Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cloud wars: Sugarsync vs. Dropbox

Saving information to the cloud is a regular practice for many tech users.  It's relatively safe and secure, you can generally access your information from any computer via the internet, and many offer you the option of automatically backing up your most precious data.  There are many cloud services, and much has been written about which cloud services are the best.  I'm here to give my two cents about two of the more popular services.


Dropbox functions just as it sounds (well, sort of): your drop the files you want backed up into a folder and it is automatically saved to their cloud servers.  When you sign up for an account, you're alloted 2 GB of space for free for your various files.  As long as you keep your files in the Dropox folder, the service will continually back them up.  Even if you delete a file, Dropbox keeps a version of it just in case you change your mind.  If you're sure you want to delete it permanently, it allows you to do that too.

You can create folders and subfolders within Dropbox to keep your files organized.  You can even share your files and folders with others (more on that later) even if they're not Dropbox users.  If you're offline and don't have internet access, you can still work with your Dropbox files, and it will sync with the service once you have a connection.

Dropbox works well with iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices.  I currently have it on all of my Apple products so I can access files if needed.

What I really like about Dropbox is its simple interface.  It's easy to use for users of all levels because of how straightforward it is.

Sharing files and folders is easy.  Since you probably don't want to send a 9 MB file via email (it will be slow and may not work), you can click on the Public Link for that file and email a link to the file instead.  The recipient can click on the link and then download the file on their end.  This comes in particularly handy when sending multiple photos or videos.  Alternatively, you can invite another Dropbox user to share a file or folder with you, which allows both of you to work on them together.

If you share a file with another user and you're both making edits, Dropbox shows you what the other person has done.  It also keeps 30 days worth of revisions, so if you realize that you don't like anything you've saved, you can also go back to a previous version and start all over!

Dropbox also plays well with other iOS apps, which is a bonus with so many people having iPads in their hot little hands!

All that being said, there are a few things that bother me about Dropbox.

1) You have to physically move files into your Dropbox folder.  Therefore, if you forget to save something to your Dropbox folder, you won't be able to access it through the cloud.

2) I also have issues with sharing via Dropbox that I'll address below.

3) When you share a folder or someone shares with you, it takes up some of your storage space.

4) Speaking of storage, Dropbox only allows 2 GB for the free accounts.  That sounds like a lot, but I could easily use much more.  While there's the option to upgrade to a paid account for more space, it's quite expensive.


Sugarsync is similar to Dropbox, but a bit more complicated.  While you dragged and dropped the files you wanted backed up for Dropbox, Sugarsync's interface allows you to back up specific folders on your computer.  That means your folder stays right where you want it, and any changes made within that folder are automatically backed up.  You can also back up different devices and computers to your account, therefore that file you saved to your work computer can be accessed at home.

When you sign up for an account, you're alloted 5 GB of storage for free.  That's a good amount of space to start with!  You then pick and choose which folders to sync to the cloud.

Sugarsync has a special folder called the Magic Briefcase where you can store your most used files and folders.  While your regular Sugarsync files don't need to be synced to other devices (my laptop files don't need to be accessible at school), the Magic Briefcase is the one folder that will sync across all devices with Sugarsync loaded.

Just like Dropbox, you can also create new folders and subfolders.  Sharing files and folders is easy but Sugarsync has extra security options compared to Dropbox.  You can also create Public Links that allow people to download the file to their computer or device.

Sugarsync works on the same devices as Dropbox but also works with Windows Mobile and Symbian.

Simlar to Dropbox, Sugarsync keeps previous versions of files in case you change your mind.  It will keep the five previous versions, although the most recent one will the only to count towards your storage limit.

All in all Sugarsync does what Dropbox does, but better.  Here are a few things that it does that Dropbox doesn't do (yet):

1) You can create text files within the app and sync it to your computer.  You can't create any files in Dropbox.
2) If you backup music to your Sugarsync, you can stream that music from your device.  This will free up space on your mobile device for more apps and photos!
3) You can upload files to your Sugarsync account via email.
4) You can password protect shared files and set permissions on what others can do with the file or folder.

COST: Sugarsync has more pricing options than Dropbox.  For example, if the 2 GB from Dropbox isn't enough, the next level you can purchase is 100 GB for a whopping $99.99.  With Sugarsync, if 5 GB isn't enough, y can go to the next level at $49.99 for 30 GB.  If you need 100 GB it will cost you $149.99, making Dropbox cheaper.  However, unless you're backing up EVERYTHING you have digitally (and then some), 100 GB might be much at first.

EASE OF USE: This really depends on your comfort level with technology.  Dropbox is definitely easier to use than Sugarsync.  You'll need to devote some time to either service since you're either dropping files and folders into your Dropbox or selecting files and folders to backup with Sugarsync.  However, if you're just starting out Dropbox will be easier.

SHARING OPTIONS:  Both have the functionality to share files and folders, either through inviting people via email or with a Public Link.

If you share a file via Dropbox, the recipient can change or alter that file.  If you share a file via Sugarsync, you can set whether you want the recipient to have editing capabilities or just read-and-write permission.  As I mentioned before, you can also set a password for that file.

It's important to note that you can sort of get around this with Dropbox, particularly if you're sharing a file with students.  If you trust the recipient enough to edit a file or folder, invite them to share the folder.  If you simply want them to have their own personal copy of that file or folder without editing capabilities, send them the public link to that file so they can download it.


I don't think it's a secret that I'm more biased towards Sugarsync.  It really meets my needs in just about every way and offers more free storage.

That being said....

In my district, the student iPads are preloaded with Dropbox, not Sugarsync.  So why did I compare these two if students only have access to one and not the other?  Simple: I use both.

First, I save different types of files to each cloud service.  I have mainly work-related files and folders saved to my Sugarsync.  For this reason my units and lesson plans are saved to Sugarsync for sharing purposes.  I also sync files and folders I use on my school computer.  I save my personal files to Dropbox since I don't really share with that service.  Additionally, I'm too lazy to figure out which file folder to put personal files in, so I just drag it to my Dropbox and figure I'll organize it someday.

Second, Sugarsync + Dropbox = 7 GB of storage.  Need I say more?

Finally, if students are using Dropbox, it's my responsibility to know how to use it.  If I tell them to annotate a worksheet and save it to their Dropbox, I'd better be ready to explain that process for those who don't know!

There you have it folks.  Yes, there are many other services such as Google Box and SkyDrive.  These two are the ones I've personally worked with, have heard other colleagues working with, and am ready and willing to teach others how to use.

So take some time to think about your needs and make your own ruling on which service is better.

- Kim Lepre
  English 7
  Hilltop Middle School

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