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To iCloud or not to iCloud

Apple’s cloud-based storage service is iCloud, and it is not shy about reminding you every 3.5 seconds to log in. Apple certainly isn’t alone in the arena – Google Drive and Dropbox are its biggest-name competitors in the space, and there are tons of lower-tier companies wanting to store your data.

But let’s take a step backwards – what exactly is “cloud storage?”

According to SearchStorage.com (the Funk & Wagnalls of all things storage), cloud storage is “a service model in which data is maintained, managed, backed up remotely and made available to users over a network (typically the Internet).” In non-tech talk, that means your stuff is on somebody else’s computer, somewhere else in the world and it’s accessible to you as long as you’re connected to the internet. (And assuming the hosting company doesn’t go under.) If you screw up and delete something, you can get it back (in most instances). Most providers offer a bit for free (typically 5GB), using more will cost you.

To start, all of these cloud-based storage services not only store your files but synchronize them among your various devices. So, the most up-to-date versions of your documents are available no matter what device you’re using. But what are the pros and cons of using iCloud for your files as opposed to one of the other services?

One big pro (or is a con?), iCloud isn’t just about your files. It also allows you to keep your contacts, calendars, notes, passwords and Safari bookmarks synced between your devices. (Photos too, but that’s a subject for next month’s blog.) Which is good for people like me, who need to keep current versions of these things (mostly contacts, calendars and notes) synced between my MacBook, iMac and iPhone. (My iPad has a funky battery issue, but that’s my cross to bear.)

But back to the file thing. Apple goads you into enabling it when you set up a new Mac, but where the files end up is what confuses users. The two areas it syncs are the Desktop and the Documents folder, both of which are located in your Home folder. Users who turn it off suddenly find themselves unable to access their valuable documents – Apple stores them in folders titled “iCloud Drive (Archive)” in your Home folder. Good luck finding those on your own.

So is this a good solution? Here are the pros and cons of Apple’s iCloud file storage:

Pros:

  • Free
  • Easy to enable
  • Instantaneous syncing
  • All file types are supported

Cons:

  • If you disable it, files are moved to a hard-to-locate folder
  • If your data exceeds 5GB, then you have to either offload some data from the two locations (desktop and Documents folder) or pay for more storage
  • Not good for team collaboration
  • If you use Outlook 2011 as your mail client, you definitely will exceed the 5GB threshold for a free account

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