Technical notes index


page 3





Apple's online service, iCloud, is intended primarily as a method for easily syncing data such as calendars, contacts, emails and pictures between your Macs and your iOS devices. Though it was touted as a partial replacement for the old MobileMe service, it is lacking a number of facilities which were available there.


In fact iCloud now provides an online storage area in the form of the 'iCloud Drive' (OSX Yosemite and iOS8 or higher required). Where earlier systems could use iCloud to sync iWork documents, any type of document (less than 15GB) can be stored and be available to other devices running the required system. It's part of iCloud itself and uses the same storage as the rest of the account - 5GB free, then 20GB $0.99 monthly, 200GB $3.99 p.m., 500GB $9.99 p.m., 1TB $19.99 p.m. (UK 0.79, 2.99, 6.99. 14.99; other countries detailed here.)

There are various other companies which provide a form of online storage, though mostly it's in the form of backup, not strictly storage as such. The differences is that backup systems monitor a specified folder or folders and upload changes: storage is an area to which you can upload files which can then be deleted or moved on the computer without the online versions being affected. With the backup systems, you must keep files you want to store in the monitored folder(s) - if you move them out they will be removed from the backup.

Third-party providers

Various firms provide backup and/or syncing facilities: here are some suggestions.

is a small application which runs on Mac or PC: it's 'faceless' (meaning it only appears in the menu bar). It includes file sharing and a 'Web Archive' for storing files you don't also want to be on your Mac. You can select any folders on your Mac to sync. It does block-level incremental uploading which makes uploading changed files a very quick process. Changes to the folders are automatically detected while the program is running and uploaded - a remarkably quick process as only the individual blocks of a file which has changed are uploaded. Another computer can then access SugarSync and download the files to the equivalent folders, providing quick syncing. However note that it won't handle certain types of files such as live databases (i.e. Outlook) and apparently any package containing .plist files (such as RapidWeaver 'Sandwiches' and QuicKeys shortcuts, both of which synced back as incomplete).

It doesn't have a background process: you leave the application running (it appears in the menu bar) - the Preferences give you the choice of having it run automatically at startup. Unlike some of the others, if you quit it, it really is quit (if it is running an upload at the time it will automatically resume the next time you boot it). There is a free trial but the previously available free basic level has been discontinued: plans start 100GB and go up to 1TB - current pricing detailed here. It's received good reviews: I've been using it and originally found it to be flexible and easy to use (though I have been seeing some unsatisfactory behaviour recently - I don't know whether this is just me or a general issue); when working properly it would be my choice of the available methods (though it's a pity that the original 30GB paid plan has been discontinued) but for me at least it's no longer viable. However you should be aware that cancelling either the free trial or an existing subscription has been made quite difficult - you have to contact them by chat or telephone between 0600-1700 PST which is inconvenient for many people - added to which there have been complaints of them taking ages to answer.

offers similar syncing facilities, though you have to create a single 'Dropbox' folder somewhere on your computer, and keep the files you want to upload in that: changes to this folder are automatically detected while the program is running and uploaded using block-level replacement. You can also specify folders not to sync, so that they are on the server only (and can be accessed via the web page or a third-party program such as Cyberduck). Another computer can then access Dropbox and download the files to its 'Dropbox' folder, providing quick syncing.

Like SugarSync it doesn't have a background process. You would normally keep the application running at all times, but you can close it and reopen it to suit yourself: it only does anything when actually running - other methods involve a background process you can't easily terminate, even when the application itself isn't running.

Dropbox is free for storage up to 2GB - you can increase this by recommending friends - but there is then a steep step up to 1TB at $10 per month, which is a good price, though as 1TB is rather a lot it's a pity that they don't provide an intermediate level. It can easily import photos from digital cameras and iOS devices; as well as file storage it provides sharing, including movie and picture previews. It does also allow web hosting but it's not really geared for this and I wouldn't recommend it for anything more than the odd page. It's well liked despite its limitations

Google Drive
provides 15Gb of free storage, with upgrades ranging from 100GB ($1.99per month) to 30TB ($299.99 per month) (see their pricing page). The application appears only in the menu bar and is designed to run on startup and all the time, however it can be quit if desired and there is no background process. I moved to it with the termination of Copy and it works well and reliably, with good transfer speeds.

Like Dropbox it syncs with its own folder, which is placed in the Home Folder, and can then sync to the equivalent folder on other devices. Files can be uploaded via a web page or a third party program such as Cyberduck, and folders holding these files can be excluded from the application so that they don't sync to the computer. Files can be shared to specified people (who don't have to have a Drive) or publicly. Some people have tried to use it as a host for podcast media files but this has proved endlessly problematic - it's not really designed for this and I don't recommend trying.

Amazon S3
provides storage and sharing, though not syncing. Its pricing is progressive, depending entirely on how much you store (rather than the large steps up used by most other services), with an additional charge for uploads; costs vary by the regions chosen for storage - typical charges are $0.026 per GB, $0.0055 per 1,000 uploads, with storage rates reducing above 50TB - it's aimed at businesses but it quite suitable for personal use. You can have free access up to 5GB for a year (paying the costs if you go over). You can choose from a number of storage areas in USA, Europe or Asia so you would choose the nearest to get the best speeds. It's cheaper than, for example, Google up to very approximately 400GB but above that, as the price increases proportionally, it becomes more expensive up to 1TB, then, with Google's step to 10TB, becomes cheaper up to about 3TB and more expensive up to 10TB. (10 TB is unlikely to be reached by private users! - Google's maximum is 30TB, Amazon is unlimited.)

