While few people knew the term “cloud computing” just a decade ago, the cloud has become an important part of our digital lives. Cloud services now cover important needs like email, music, photos, and other files. One of the most important uses of the cloud is personal file storage. Fortunately, you can get started with most major cloud storage services for free with a limited personal account.
Here’s a look at the top free cloud storage service options today and which could be the right fit for your storage needs:
Dropbox is one of the original cloud storage solutions and remains one of the most popular dedicated cloud storage products. Dropbox makes it easy to sync a dedicated Dropbox folder between multiple devices. If you work with two or more computers regularly, Dropbox is one of the easiest ways to transfer files between computers or even your phone or tablet.
The free basic account includes up to 2GB of storage, which is pretty small, and a limited set of sharing and smart syncing features. Paid plans start at $9.99 per month for one user with 2TB of storage space or $16.99 for a family plan with six users splitting 2TB. (Here’s a good explanation of how much a terabyte is.)
In addition to syncing your Dropbox folder, you can use Dropbox to backup your computer or specific folders, securely share files and documents, and access saved files for up to 30 days after deletion.
I’ve had a Dropbox account since August 2011 (happy 10th anniversary to me), and a paid account for many years. I couldn’t imagine running my online business without it!
Google Drive is a cloud storage solution from the search giant you likely use multiple times per day already. If you have a Gmail account or any other type of Google account, you already have Google Drive and may not even realize it. Free Google accounts come with 15GB of storage shared among Gmail, Google Drive and Google Photos.
Paid plans start at $20 per year or $2 per month for 100GB of storage. I have the 200GB plan for $30 per year, which I share with my family. More expensive plans give you 2TB to 30TB, but you’ll pay a lot more at those levels. (Here’s how much a terabyte is.)
The powerful features of Google Photos and integration with Google Workspace (Google Docs, Sheets, etc.) also make it an appealing cloud storage option.
Drive is great if you’re deeply entrenched in the Google ecosystem. Android users will find close integration with Google Drive and Google One services. It works well for syncing your Google Drive folder, backing up photos, and sharing files and photos with family and friends. If you already use Google, this is a great place to start because you don’t have to sign up for a new account. Even if you’re not already signed up, the 15GB free account could meet your online storage needs without typing in a credit card number.
Dedicated iPhone and Mac users should first consider iCloud, the storage solution from Apple. iCloud is closely integrated with Apple’s operating systems for automated photo and file backups, among other features. You can also backup and sync an iCloud drive folder and other folders you specify.
Free iCloud accounts include 5GB of storage space. If you need more than that, which you likely will, plans cost $0.99 per month for 50GB, $2.99 per month for 200GB, and $9.99 per month for 2TB. (Here’s how much a terabyte is.)
I use a Macbook for work and back up my photos using iPhoto, which put me on the $9.99 per month plan. My wife also has a $2.99 per month plan of her own tied to her Macbook Air.
Because of how iCloud integrates with iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices, it’s great if you use them. However, if you’re not an Apple person, you can skip iCloud.
OneDrive is part of the Microsoft 365 package, including the Microsoft Office suite of products (Word, Excel, etc.). The close integration of those applications makes OneDrive a great option for businesses that regularly use Microsoft Office and share between team members and customers.
You get 5GB for free with a basic account, or you can buy 100GB of storage for $1.99 per month. A Microsoft 365 Personal subscription, which includes the office apps and Skype credits, gets you 1TB of storage for a total of $69.99 per year. A family plan gives you Office, Skype, and 6TB of storage for up to six users for $99.99 per year. (Here’s how much a terabyte is.)
Windows users may already be familiar with OneDrive, as it’s preinstalled with Windows and closely integrates with the operating system. It’s decent for backing up specific folders but doesn’t have the cross-platform support you get with Google or Dropbox. Instead, it’s closer to what you get from iCloud but Windows-specific.
I have a Microsoft 365 subscription because I need the office apps for personal and work use, but I don’t use the storage space even though I’m paying for it.
Amazon Cloud Drive
If you’re an Amazon Prime user, you get free cloud storage with your annual subscription. Both prime and non-Prime members get 5GB of storage for free. Prime users get the added benefit of unlimited photo storage.
Fire device owners get unlimited photo storage for images taken with the device plus 5GB for video. Paid plans cost $1.99 per month for 100GB, $6.99 for 1TB, or $11.99 for 2TB. (Here’s how much a terabyte is.)
Outside of its unlimited photo storage for Prime customers and Fire users, Amazon Cloud Drive isn’t particularly exciting compared to the others on this list.
Box is another dedicated cloud storage company with a long history of providing secure storage to personal and business users. It’s best for keeping files backed up and syncing specific folders between computers and the cloud.
The free personal plan includes 10GB of storage for files up to 250MB in size. For $10 per month, you get 100GB of storage for files up to 5GB each. Business plans are available as well.
NextCloud is a self-hosted cloud storage system. If you’re techy and have an extra computer lying around the house, you can use NextCloud to create your own cloud backup system. NextCloud is free to use and open source.
If you’re good with computers and concerned about privacy, NextCloud is a good alternative to the larger cloud services. Just keep in mind that you’re in charge of tech support and keeping redundant backups in case your system runs into any issues or drive failures.
NextCloud is free, but you have to provide your own computer and storage drives.
Mix and match for your storage needs
There’s no cloud storage system perfect for everyone, but you can likely find one or two that combine to meet your needs perfectly, or more if you’re a computer nerd like me. Just be careful to avoid signing up for too much storage or subscriptions you don’t need, or you could overpay for storage space you don’t use.
Dedicated Google or Apple users may gravitate to one of those solutions, while those who work across operating systems may prefer Dropbox. Both Dropbox and Google Drive are top options for those who are not dedicated to a specific cloud ecosystem.
When you know what you need and how you plan to use it, it’s easy to pick a cloud storage suite for your needs.
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