Store your stuff for free: how to make the most of free cloud storage
19th Jan 2014 | 12:00
There's terabytes of free cloud storage out there. We show you how to get it
Stop calling it the cloud; it's just the damn internet! With that off our chests, let us proceed.
It seems that if a new product hasn't had the term 'cloud' simply crowbarred into its marketing bumf, the entire production team is set to create its own stream of personalised precipitation when it gets its marching orders.
All good board of directors know their latest product has to be in the cloud, otherwise why would anyone use it? As it is, their pulsar-dense level of thundering stupidity is our gain.
While every man and his start-up are piling free cloud storage in with their app, phone, tablet, computer, service and kitchen sink, we can benefit by taking time out to hoover up this free online storage. See, 'online' is a perfectly good word for it, plus it takes us back to the days when AOL used to send out discs.
From just rough calculations of the services on offer, you could easily net yourself over 70GB of general internet storage. We're not even talking a huge number of services either; targeting the top eight should easily net you that much, while a little more work could almost quadruple that amount.
"Fine, but how are you suppose to combine that into an easily usable lump?" we hear you cry. That's exactly why we're here. We're going to look at the various storage services that are being offered, which are best for your needs and how you can more easily access them as a whole. Alongside that, we'll look at how you can maximise your free cloud storage, too.
Before we begin, an important point to note about cloud storage systems is that there's a distinction between general and specific-service storage. While DropBox only offers 2GB of general-purpose storage, an image service such as Flickr is happy to provide 500 times that, with 1TB for your photos and videos. So let's see how we can snap up terabytes of free storage.
Despite our moaning, every marketing cloud has a silver lining - in this case, free space. With broadband download speeds heading towards the sort of pace you'd expect from a slower USB thumb drive, it's not an outrageous statement to say you could start using online storage for generalised low-speed, long-term storage and backup. So just how much cloud storage can you snag?
It depends how determined you are to snaffle every gigabyte available and how open-minded you are to exactly what you define as 'storage'. Even for the lazy, it's an easy to job to grab at least 50GB. If you're looking for a quick and dirty solution, heading over to www.mega.co.nz and creating an account bestows you with 50GB of storage and very few limitations. In fact, there are no file size or bandwidth limits at all. It'll resume upload and downloads, and includes mobile access. The only real restriction is only a single transfer is possible per tab. It doesn't offer device synchronisation currently, but that's supposedly coming in a future update to the service.
Two words of warning, though: firstly there's no password recovery system, so if you lose it you can wave goodbye to your data, and secondly this service is run by notorious Kim Dotcom, so who knows if it'll be busted by the FBI.
Over on Wikipedia there's a useful curated list of storage services. By our maths, if you take out accounts for most of them, you could get yourself over 330GB of free space. With a few tricks you could boost this by a further 100GB. This next point might be stretching things a little, as we realise there's a big difference between general storage and specialist-service storage.
Take Flickr, for example - it's happy to give you 1TB of space, for free to store your photos, but not those oddly-named MKV files of yours. Similarly, Google Music offers space to store 20,000 MP3 tracks for free. Each track can be up to 128MB, so that's technically a ludicrous 2.4TB of storage for your music, just waiting to be claimed.
We could even claim that Google+ offers infinite storage for sub-4MP photos and sub-30-minute 1080p videos, but even we know that's going a little too far. So before we've even got through the door we're looking at 3.4TB of free specific online storage. That's enough to use as a decent backup space for your media files, but let's find out what more we can do.
Rather unimaginatively, we're going to begin by looking at Dropbox. We're starting here for several reasons, the first of which is that it's a damn good online storage service. Beyond the obvious, it offers multi-device file synchronisation, a basic 2GB of free starting storage, mobile app access and a number of innovative ways to boost your free storage.
In many ways we're interested in that last point, as we're all about the free storage and many of these cloud services offer you ways to boost your base free storage by doing simple tasks. For example, while the base free storage for Dropbox is 2GB, it'll give you an extra 250MB just for following its introductory guide. Another 625MB can be gained from linking to Twitter and Facebook, plus following the Dropbox social accounts and firing off a spam tweet for them.
The best free gig is to use the camera upload feature in the mobile Dropbox app; you get 500MB of free storage for every 500MB of images you upload, up to 3GB. All of those combined make it easy to snag 5GB of free Dropbox storage.
Friend referrals are another spacemaker; for every person who installs on a referral you'll get another 500MB free, up to 16GB. That brings your total free storage to 21GB or so.
As you might have noticed, this referral gig can be quite lucrative if you have gullible - sorry, gracious friends who are willing to help out.
So what other storage sites have decent referral schemes on offer? MediaFire is an excellent choice, offering 10GB to start and 1GB for each referral up to 32G. It also offers 2GB for installing the desktop tools and 2GB of the mobile app, alongside 1GB bonuses each for Twitter, Facebook and social mentions.
