Cloud Drive Comparison


Thumbnail image for apple_logo_150.jpgWith the news this week that Apple is entering the cloud storage arena, how does this offering stack up with what is available from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft? The short answer is it depends on what you are storing in the cloud.

(For Audrey Watters comparison specific to music services, see her article here.)

Apple's iCloud is mostly a work-in-progress. For now, the only access to it is through iTunes v10.3, which adds a series of check-boxes in the Preferences/Store menu (see screenshot below). You can store just music, ebooks and apps there for the time being, and there is no Web client to access these items, unlike the other services. But there is also no storage limit too (or at least, none that I could find mentioned). If you are using earlier versions of iTunes, you need to upgrade. It is also free.


Before iCloud, you needed to keep track of what you purchased and on which iDevice you placed things. You couldn't easily synchronize purchases made one place with another: I usually ended up trying to make all my purchases on my desktop, and then pushing them out when I attached my iPhone or iPad to the desktop. iCloud will make this process easier, and all of your prior purchase history can be synchronized and accessed by any device, provided you use iTunes 10.3 or iOS v5 when it becomes available later this year.

(See the summary table below for a more concise feature comparison.)

Amazon's cloud also is short on features: while it offers your choice of Windows, Mac or Web client to upload items to their cloud, you start off (like iCloud) with a 5 GB storage quota for free. You can up this to 20 GB if you purchase at least an album a year (and watch for specials such as the new Lady Gaga which for 99 cents will also up your quota) or pay an annual fee of $20. But it is also very simple to use: at the time you purchase any music, you choose whether to store it in the cloud or on your local PC. You can play anything in the cloud from your browser too. Prior purchases to signing up for their cloud have to be manually uploaded.

Amazon's cloud is also very expensive when you venture beyond 20 GB of storage. Fill up a terabyte and Amazon will cost $1,000/year. That is probably the most expensive terabyte you can find these days. Compare that to Google Docs, which will only cost $256/year. (Amazon does have a separate cloud-based storage service called S3 that a variety of partners will sell extremely cheap gobs of storage, including and

amzon cloud drive.jpg

skyrdrive.jpgMicrosoft's will give you 25 GB of storage for free. While that sounds appealing, Skydrive does have a few downsides: first, there is no way to expand it further (other than opening another Hotmail account to get another free 25 gigs) and second, the actual files that you can store on Skydrive are limited to 50 MB in size, which is rather puny - but that is how they can afford to give away so much storage. Amazon's limit is 2 GB per file, which is better than you will get from Google or Microsoft.

Finally, both Amazon and Apple don't have many features when compared to their competitors. Both Google and Microsoft have been adding all sorts of collaboration tools to make it easier to share documents among a project team in their clouds, rather than emailing them around as attachments. Google has incorporated near real-time joint authoring of its documents, so two or more people can be editing on their own computers, and both will be able to see the changes and post comments. If you have ever had to work jointly on a document, you can be a lot more effective using this feature.

google docs comments.jpg

Google Docs also has the ability to create Web-based forms, for example, and store the results in a shared spreadsheet. Google and Microsoft (through its Live Mesh service) and Apple (through iTunes) all have ways to synchronize the files that you have in the cloud with the files that you have on your desktop (or in Apple's case, on other iOS devices such as your phone or iPad). Amazon lacks this feature. Surprisingly, Live Mesh is the best of the services in that it allows you to synchronize both Mac and Windows computers and can synch all files that are stored in the cloud. If you haven't yet heard of it, it is because Microsoft's Live Cloud is not well integrated with Skydrive, and there are different bits and pieces that don't fit all together. Live Mesh can sync up files bigger than 50 MB but then you can't edit or view them in Skydrive. Google Docs only allow Windows PCs to sync with their cloud drives (and Google has a synch-add only for Office 2010 at that, called Cloud Connect).


None of these services is anywhere near what a cloud storage provider such as or can provide in terms of features. Microsoft's Skydrive is attractive for the amount of storage you can get for free, as long as your files are small. Google continues to enhance its cloud and add features. Apple is just getting started with its cloud and still has a long way to go.

