2FA security is available, good Android/iOS support
Cons: Individual files can’t be password protected, closing accounts may be difficult
#2. Google Drive
Launched: 2012 Price: $9.99 per month for 1TB ($299.99 per month for 30TB)
Google Drive is a great platform for beginners. If you have a Google or Gmail account – and most people do – there’s 15GB of free storage already there with your name on. Like the search engine’s other offerings, Google Drive is simplicity itself to use with good tutorials and a quick initial setup. Files can be edited and rolled back to previous versions, while third parties may be given permission to view, edit or merely comment on uploaded files. Transfer times are generally good, though speed tests indicate rivals are quicker at uploading videos.
Pros: Great for beginners, rapid file upload/download speeds, immense storage capacity
Cons: Password security could be better, it’s difficult to close an account once one is open
#3. Microsoft OneDrive
Launched: 2012 Price: $69.99 per year for 1TB ($99.99 per year for 5TB)
Offering 5GB of free data before paid plans kick in, Microsoft’s OneDrive is a strong alternative to market leader Dropbox. OneDrive is integrated into Windows 10, and bundled with Office 365 Personal/Home for PC or Mac. This gives up to five people access to iconic software like Word and Excel, plus 1TB of storage per user. OneDrive’s helpful tutorials were clearly designed to be used by cloud newcomers. Other user-friendly touches include syncing content on Android or iOS apps only when a device is connected to wifi.
Pros: Easy to set up and use on phones, supports file editing, great for sharing folders
Cons: Closing an account is difficult, password is shared with other Microsoft accounts
#4. Apple iCloud
Launched: 2011 Price: $9.99 per month for 2TB
Users of iPhones and iPads gravitate to Apple’s offering in this area, which is designed to dovetail with iWork files and Apple hard drives. The 5GB free allowance is fairly typical, introducing people to the real-time synchronization and previous document views offered by iCloud. Upload and download speeds are impressive, and security is among the best here thanks to strong password settings and 2FA. However, files can only be shared with other iCloud account holders, severely restricting the platform’s appeal to corporate audiences.
Pros: Storage may be shared among family members, generous 2TB limit, strong security
Cons: Doesn’t support music or video file playback, only suitable for Apple customers
Launched: 2005 Price: $15 per month for unlimited storage
The oldest platform on this list, Box is oriented towards corporate users and even offers unlimited storage for Business account holders. Personal accounts are also available, though with less functionality. Although it has mobile versions for BlackBerry and Windows Phone, Linux users will have to look elsewhere. The interface is crisp and easy to use, while Google and Office documents can be created within Box. Notes can be shared, tasks assigned and files locked. Custom URLs for downloading files are available, which is a clever touch.
Pros: Easy to use, generous 10GB free allowance, unlimited premium storage
Cons: Not Linux compatible, fewer collaborative tools than other platforms
Launched: 2003 Price: $69.50 per year for 2TB (currently discounted to $52)
On top of 5GB of free storage and special pricing for students, IDrive users may upgrade to 5TB of personal storage or 12.5TB of business space. However, the latter costs $299.95 per month, while Google gives you 30TB for the same monthly cost. IDrive data can be protected with a private encryption key even the host won’t be able to crack, though 2FA isn’t available. The interface is clean, colorful and supports full hard drive backups. It’ll even scan hard drives for updated documents every 15 minutes, automatically backing up revised files.
Pros: File sharing via email and social media, handles most media types, automatic backups
Cons: Password strength not particularly good, file transfer times could be better