App of the Week: SugarSync and DropBox, Two Great iCloud Alternatives

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App: Dropbox Platform: Most smart phones Website: Dropbox.com Cost: Free (includes 2GB storage)

App: SugarSync Platform: Most smart phones Website: SugarSync.com Cost: Free (includes 5GB storage)

There has been an awful lot of talk about cloud computing over the last couple years, particularly since Apple entered the fray last summer, but the vast majority of average computer users won't even scratch the surface on what can be done with online storage simply because they don't need it (yet) and don't understand what it is (yet).

However, micro services that allow some storage of digital information for the sole purpose of linking it to your mobile devices are coming of age quickly. I don't bring my laptop with me everywhere, but having access to some -- if not all -- of its data can be super convenient. My iPhone already helps to sync my contacts and calendar events (among other things) and Gmail keeps my inbox the same no matter where I view it. Then there's Evernote for my always increasing batch of to-do lists and notes.

But, when I want hardcore access to my actual computer, I can either go with some kind of remote desktop software, which doesn't help me when my computer is sleeping -- something I do regularly to keep it from swallowing up electricity while I'm out -- and is tough to use without a wi-fi connect. Fortunately, there are a couple of alternatives to iCloud out there to give you limited access and keep you connected.

First up, Dropbox, the popular file storage and sharing website that allows users to sync anything in a single folder on their computer with the Dropbox servers. Users can share the information both publicly and privately with other Dropbox users and there is some extra built-in functionality for photo display that is helpful.

The site and the app are simple, clean and organized. On your desktop computer, a single Dropbox folder -- or a folder of your choosing -- contains anything you drop in it and automatically syncs that with the online storage space and any other device you set up. On the phone, the same files are displayed in an un-cluttered and straightforward interface. Files can also be uploaded directly from the phone.

One of the distinct advantages of Dropbox is that the company has so many users that it has become integrated with all sorts of different apps. Often, apps will include Dropbox in their sharing options so that files can be sent to Dropbox like they would be shared with Facebook or Twitter.

A free 2GB of storage comes with the free account. An additional 50GB or 100GB can be purchased for $100 and $200 per year respectively. According to a representative from Dropbox, their prices are actually higher than what was originally reported. They now charge $120 annually for 50GB and $240 annually for 100GB if you go month-to-month, but annual subscriptions are $100 and $200 respectively. My mistake.

SugarSync works in much the same way as Dropbox, but it has a couple key differences. Like Dropbox, SugarSync allows a user to sync any files and folders he wants on his computer. Folders and files are assigned and new versions are synced automatically.

Both softwares not only sync your phone and your computer but, like iCloud, will sync all your devices -- iPad, other computers, other phones, etc. Neither discriminate between operating systems working seamlessly across Apple, Windows and a variety of phones, however the interface for SugarSync makes this much more clear in both the app and on the website than Dropbox.

SugarSync also streams music -- something Dropbox doesn't and I have to wonder how long SugarSync's streaming will fly with the recording industry -- edits documents and even includes a Web Archive for storing files that need to be backed up but don't need to be synced across devices.

When you think that, for example, your documents could be shared with an entire office of computers and cellphones, you start to scratch the surface of what SugarSync does for very little cost. The first 5GB of storage are free and you can buy 30GB, 60GB or 100GB of storage for less than Dropbox -- $50, $100 and $150 respectively.

The Verdict For free accounts, I use both. There's really no reason not to do it when considering the cost. However, SugarSync makes more sense when considering purchasing additional space. Dropbox may be more widely integrated with other apps, but my guess is that SugarSync won't be far behind and the ability to stream music and share documents with a bunch of different devices through a single interface and login is unbelievably convenient.

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