Cloud Storage Service Comparison


Amazon Cloud

Apple iCloud

Google Docs

Microsoft Skydrive

Free storage

5 GB

5 GB

1 GB (1)

25 GB

Max file upload size

2 GB


1 GB (1)

50 MB

20 GB cost

$20/yr (2)




1 TB cost




Not available

Collaboration tools




Yes (Live Mesh)

Sync to desktop


Yes (iTunes 10.3 only)

Yes (Windows only)

Yes (Windows and Mac)

Notes: (1) Google places storage and size limits on uploaded documents; docs created online in Google's own formats don't count in the storage quotas and can be larger than 1 GB (2) Amazon will waive this fee if you purchase an entire MP3 music CD after you create your account.

4Shared Has Free 15GB Cloud Drive


4shared150.pngAs many of you know, Microsoft has had a free 25 GB of cloud drive storage for some time with its Skydrive service. Now is trying out to offer an alternative. You can have up to 15 GB of free storage, as long as you confirm your email account and don't upload any files larger than 2 GB each. More storage without ads and removing the file size and other limits can be had for $10 a month, less if you purchase an annual contract.

The service works similarly to, Dropbox and other cloud file storage services. The news this week is that it now comes with applications for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Symbian devices, along with a synch service for Windows users and a separate Mac desktop app too. You can set it up to post any uploads to both your Twitter and Orkut accounts.

4Shared is also making its API available to developers and is offering up $5000 prize each month to the developer "who most creatively utilizes the 4Shared virtual drive framework in their app," according to the company. Now we here at ReadWriteWeb just give away a MacBook Air every month - there you actually get hard cash money, along with up to a million ad banner impressions promoting your app! One early winner is an app that allows one-tap backup of your iPhone contacts to the 4Shared cloud repository.

5 things to know about Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon announced Cloud Drive, an online (“cloud-based”) file storage and music streaming service for customers. Cloud Drive works in conjunction with the also-new Cloud Player feature, which lets you stream your personal music out of your Cloud Drive to any web browser or Android device (provided you’ve uploaded that music to your Cloud Drive or purchased in through Amazon). The music streaming feature trumps long-anticipated but not-yet-to-be-seen offerings from Apple and Google–but Cloud Drive has plenty of competition, notably from Dropbox, our favorite cloud-based file storage, syncing, and sharing utility. Below are five observations I’ve made so far about Cloud Drive, admittedly looking at it through a Dropbox-colored lens to see how the two might compare.

1. You get lots of space for free

Out of the box, Amazon gives you five gigabytes of personal, cloud-based storage space for free. You can use that space to store documents, videos, photos–whatever you’d like. Of course, Amazon wants you to store your music there. If that music is in MP3 format, you can then stream it to your computer or Android device. To put a little bit of perspective on this, Amazon is giving you the same amount of storage space that the original iPod could hold back in 2001. 1,000 songs. For free.

2. You can catch a break on an additional 15 GB of storage

For the remainder of 2011, if you buy any MP3 album from Amazon, you can upgrade to the 20 GB plan for free (a $20 value). Most MP3 albums run much less than the price of a 20 GB plan, but for the frugal, Amazon is offering several $3.99 albums to help “seed” your music collection. They also provide a collection of $5 albums each month. (For what it’s worth, I just bought a three song EP for 79 cents and my Cloud Drive got the size upgrade–so look around!) Any MP3 you purchase through Amazon will automatically be added to your Cloud Drive and will notcount against your storage quota.

3. Upgrades are cheap

Want even more space? Amazon offers up to 1,000 GB (that’s roughly 1 terabyte)–by comparison, Dropbox only offers up to 100 GB at this time. Or you can stick with a 100 GB plan at about half of what Dropbox charges for that amount of space. Click the Buy additional storagebutton in the interface to learn more about storage tiers and prices.

4. But you don’t get the nice integration with your operating system

There are downsides, though–first and foremost in my mind is the limitation of using only your web browser to access files. Not that it’s really complicated, but it’s not as simple as moving files in and out of folders on your computer. This is where Dropbox really shines against Cloud Drive (and other competitors in this arena).

5. And you can’t share folders with others

Dropbox’s second major selling point over Cloud Drive is its capacity for collaboration. In Dropbox, you can share files with the world via the Public folder, or share folders with other Dropbox users for easy group work. Cloud Drive is intended more for personal use–it’s connected to your personal Amazon account.