Just working with referrals, MiMedia gives you 7GB base storage with 1GB for each referral up to 5GB. SugarSync is a pretty cool service in itself, as it adds its cloud storage as a mapped drive letter on your system. It gives you 5GB as a free account anyway, with up to 32GB via referrals in 500MB chunks. Similarly, Ubuntu One provides 5GB free, with 500MB for each referral up to 20GB.
It's also worth keeping an eye open for offers, too. Over recent years manufacturers such as HP, HTC and Samsung have bundled enhanced cloud storage packages with their devices. And these have been as generous as 50GB with the HP Touchpad and some Samsung tablets. HTC has also offered 25GB with some phones, though often these offers are limited to a year's subscription. We've also seen Box.net give away 25GB and 50GB worth of space on Facebook. We haven't seen one of these offers since February, but it could be worth following, just in case.
At this point, with Mega, a free Box.net 50GB bonus and referrals in full swing, you could be packing 247GB without really breaking into a sweat. Add to this little lot a generally standard 15GB of Google Drive/Gmail storage, 7GB of Microsoft SkyDrive and 5GB of Amazon Cloud (after all, you probably already have an Amazon account), and you're looking at 274GB of total cloud storage. Even ignoring the potentially dubious referrals, that's 169GB for the taking.
Now that you've got a basket full of cloud storage, what's the best way to manage and access it all without going nuts? First, let us point you in the direction of www.jolicloud.com, an incredibly neat all-in-one cloud manager. It isn't a cloud consolidating system - all the services remain separated and you're unable to move files, images or anything else between them. What Jolicloud does is give all of your most-used social networks and cloud storage one pretty damn slick web interface, which you can access from anywhere.
If you happen to also use a password manager such as LastPass - the benefits of we've bored you with previously - the setup process takes just a minute, even with a long list of cloud service and social networks. It's nothing more complex than selecting the service's icon from the list of supported ones, entering your username and password then enabling access for Jolic m8loud. You can even create an account via Facebook or Google+, which makes registration a one-click process.
So Jolicloud puts all your cloud services and social networks in one place for easy perusing, but nothing beyond that; they remain separate services. How can you clump these lumps of cloud storage together to make life easier?
One solution is Otixo - a browser and app-based collaboration and cloud consolidation service. It's a paid-for service; the web version is available for a one-off fee of $39.99 for a limited time, but once that's gone it's $9.99 per month.
Otixo does a number of clever tricks. It enables you to add multiple cloud services and access them from a single login. Unlike Jolicloud, it then enables you to search and view files across all of the services. You can also copy and move files between cloud storage, and upload files directly to any of your online accounts. Setting up Otixo doesn't take long; you'll need to register for an account, but once that's done, adding most service accounts is just a matter of entering the username and password, then authorising access.
One of Otixo's most interesting features is its ability to organise collaborative projects. This works best if everyone involved has an Otixo account, but that's not essential. Once you've created a project, you can add files from any of your accounts and share the Space with selected collaborators. The Space logs changes and comments made, and any changes to documents are also made to the original file. The monthly fee and collaborative elements make Otixo most suitable for business use and academic projects, but if you're a power cloud user it could certainly be of interest.
If you're looking for a free alternative to Otixo, Primadesk offers a free account that is limited to adding 10 linked services. Even then the full paid-for service is just $50 for a year, offers unlimited linked services and provides an additional 10GB of storage too.
Why the additional storage? One service that Primadesk offers is cloud backup of your cloud backup. It's straightforward enough - just select the folders you want to copy and it'll do the rest. It might sound overkill to you, but it's a potentially life-saving service that's not well catered for, offering a lifeline if another service is cut off.
Otherwise it's very much like Otixo, albeit perhaps not as slick. You can easily drag and drop files and folders between services. If you want to edit a file, a double-click takes you to the original service's editing page, but there's no preview feature. Usefully the search is cross-service, and can index the contents of files too. For a free service it's well worth taking the time to check out.
Little fluffy clouds
It's unlikely that you're going to run after every gigabyte of free storage, but part of the point here is that even with the basic services (Dropbox, Google Drive and Skydrive), you're likely to have upwards of 30GB of free cloud storage available. It's also likely that the files stored here will become somewhat muddled and accessing all the systems will be a pain.
Primadesk provides a single login for most (if not all) of your cloud storage services. With space for 20,000 tracks, which you can stream from anywhere, Google Music is a prime example of an excellent service that gives you terabytes of free storage.
If you're looking for something that covers all of your media, check out QVIVO. It's a paid-for streaming media service, but it offers unlimited storage and streaming for HD video and audio to your desktop for just $1.99 per month (or $2.99 for use with mobile devices).
One of the drawbacks of online storage is the time it takes to upload your files, so running a home server puts you in a better position. You probably have most or all of your media and backup files stored on a server already, so you won't have to scramble around trying to gather all of your files in one easy hub.