A tale of two cloud storage providers

Posted in Enterprise mobility.

Many sites review the latest cloud storage systems, whether they be private or public cloud. Yet it is difficult to know which one to choose that will suit your personal preferences and unique needs. In this post we list two first-hand accounts of using Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Google Drive.


Up till about one and a half years ago, I used to use portable hard drives to carry all my data around. This allowed me to work between my office PC and home PC effortlessly. The files I worked on were always up-to-date because I only every stored them on my portable drive. Sure files got corrupt every now and then (inevitable with a USB drive) but it was a price I was willing to pay to have my data easily on hand. I’d heard about cloud storage providers but their data allowance was woefully inadequate. I was lugging around about 100GB of data on my drive. Of that I needed to access about 20GB on a continuous basis. Most of the cloud storage providers were charging a fortune for storing that much data. I was using Dropbox but purely to upload and send large files to other people.

When SkyDrive launched in 2012, Microsoft gave away 25GB of free space (in addition to the 7GB that was available for free). I quickly signed up and haven’t looked back since. I uploaded all 20GB of my data and now I have it available for use on every one of the devices I own (two PC’s, two laptops, a tablet, and my phone). In the early days, SkyDrive wasn’t as fully featured as Dropbox. For example, sharing was clunky because you had to log into the web app and find your file manually. Now, you can right-click on a file in Windows Explorer and share it instantly. The app syncs files quietly in the background and I haven’t ever had a file “go missing”.

The SkyDrive browser interface has been a life-saver many times over. If I’m travelling and need to do some work urgently, all I do is pop into an Internet café, log in and download the files that I need. All-in-all, I’m very happy with SkyDrive and don’t see a need to even consider any of the other vendors.

Google Drive

I started using Google Drive at the beginning of the year. Seeing as I already had a Gmail account, there was no setup whatsoever involved for me. Google Drive is already a part of the service that Google provides and there is no signup necessary to participate. Those who do not have Gmail as an email provider would also not have a problem as the process to acquire a Gmail account is quick and painless.

Access to the service is very easy when you make use of Google’s own browser, Chrome. The icon for and shortcut to Drive is already placed on your homepage (which is customisable according to your needs) when you install the browser. When it comes to other browsers (I have previously used all of the major players including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari) there are no extensions or add-ons available that does what the extension on Chrome does. But this is to be expected since it is Google’s product after all. Firefox does have an extension that helps you to easily save anything you find on the Internet to Drive but it has limited functionality.

My first impression of the layout was very neutral. It blends in well with all of the other Google products and services so there is an amount of consistency. I would have liked the option of customizing or personalizing the view according to my preferences (such as a different background color for a change of scenery now and then) but it is not a deal-breaker. The only other custom settings one can change is where documents open (new or same window) and the way your documents and images are uploaded.

At first, I only uploaded the documents I have previously created in Microsoft Word and Excel. Seeing as I started out only using it for work purposes, it was great for organizing documents into separate categories as there is no limit to the amount of levels and folders one can create within the Drive. Recently updated items are bolded (a setting you have to adjust manually), and it is quick and easy to add new documents with the new drag-and-drop feature.

The syncing of documents has slight issues attached to it. After downloading the Google Drive desktop app, I expected all of the documents I can see on my browser to be present in the desktop app but it took nearly a day before they were all visible and even then not all of it was there. At present the syncing takes some time but it is at its best and fastest when you upload one document or image at a time. One should rather rely on what you have in your browser than on the desktop or mobile app as I have had a few times when documents I added the afternoon was still not available a few hours later. Yet, one positive is that Google Drive saves your documents automatically while editing and I have never lost any of my information due to crashes.

Google Drive has a few default apps connected to its product such as Google Docs, Google Sheets (great for Excel formats) and Google Forms (with which you can create online surveys and the like) but you have the option of adding more as you go along and as you need them. One can add music files to your Drive with DriveTunes and edit images with PicMonkey. The word processing of Google Docs is perhaps not as powerful as Microsoft Word (which remains the master of word processing) but it has the basic functions that one would need. Alternatively, one can download your files from Google Drive to, say, a Microsoft Word format to continue your editing there.

Images seem to be a problem with Google Drive as all images open with Google Docs by default which is definitely not the best format for viewing images. There are apps that one can connect to your Google Drive but these are all photo editing apps and not image viewing apps. It would have been great for Google to create an app of their own for image viewing much like Windows Live Photo Gallery where one can do basic editing if one wanted (like rotating an image).

Google Drive has vastly improved the way I work. I no longer have to be in possession of my work laptop to find the documents that I need and can easily share important documents with those that need to be in the know. Seeing as laptops and other devices have limited storage, it is great to have the option of holding on to documents and not having to delete the “less important” documents because you no longer have the capacity for them. The fact that Google Drive is accessible not only in my browser but also on my desktop and on other mobile devices makes my documents much more organised as I don’t have to try and repeat the same pattern somewhere else as it is already the way it is everywhere else.