This is not to say that Amazon will never offer these features–heck, maybe they’ll just buy Dropbox someday–but if syncing, ease-of-use and collaboration are important features for you, then Cloud Drive might not be your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a lot of cloud-based storage space for free (or cheap) then Amazon’s Cloud Drive is worth a look.

Google Docs - Universal File Viewer

Designers, for both web and print media, mostly use tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for doing the creatives of a project. They'll do the prototypes in PSD format but, for approval, the designs are delivered as PDFs since their clients may not have the software (Photoshop in this case) that is required to view PSD files.

PSD file viewer
Read Photoshop (PSD), Fonts (TTF) and other files in the browser.

That said, if you have any Photoshop (PSD) files on your desktop that you want to view but without having to install Photoshop, here’s a tip for you – just go to your Google Docs account and upload the file.

Google has recently added support for new file formats in Google Docs that are commonly used to exchange design prototypes between clients and designers. That mean you can open and quickly read Photoshop and other  files in the browser itself without requiring the application.

The file formats that can be natively viewed inside Google Docs, without conversion, include Photoshop (PSD), Illustrator (AI), Fonts (TTF), AutoCAD drawings (DXF) and Office 2010 documents (like DOCX, XLSX and PPTX).

And if the file that you are trying to open is already on the web, you don’t even have to bother uploading it to your Google Docs account. Copy the  public URL of that file and pass it to Google's online viewer at

View Contents of a Zip File Online with Google Docs

Consider this. Your friend sends you a 10 MB zip files as an email attachment and you are not too sure what files are inside that archive. It could be a slideshow with pictures of cute cats, that you would definitely not like to open, or maybe something more important.

Earlier you would have to download that entire 10 MB files to your computer just to see whether it is of any use but not anymore. The Google Docs viewer, the standalone app and the version that comes integrated with Gmail, can now handle both .zip and .rar formats in the browser itself.


That means you can browse the contents of an attached zip file online without having to download it. If there any Office documents or Photoshop files or even another zip file contained inside, you can view their content as well in the same Google Docs viewer window.

There’s another scenario where this feature will come handy.

Say you want to download a zip or rar file from a website but before doing so, you would like to confirm what’s inside the file. In that case, just copy the URL of the zip files and paste it into the Google Docs viewer like in this example.

Google Docs can handle ZIP and RAR formats but for extracting other archive formats like gzip or for opening password-protected ZIPs in the browser, check this tool.

How to Easily Transfer Files Across Cloud Services

Cloud storage services like Google Docs, Dropbox, Amazon S3, etc. have made it easy for you keep your important files and documents online. These services are mostly free and you can have multiple accounts on them as long as you use separate email addresses.

This leads to another problem though. When you have files spread across multiple cloud services, managing them can be challenge. You may have stored one group of files on Dropbox, the other on Google Docs while some of the older files could be hosted on your old Google Docs account that you abandoned long ago.

Would it be nice if there were an easy to way to manage / search all your online files from one place without having to download them to the computer first?


Meet Otixo – an impressive web-app that lets you access files stored across different cloud service from a central location. To get started, you associate your Dropbox, Google Docs, Picasa, Amazon S3 and other online accounts with Otixo and then you can easily move or copy files between any of your accounts via simple drag-n-drop.

Otixo supports FTP so it can also be used to directly transfer files from any FTP server to Google Docs or Amazon S3 without having to write complicated scripts. You can even add multiple accounts from the same cloud service - like your old and new Google Docs accounts – and transfer file across these accounts easily.

Otixo offers unified search to help you quickly find all your files that are otherwise spread across multiple cloud services. You can delete files, create new folders, or upload files from the desktop to any of the associated cloud services. Everything just works.

Send fax from Google Docs – Google docs as Fax machine


fax google docs

While there are dozens of web-based services that let you send and receive faxes from the computer without requiring a fax machine, Interfax goes one step further – it turns your Google Docs into a complete fax machine.

You just have to connect your Google Docs account with Interfax and once the link is enabled, you can fax any of your existing Google Docs documents, or spreadsheets, to any fax number in the world right from the browser. You may even send the same Google Docs file to multiple fax machines in one go – remember to separate the different fax numbers / Google Contact names by commas.

