Apple turned heads [with] the announcement of its new iCloud service, which is slated to provide online storage and allow you to sync your files and data across many of Apple's popular gadgets and computers.
But iCloud isn't a reality yet. Other cloud -based services are. While iCloud will no doubt appeal to die-hard Apple fans, much of what it is set to offer is already available from a number of cloud-based offerings.
Get acquainted with the best of these now, and you'll know whether iCloud is worth waiting for -- or whether you can jump on another cloud now and let Apple take its time in rolling out its latest headline grabber.
Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon.com has been in the cloud business for a long time now. Its Simple Storage Service (S3) offering, in fact, has been available since 2006. The catch: it was primarily targeted at businesses or power users.
Now, though, with Cloud Drive (https://www.amazon.com/clouddrive
), Amazon has a full-fledged consumer-oriented offering that's both easy to use and free. The "free" part includes 5 gigabytes (GB) of online storage, which you can use for backing up or synchronizing your existing files. The "easy" part means that, for anyone who has ever purchased anything at Amazon, signing up is a two-click process. Once your Cloud Drive is activated, another click allows you to start uploading files.
As you might expect, Amazon has also worked to integrate Cloud Drive with the Amazon store to provide additional features to Cloud Drive users. For instance, if you purchase MP3 files from Amazon, you can save those purchases to your Cloud Drive so that they're available where you are. You can also set up Cloud Drive to back up your purchased files automatically. A free Cloud Player app will search for an allow you to upload your excising MP3 files as well.
Also, if you shop regularly at Amazon anyway, additional Cloud Drive incentives await you. The purchase of an MP3 album from Amazon, for example, automatically nets you an increase in storage space to 20 GB for one year -- and you won't be automatically charged in the next year if you don't purchase another thing. Your storage limit simply goes back to 5 GB.
What Amazon's Cloud Drive lacks, Dropbox (http://www.dropbox.com
) has in spades. For starters, Dropbox, like Apple's iCloud, is designed as much with synchronization in mind as it is with storage. Upload music, files, and videos to your Dropbox space, and you can set up the service to make those files available to your notebook , computer , or phone -- wherever you are.
Dropbox sets up a special Dropbox folder on any device that it's installed on, and then it works in the background to make sure that any files uploaded to your Dropbox account are available on all of your devices. A "public folder" option allows you to share files with others who may not use Dropbox.
Dropbox offers a free account option that comes with 2 GB of online storage, while a 9.99 dollar Pro option increases storage space to 50 GB, and a Pro 100 plan provides 100 GB. Dropbox is compatible with both PCs and Macs, and it works with most smartphones, including iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. There's even an iPad version available.
Windows Live SkyDrive
Microsoft's Live SkyDrive (http://explore.live.com/windows-live-skydrive
) cloud offering is compelling for anyone who uses Windows or another Microsoft product, which amounts to a lot of people. Like other cloud services, SkyDrive offers storage -- and lots of it. The basic free account provides a generous 25 GB of space, and 5 GB of that can be used, in conjunction with the free Windows Live Mesh application , for synchronization of files across devices. A compelling benefit of using SkyDrive is that it comes with free access to Microsoft's Office web apps , which include online versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Getting started with SkyDrive could hardly be easier. Those who already have a Hotmail or other Windows Live account merely need to log on to the SkyDrive site and provide their user ID and password. Uploading of files takes place via the web browser, although on the Internet there are easy-to-find instructions for mapping your SkyDrive to Windows Explorer for easier file operations.
The lowdown on iCloud
So what exactly will Apple's iCloud bring to the table that these other offerings do not? Tight integration with Apple's devices and services is the primary answer. With existing cloud-based offerings, though, you can do much of what iCloud promises -- and you can do it today. At the very least, signing up for one or more of these best-of-breed cloud services will get you acquainted with the concept of cloud computing, which is destined to be with us for some time to come.