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9 free personal clouds offer something for everyone  

Personal cloud services allow users to store data, share it among devices and collaborate with teams

By Wayne Rash, Network World
September 23, 2013 06:09 AM ET

Network World - A personal cloud service lets you share photos, music and documents among all your devices easily and quickly, but the way that sharing happens depends on which cloud service you choose.

The good news is that these cloud services are normally free for a limited amount of data. Most vendors also offer premium or enterprise versions, which allow you to store more data and to share data, which is useful in a workgroup scenario, for example.

We looked at nine personal cloud services: Apple’s iCloud, Bitcasa, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, MediaFire, SpiderOak and Ubuntu One. While iCloud, SkyDrive and Google Drive are optimized for their respective platforms, all of the cloud services work across multiple operating systems and different browser types.

In some cases, the vendors offer a shared storage area that other people can access on their own, in others cases you would send a URL to people. Some services also include Web-based apps, such as the ability to create documents or contact lists.

There was no single cloud service that we considered a winner. All worked as advertised, all had their strengths, as well as peculiarities or annoyances.

[ALSO: How to build a private cloud]

SkyDrive offers smooth integration with Microsoft Office apps, iCloud delivers built-in data synching and full backups for users with multiple Apple devices. Bitcasa is notable for offering unlimited space and SpiderOak is aimed at users worried about cloud security.

Box takes it one step further, offering collaboration features. Similarly, Dropbox delivers excellent version control for users collaborating on a document. GoogleDrive is aimed at users in the Google Docs/Gmail ecosystem.

MediaFire is trying to carve out a niche in streaming media. Ubuntu One still needs some work, but it’s aimed at what Canonical hopes will be a growing legion of users who are on Ubuntu desktops and Ubuntu smartphones. (Watch a slideshow version of this story.)

Here are the individual reviews:

Apple iCloud

If you have an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or a Mac, you have iCloud available. iCloud is also available for download for Windows 7 and 8 users, but not for Windows RT. You can access iCloud by going to the iCloud website from any device. Apple provides 5GB of storage for free, and you can upgrade if you need more, starting at $20.

ICloud provides storage for photos and documents you want to share between devices. You can share photos with others using Photo Streams. Sharing reportedly will be enhanced with iOS 7 when it’s released. Your iOS devices can also be backed up to iCloud, which is handy if you need to replace a device or do an upgrade. Those backups include all content on your device as well as all of the apps and settings.

Much of the material on your Mac or iOS device can be uploaded to iCloud automatically, so a photo taken on your iPhone will appear on your iPad or Mac in short order. Likewise, music and video content from the Apple store will show up on your Apple devices.

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