The cost for sending faxes from Google Docs varies according to the destination country and the length of the document. For instance, if you are to send a fax to US, the cost would be 13¢ per page, 15¢ for UK while a single page fax to an Indian number would cost you 60¢. There’s no monthly fee for sending faxes though you’ll have to buy minimum credits for $10.

GinzaFax is another online fax service that is built around Google Docs. It is slightly more expensive to send faxes through GinzaFax – the cost 40¢ per page for US numbers and 60¢ for other countries – but here you get a $5 free credit for sending faxes the first time you sign up for an account.

Other than sending faxes, you may also use both Interfax and Ginza Fax to receive faxes from anywhere in the world directly into your Google Docs account. The incoming faxes are automatically converted to PDF format and they get saved in a separate folder thus making it easier for you to locate them later.

How to delete all your Facebook posts and comments


Maybe you woke up from a long night and realize you've made a horrible mistake, posting dozens of embarrassing pictures (or worse) to Facebook. Maybe you've just decided that your five years on Facebook were experimental and you'd rather move on.

Maybe you woke up from a long night and realize you've made a horrible mistake, posting dozens of embarrassing pictures (or worse) to Facebook. Maybe you've just decided that your five years on Facebook were experimental and you'd rather move on.

In either case, deleting more than a couple of posts or pictures can be a major pain. Elinor Mills recently wrote up a neat Android tool called Exfoliate that can scour your Facebook history and permanently delete some or all content. (iPhone users should see it come to the App Store soon.) Here's how to use it: 

Facebook Wall before Exfoliate.

Facebook Wall before Exfoliate.

  1. Install Exfoliate from the Android Market.
  2. Tell Exfoliate which data to delete. This is mostly straightforward, organized into time and content type. If things don't seem to work out the first time, try again with Background Override checked. If you're on a network you trust, you can uncheck Use Https Only to speed up the operation considerably. 

    Step 2: Choose data to delete.

    Step 2: Choose data to delete.

  3. Sign in to Facebook. Exfoliate doesn't retain your log-in information. 
  4. Authorize Exfoliate as a Facebook app. It needs a lot of permissions, as it has a lot of work to do. 
  5. Now is your last chance to reconsider. Start Exfoliate by tapping the big button on the bottom of the screen. 

    Step 5: Begin processing.

    Step 5: Begin processing.

  6. If you get cold feet or suddenly remember you need to save a pic or two, you may have a chance to stop some deletions. Exfoliate starts with the oldest data, so you can tap the cancel button and hope you caught it in time. If not, it's gone forever, so think carefully. 
  7. This is a slow process. If you're deleting more than a few posts, you should probably leave it running and plugged in overnight. 

    Facebook Wall after Exfoliate.

    Facebook Wall after Exfoliate.

That's it. As with any other app or service that makes irrevocable changes, you should think carefully before using it. For some users, though, Exfoliate could be a life-saver.


How to Check Multiple Gmail Accounts in one Log in ?

When I heard the news that Gmail was offering "Multiple Inboxes" as part of Labs, the first thing that popped into my head was "finally--now I can check multiple accounts from the same place!" Unfortunately, that's not how it works.

Instead, Google's solution is simply to place the results from various filters and search queries off to the side of your main in-box. By default it sets you up with messages you've starred, and unsent messages from your drafts folder. This is nice and all, but you can hop to those two places from links in the left-hand navigation.

What I really wanted to do was to get in-boxes from two of my other Gmail accounts into my main Gmail account, and I managed to get it to work with a little tweaking. Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Enable Multiple Inboxes in labs. It looks like this:

Step 2: Log in to the additional account you want to view from your primary Gmail account and open up the settings menu.

Step 3: Go into Forwarding and POP/IMAP and set forwarding to on, and have it send a copy to your primary Gmail address. Repeat this with any accounts you want to forward.

Step 4: Go back into the settings menu of your primary Gmail account and open the Multiple Inboxes menu. In each of the panes simply type in "to:" followed by the e-mail address of one of the forwarding accounts. So it should look like "" minus the quotation marks of course.

