When I first wrote about the cloud storage service Dropbox.com I wasn't entirely sure how truly useful it would become to me. I was still transporting USB keys to and from work, tucking them away in the console of my car and even carrying important documents around on my key ring. Since then, I have become completely delighted with the service and cloud storage in general.
For those that need a primer, cloud storage allows you to keep your files (likely photos and documents primarily, although there are usually no restrictions about what types of files you have) in the "cloud" (otherwise known as the Internet). You can then access your files through your computer using a drive extension (which makes it look like your documents are just on a portable disk drive and can be used in any program), through an app on your smartphone, or through a website.
Most services allow for all methods but their implementations and third party support may vary. Dropbox.com seems to have the most support overall to the point where you can use many apps on a tablet or smartphone and save directly to your Dropbox.com account.
The business model for this type of software seems consistent across the various competitors. There are numerous cloud storage solutions out there, and most offer a free account with a limited amount of storage and then a paid subscription to increase the space. Google Drive offers the most at 15 GB of space, although that can be a little deceiving because that space also includes anything that is in your Gmail account, including attachments. So it can add up quickly.
Box.com offers a generous 10 GB of space but the maximum size for any individual file is only 250 MB. While photos will be just fine, it's quite possible that video files will not as they tend to get very large in size. Although you can monkey around with file splitting utilities, such as HJ-Split, it might not be worth the hassle.
Microsoft's recently rebranded its SkyDrive as OneDrive. It offers 7 GB of storage for new users (and following this link will net you an extra 500 MB of space). What's great about this particular service is that it also links into your Xbox One or Xbox 360, allowing you to access things like photos or videos on your television set through a game console.
If you own a PlayStation rather than an Xbox, Dropbox.com might be your solution of choice. Although it only starts out with 2 GB of space, you can actually get up to 16 GB free by various methods. If you have never given Dropbox.com a try, use this link to sign up and install the software on your computer. Doing so will get you an extra bonus of 500 MB of space.
Amazon Cloud Drive offers 5 GB of space and automatically stores music purchases made by its website in the cloud drive, allowing you to access it anywhere you can get an Internet connection. Apple offers its iCloud service as well, although you might end up (as I have) filling up the space you are given by backing up your Apple devices. While it's nice to have a backup, it leaves little to no room for files outside of it.
All of these services, and those like them, operate on the "freemium" model where you get the first part of storage for free and then have to pay for additional space. The cost per gigabyte varies from provider to provider, with Apple being the most expensive (at $2 per gigabyte per year) and Google being the cheapest at only 25 cents per gigabyte. Many of them also encourage you to automatically link your camera to it so that your photos are backed up, which will fill up the free space fast. And then you are encouraged to get more.
For me, these are great reliable services that use high encryption to keep your files safe. I have taken to storing photos on one service, documents on another and using yet another as a sort of "scratch drive" where temporary files get shuttled back and forth. No matter how you use these cloud services, they are definitely proven now and work very well. It could almost spell the end of the thumb drive.