[David Strom's Web Informant] 29 November 2010: Sharing documents in the cloud with Google, Microsoft and Box.net

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Nov 29 09:39:29 EST 2010

Web Informant 29 November 2010: Sharing documents in the cloud with
Google, Microsoft and Box.net

For the past couple of weeks, I have been attempting not to store
anything on my own hard drive, to try to test out the cloud services
of several providers for document storage and collaboration. It has
been a mixed bag, to say the least.

Cloud services store files on their servers so you don't need to worry
about backups or available computers. They can be as simple as a file
repository to more sophisticate things that create entire networks of
virtual computers for applications and databases.

Every cloud provider has lots of fine print that mean you have to kick
the tires pretty carefully before you can understand what is offered
and what isn't.

The three providers that I tried were Microsoft's Live Office, Google
Docs, and Box.net. The first two are free. Box has free accounts, but
you probably want to make use of one of their paid ones that start at
$15 per month. All three have been busy adding features to their
services over the past several months, and that is the first thing
that you notice about cloud computing: things change, and sometimes on
a daily basis. So evaluating these moving targets means a lot more
work than just installing some DVD on your PC. You have to
periodically return and see what has been added.

Microsoft Live has made the most improvements over the past year, but
it still is a hodgepodge of services that have knit together its
Hotmail email hosting, Skydrive backup service, and hosted Office Live
services. Of the three, they have the best solution if you want to
upload PowerPoint slide decks and be able to quickly make adjustments
to either the slides themselves or the speaker notes that are shown
underneath each slide. Google Docs ignores the notes, which for me is
an issue because I use them as prompts for my speeches. Box will let
you edit the notes and the slide data, but only after opening your
slide deck with Zoho, a hosted open office solution. It isn't all that
much trouble, but certainly not as easy as Microsoft's Live Office.

Each service has varying limitations on the maximum file size they
will allow you to upload or create, as well as your overall storage
allotment. Box has a limit of 2GB per file for its paid accounts and
25 MB for free ones. Skydrive allows up to 50 MB per file. Google 1 GB
per file sometimes. I say sometimes because of the way they calculate
the overall storage quota. If you convert any MS Office files into
their own formats, these files don't count towards your storage
allotment. Microsoft's Live Office gives you 25 GB of free storage as
part of its Skydrive service. Box free accounts give you 5 GB, and the
paid accounts can up that to 500 GB or unlimited if you shell out more
dough for the enterprise version.

The other part of using cloud services is it makes sharing and
collaborating with your documents easier than having to send email
attachments around and getting bogged down in resolving different
versions. The goal here is to use email for the notification portion,
but not for the actual transport of the documents. All three allow you
to send a link to your file to your collaborators. Goggle has made the
most improvements here and there are some interesting near-real time
editing features that they have added into their Docs platform. The
only catch is that all of your collaborators have to have a Google
account. Microsoft and Box can send links that anyone can open to view
and edit all of the files in a particular folder without requiring
them to sign up for their services.

Microsoft and Box both have some interesting tie-ins with social
networking apps that can post notifications to Facebook, Twitter and
LinkedIn status feeds so your followers and friends can see what files
you are working on.

So how successful have I been with sticking in the cloud? Certainly,
old habits die hard, and to resist the temptation to save my files
locally is tough. I wish we could have one cloud provider that
combined the best of the three services.

Retweet this:  @dstrom evaluates three cloud services from Microsoft,
Google and Box.net http://bit.ly/eiPbZl

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