Step 5: At this point your multiple in-boxes are up and running, but you're still going to get these messages in your primary in-box too. To keep this from happening we're going to create a filter. Head back to settings in your master account, then click on filters. Create a new one. In the "to" field enter the e-mail address you're forwarding from, click next, then pick the "skip the in-box" option. Repeat with any additional forwarding e-mails and be sure to run it on messages that are already in your in-box to keep things nice and clean.

This system results in a few caveats that keep it from being a true "multiple in-box" experience. For one you'll need to actively set the right "send from" e-mail address when replying to a message from one of your other in-boxes. If you haven't done so already, this needs to be set up from the accounts menu in Gmail's settings.

Also it doesn't carry over any organizational goodness back to the source account, so if for example you star a forwarded message it's not going to have a star when you view it from the original account. The same thing goes for reading messages. So if you want to avoid an avalanche of unread mail back at the source accounts, one option is to set forwarded mail to be automatically archived. However, this might wreck havoc with your e-mail enjoyment on mobile devices and back at the source accounts. I recommend not turning it on, but if you're planning to only access your Gmail from the Web, and from your primary account this won't be an issue.

I'm hoping future versions of Multiple Inboxes will make this whole process a little easier to manage and simply let you plug in additional accounts. In the meantime this is a foolproof way to keep an eye on all three in the same place short of using a third-party Web mail aggregator like Fuser or Orgoo.

Update: As a few folks have pointed out there's another way to do this that avoids relying on forwarding and is smart enough to set the correct account when replying to a message. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Add your extra Gmail accounts to the "send e-mail as" option found in the accounts section in Gmail's settings. As mentioned before you'll need to confirm each account before you can start using it.

Step 2: Pull in the extra accounts you want to keep track of by adding them in the "get mail from other accounts" option in the accounts menu. When you're plugging in your account information be sure to select the "skip inbox" option as well as setting it to automatically label each piece of incoming mail. It should look like this:

Step 3: Go into the Multiple Inboxes settings menu and plug in "label:" then whatever label you selected in step 2.

Like the first method, there are a few hang-ups with this one. For one, slurping in additional accounts takes awhile after you first set it up. More importantly, it takes space in your primary Gmail account. If you're doing this with several large and active accounts you're going to start running out of space more quickly, which for most I'm guessing won't be a problem. Nonetheless it's worth keeping in mind.

New Gmail with all new prominent features


Gmail has undergone a design refresh and it's available as an optional switch before it gets rolled out.

Explore Gmail’s 6 new features.

Inbox view customizations

Gmail has worked on providing a more comfortable view for the inbox. You can now adjust how dense the inbox looks in Settings >Display density. There are three options to choose from - Comfortable, Cozy and Compact to choose from.
Comfortable gives you the largest font size - great if you have a large display (20 inches or more). Cozy reduces size for medium sized devices - notebooks with 13.3 to 17-inch displays. Compact view compresses the view further and is best suited for smaller displays such as those on netbooks (12-inch or smaller).





Intuitive new toolbar

Gone is the plain toolbar that had simple grey buttons. It is now replaced by a new intutive toolbar that shows neat, space-saving icons. while viewing the inbox, the toolbar will only show a selection box, refresh icon and a 'more' button that offers the option to 'mark all as read'.
When you select or open a mail, the toolbar changes to show icons for archive, delete, report spam, move or assign a label. For a smoother transition from old to new styles, the placement order of the icons has not been changed.




Streamlined conversations

Reading mails is much easier with the new interface. Email conversations now indicate the total number of messages sent and received between the first and the last mail. Each mail in the conversation displays a profile picture of the sender - for easier identification.
Icons have replaced most of the text buttons and other than the reply/reply to all icon on the right side, all the other icons are hidden and can only be accessed via a drop-down menu.
The quick reply box at the bottom now has shortcuts to reply, reply to all or forward. 'Show quoted text' has been removed and in its place is a small icon - click it to show trimmed content.


Upfront inbox type

Hovering the mouse pointer over the 'inbox' label shows a drop down arrow with the option to choose an inbox 'style'. There are five inbox types including 'Classic' (the conventional Gmail), 'Important first' (all mail from contacts marked as important will show first), 'Unread first' and 'Starred first'.
The last style, 'Priority inbox', splits your mails into various heads. Unread, important and starred mails are shown with relevant headers while the rest are placed under a single header that says 'Everything else'. More options to customise inbox styles (items per page, unread mail count, visibility of unread markers) is available in account settings.