There is also 'Glacier' storage which is very much cheaper but where files cannot be retrieved immediately - it may take several hours, so it's suitable for long-term storage (this isn't available on the free version).

Its operation isn't as simple as some others so it's worth reading the documentation carefully. Uploading/downloading can be done using the web-page console, but it's easier to use a third-party program - Cyberduck handles it very well. It is designed to be reliable to professional standards and has multiple redundancy in its storage. Though requiring a little more effort to master than the others it's a very good and reliable storage solution.

is a service offering several facilities as a replacement for MobileMe, including an online network disk similar to the iDisk, which mounts on your Desktop. It also provides email, website hosting and a photo gallery on the higher priced options. It's free for 10GB with limited facilities, $59 p..a. for 25GB or $99 p.a. for 100GB.

Jungle Disk
is broadly similar: as with SugarSync you can backup several specified existing folders. Backups take place on a schedule and are stored on servers owned by Amazon or Rackspace (your choice). There is a background process running at all times. Public file sharing is not provided. It runs on Windows and Macs.

Pricing is on a how-much-you-use basis with no storage limit: It's $4 per month plus 12.5 or 15 per GB per month depending on choice of storage server (first 10GB free). This pricing structure makes it an attractive alternative to Dropbox or other tiered-pricing services.

There are a number of other broadly similar services (pricing may change), including:

offers several plans, the basic on being 'Mozy Home': it's free up to 2GB (albeit with no support): its $5.99 per month for 50GB and one computer only - extra computers at $2 per month per computer and additional space at $2 per 20GB per month, with higher-level plans also available. The application runs on Macs and Windows.

is $5 per month per computer for unlimited storage. By default it backs up all your data excluding System files, Applications and temporary files - it's not entirely clear whether you can add your own exclusions. It runs on Mac and Windows.

backs up a similar range of files by default in much the usual manner. It's $59/41.95 per computer per year for unlimited storage. However there have been complaints of it not working satisfactorily in OSX.

works in a broadly similar manner. It's $60 for one user or $159 for up to 10 users or computers, with unlimited storage on their server; it's well functioned.

Microsoft OneDrive
provides online storage which appears as a folder in your Home Folder, and runs as an application with a Dock icon. It's free up to 5GB, upgradeable to 50GB ($1.99 per month; higher amounts available when bundled with MS Office). Sharing facilities are included. I gave it a try some time back and it kept complaining that filenames containing '<', '>', '/' and various other symbols were not allowed (as far as I could see on files to which this was not applicable) so I gave up on it. You may have more luck, or it may have improved by now.

Copy and Wuala have been discontinued.

Using your web space

Ordinary webspace hosting isn't suitable for private file storage as it's publicly accessible, unless you can encrypt the backup. Previously I mentioned an application called xTwin which could do this. However this has now been discontinued by the makers; since only the application can access the encrypted files comprising the backup, anyone who is using this need to be careful not to lose it, or they will lose access to their backups. They should zip a copy of Twin together with the serial number and upload that to the web space, so that in the event of a disaster they would be able to download that first.

File Sharing

Probably the best option is Hightail (used to be YouSendIt). It provides the facility for you to upload files and send an email to a recipient telling them how to download it. There is a free version with some limitations and a plan at $15 per month with fuller facilities; they can also provide plans for businesses.

Amazon S3 provides the facility to make files or folders publicly available.

There are other methods, though they tend to be fudges. Dropbox can do shared folders, but other people using it must have their own DropBox accounts. There is a third-party add-on allowing people to email attached files to your DropBox (though they might just as well email them directly to you: in both cases there tend to be limits on the size of attached files).

There is also a newer program, Cloud App, which makes sharing files simple: it runs as a background process and you just drag files to the menu bar icon. Storage is with Heroku and Amazon: it's free with a limit of 10 files per day, maximum 25MB per file, with tiered plans giving unlimited files and increasing maximum files sizes - see their pricing.

If you are only interested in making files available for download you can do this from some of the storage solutions listed above: or you can do it from your own web space. You can create a web page with links to the relevant files: if you provide a link to a file which is a type a browser can display - .jpg, .gif, png, .mp3, .m4v etc - it will open and display the file. If you want to force it to download the file itself the simplest, though less elegant, way is to zip the file - as this is a format the browser doesn't know it will download it.

However you can force a download of a file without zipping it - this is what MobileMe's 'File Sharing' did, but you cannot replicate this exactly on other servers (and may not be able to password-protect it, depending on whether your hoster offers this facility).  You have to place your files for download in a particular folder, and add an 'htaccess' file to it to force downloads of any file in that folder. This will only work if your web hosting company allows it - some may not. The method is described here.

The next page will examine Photo Galleries.

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Roger Wilmut. This site is not associated with Apple.