Apple recently announced iCloud Drive for its upcoming Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS8 operating systems. When it launches in the fall, it will give users the ability to securely create, store, and access any document using any iCloud Drive-enabled device of any manufacture at any location.
Expected key features include:
- Desktop-like synchronization of folders across devices
- Drag and drop files into folders
- Clean and easy navigation
- 5GB free storage; 99 cents a month for 20BG; $3.99 per month for 200GB
But, Apple is a little behind the curve, as there are a number of ways already available to sync your documents, contacts, and other data across devices via the cloud - without having to become part of the Apple ecosystem. Here's a look at some handy ways to get your business in sync without a lot of hassle or expense.
While there's a free Personal version of 50GB of cloud storage, and a stepped-up Starter version that might suit the needs of a small team for just $5 a month, the Business version should suit many small businesses. For $15 a month per user, with a minimum of five users, you get unlimited storage of files up to 5GB in size. According to PC Magazine, Box "deserves serious consideration by anyone looking for a file-syncing service."
Key features of the Box Business account include:
- Ability to create, sync, edit, and share data across computers, tablets, and mobile devices
- Access permissions, file locking, and access statistics
- Content security and management
- Mobile security (limited)
- Third-party integration (limited)
- Free trial
Claiming more than 4 million business users, Dropbox is a veteran of cloud computing, having started up in 2007. Many business apps such as Documents to Go and QuickOffice have integrated Dropbox storage. Dropbox is more than just a place to park documents; it also offers business syncing capabilities. While simplicity of use is a major attraction, Dropbox for Business is, however, lagging behind other programs that offer synchronous collaboration. According to an InfoWorld review, "Dropbox for Business still has a way to go to catch up with the likes of Box, but it's certainly on the right path."
Key features of Dropbox for Business include:
- Shared access across multiple devices
- 256-bit data encryption
- Administrative console to manage access permissions
- Minimum 5 users; $15 per month per user
- 14-day free trial
This suite of device-agnostic apps provides online documentation creation and collaboration tools. It's free for individual users and the basic business version costs $5 per month per user, or $50 per user per year (there's a 30-day free trial). The fee provides you:
- 24/7 phone support
- 25 GB Gmail storage (compared to 10GB for free accounts)
For an extra $5 per user per month, you get the Google Vault, an archiving service that features comprehensive data retention and data management tools.
A major advantage of Google is familiarity. As Entrepreneur points out:
The email and calendars apps are most popular, but the suite includes [...] Google Docs (document collaboration), Google Drive (file repository comparable to Dropbox) and Google Sites (simple website building and hosting).
Microsoft set the standard for business productivity software, and its Office 365 for Business seeks to extend that standard to the cloud. While some may argue that it offers Microsoft's characteristic bloat, and that the company has stumbled in the past in some of its cloud applications, the current Small Business version is a solid offering with a familiar interface. Betanews describes it as "a value proposition now that can stand on its own."
The Small Business Premium edition includes 24/7 telephone support and unlimited online meetings and HD video conferencing, with 25GB of storage per user for $12.50 per user per month ($150 a year). There is a free trial offer.