The reworked sidebar

Mail, Contacts and Tasks are now in a drop down box on top instead of as separate text links. The chat window can be resized by simply dragging the adjustment bar up/down. However, your labels remain intact and as soon as you hover the mouse pointer over them, it automatically brings up all the labels, pushing the chat window down.
To provide a more concise view, additional widgets such as calendar, 'invite a friend' and so on are no longer below the chat window. Instead there is a small button below the chat window to switch between chat and widgets - there's no need to scroll up/down to view the widgets.



Powerful search features

A single magnifying glass icon replaces both 'Search Mail' and 'Search the Web' buttons. As you type in the search box, you get the option to search mail or the web - quite like Google's instant search. The advanced search box can be accessed by clicking on the drop down arrow visible at the end of the search box.
You can now search mail with various pre-defined criteria including labels, keywords, with/without attachment and within a date range -without leaving the inbox. You can also create a filter from within the advanced search box with these criteria and apply it to all the matching email conversations in your mailbox.

Gmail gets a makeover



Google has unveiled a new look for its free e-mail service that has more white space, less clutter, threaded conversations, new themes, and better search.

Over the next several days, users will be prompted to switch to the new Gmail design with a link in the lower-right corner of their inbox. Eventually, it’s going to become the default.

“We’re excited to finally share Gmail’s new look with you,” Google user experience designer Jason Cornwell said in a blog post. “We’ll be bringing these changes to everyone soon,” he said.

“But if you’d like to make the switch right away, we’re rolling out a ‘Switch to the new look’ link in the bottom-right of Gmail over the next few days.”

The new layout has a revamped “conversation view” to help users read through e-mail threads. It has improved tools for searching mailboxes, which typically serve as storage bins for users.

Google also began providing more insight and control regarding how ad pitches are personalised to users.

Information such as location and search history is used to decide what ads people might find more useful, according to Google.

People can use Ads Preference Manager tools to tune systems to their tastes or block messages from advertisers that are of no interest to them.

A new, streamlined conversation view that displays Google profile pictures for your contacts — making an e-mail thread look a little more like an instant messaging conversation.

Elastic density, which means that the spacing between items on the screen will automatically adjust based on the screen size and device you’re viewing it on.

Instant messages (Google calls them conversations) now come with photos and the messages have a better streamline like a real conversation.

Adding a social element, Google is adding profile pictures beside each message.

The density of the text also adjusts depending on your screen size and resolution, making it easier on the eyes.

The new design is in line with some of the changes Google just made to Google Reader in terms of spacing and overall feel.

Gmail is also prettying itself up with a host of new themes with background images from iStockPhoto.

Google offers free website for SMBs.



Google India, in partnership with ICICI Bank and HostGator (the web hosting company), has launched a new program called India Get Online where they make it easy for you to setup a website for your business for free.

As part of the deal, you get a free .in web domain (provided it is available) and free web hosting for one year. The .in domain will registered to you while Hostgator will manage the website hosting* though you can move the site to any other web host for free.

Such free offers are always a goldmine for spammers but Google India has made it mandatory for businesses to enter their Permanent Account Number (PAN) or Tax Deduction Account Number (TAN) at the time of registration. Since these numbers are unique for every individual / business, you can’t avail it more than once.

Your website will be integrated with Google Apps so you also get access to other Google products like Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Docs and more. You also get Google Adwords coupons worth INR 2.5k for free to help you advertise your website on Google and AdSense network sites.

[*] If you have purchased a web domain already, you can also use Google App Engine to host your website online for free.

You can visit or to get an idea of how sites created with the “India Get Online” look like. There’s a set of readymade web templates, pick one that matches your business profile, you can customize the text and pictures of the pages and your site is good to go.

Google hasn’t exactly specified the amount that businesses will have to pay to renew their website registration and hosting after one year except saying that it will be a “discounted fee.”

Microsoft had a offered a similar service in India called Office Live for Small Businesses but they recently discontinued it in favor of Office 365 which is less about website hosting but more about running your business in the cloud.