Which cloud storage provider should I use? (Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive comparison)

I’m looking to share my photo library (pushing 40 GB) between multiple computers being used by multiple users.  And if I’m going to set something up for this, there’s some other data that would be convenient to share as well.

I tried using BitTorrent Sync to keep it off of the cloud servers, but it’s a little cumbersome and a little buggy.  So I’m looking at the professional cloud storage services.  The ones I am evaluating are Microsoft SkyDriveDropbox, and Google Drive.  I have them all installed right now and I will evaluate them on a few different criteria that apply to my use specifically.

Maximum Storage

How much space do you get?  SkyDrive comes with 7 GB, Dropbox comes with 2 GB (with some ways to upgrade it for free, but not by a whole lot), and Google Drive comes with 15 GB.  None of these are enough so I will have to purchase a storage plan.

SkyDrive and Dropbox have 100 GB storage plans that you will have to pay for yearly.  SkyDrive costs $50, but Dropbox costs twice as much at $100.

Google Drive offers monthly storage plans, with 100 GB coming in at $5 monthly ($60 per year, in the end).

While each provider has different storage plans available, none of them offer a break if you buy a larger amount of space.

Interestingly, 100 GB is the maximum amount of space that you can get with SkyDrive, but the minimum amount that you can purchase with Dropbox or Google Drive.  Dropbox has plans up to 500 GB and Google Drive has plans up to 16 TB.  While I only need 40 or 50 GB synced right now, the idea that I could at some point in the not-too-distant future hit the 100 GB limit in SkyDrive is a little worrisome.

Even though Google Drive isn’t quite as cheap as SkyDrive, I think the flexibility of the monthly plan as well as the higher maximum storage limit put it on top in this category.


All three services have a mechanism that allows you to share files or folders with other users, along with permissions to allow them read/write or read-only access.

If you share a folder with another user on Dropbox, it uses up space for both of you.  So, you must purchase a storage plan for each user if you are sharing a large amount of data.  SkyDrive and Google Drive both only count the space against whoever owns the folder, so you only need one storage plan to share files with any number of users.

Sharing with the Desktop Client

I don’t want to manage this stuff from a web browser.  I want the files right here on my computer.

The SkyDrive desktop client will not download folders shared with you.  Dropbox and Google Drive both allow this without any trouble.

Managing Files with the Desktop Client

All three services create a single folder on your system, where files stored on them will be synchronized.  It defaults to the top-level of your home directory, but it is configurable so you can put it anywhere that you want.

If I want to sync other folders on the system without actually moving them to this master folder, it seems like that might be easy with symbolic links.

Placing symbolic links in the SkyDrive or Dropbox folder, pointing to other locations, works as expected.  Those folders will be automatically picked up and synced online.

Google Drive will ignore symbolic links.  However you can work around this somewhat by moving your folder to the Google Drive folder, and then set up a symbolic link in the old location pointing to the Google Drive location.

(Note: This is when using Windows.  The clients might behave differently with symbolic links on OS X — or Linux, which is only supported by Dropbox.)

Update: August 13, 2013 — Further testing reveals that if you use symbolic links, SkyDrive will not immediately notice made to files inside of folders linked with symbolic links.  You must restart the SkyDrive app to get it to see the changes.  (Still testing Dropbox.)


I have to put Dropbox out of the running right away due to the higher price for storage plans, and the fact that multiple storage plans would be needed to share a large amount of data with multiple users.

SkyDrive is out because the desktop client will not download folders shared with you.

That means all that is left is Google Drive.  The symbolic link thing is a hassle but workable.  In all of the other areas, it compares favorably.  I’m going to give it a run for a while and see how it goes.

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