OS X 10.10.3, the new Photos app and iCloud

I just installed OS 10.10.3. Download of the 2+ GB upgrade took about 10 seconds. Installation was very quick.

Now I’m upgrading my iPhoto library with 100+ GB of decades of photos to the new Photos app. It’s 64% done as I’m writing this and I wonder what it will be like.

The new Photos feature with iCloud seems very intriguing. They keep all the full res photos in the cloud thus freeing up space on your computer, iPhone and iPad – which retain cached versions and the high res versions are automatically visible on demand.

But… Apple’s iCloud storage costs are crazy high compared with other services these days. For example, Amazon just dropped their unlimited photo storage to $12 a year. Apple is $4/month for 200 GB.

However, if you have less than 5 GB of data it’s free, and 20 GB is just $1/month. Still, compared with Amazon it’s very high.

And then there is OneDrive by Microsoft. 30 GB is free. And if you subscribe to Office 365 it’s only about $70/year and comes with 1 TB of cloud storage plus all the latest Office apps.

I think Apple – never the big price competitor – is going to have to lower their cloud storage prices. Unless enough people with low storage capacity i-devices decide they want to see all their photos everywhere and think the high cloud storage cost is worth it.

Well, as I’m finishing this post Photos has finished migrating my photos and I see a picture of my mother standing at a counter chatting with somebody with the date July 5, 2020. Not a promising first sign…

Tech note – Comparing the speed of cloud storage solutions

There are many “cloud storage” solutions out there, and I’m using a few of them. I decided to do a simple speed test consisting of uploading and syncing a folder containing one 186.4 MB .mv4 file.

I did several tests of each service to see if the results were consistent, and they appeared to be. My home network is Sony Nuro fiber optic with a theoretical bandwidth of 2 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, though in practice I never get that throughput. But it is safe to say I do get at least 100 Mbps over wifi from my MacBook Pro.

Also, note these tests may vary depending on your location relative to the cloud storage centers.

Currently, I’m not actually paying for any cloud storage service; I have been using the free version of each of each. But as my cloud storage needs grow I’m trying to decide which I might invest in more and actually pay to use!

I’m still grandfathered in with a free 50 user Google account for my company, so even my Google services are currently free.

The amount of storage I have with each of the cloud storage services I tested is:

DropBox –  11.25 GB. Their basic free account is 2 GB, but there have been various promos over the years which added space for me. DropBox was the fastest in my tests. They also recently dramatically lowered their prices and are charging $10/month for 1 TB of cloud storage. DropBox is the what I use most office for cloud storage and file sharing.

Box – 50 GB. They are conceptually similar to DropBox. Their basic free plan includes 10 GB, but I signed up during a special promo period. I have not really made much use of their service to date.

GoogleDrive –  15 GB. Their basic free account is 15 GB for everybody. They are also charging $10/month for 1 TB of storage and there is a lower cost $2/month plan for 100 GB of storage. My hesitancy about upgrading is I’m not sure if I can upgrade just one user in my free account or whether it means losing all the other free users in my package. In other words does it become all paid or stay free at the current storage level? It’s a bit confusing if you have multiple accounts, which many people do. I tend not to use GoogleDrive for “storing and sharing files” like I do with DropBox. I mostly use Google for email and for collaborative document creation and sharing.

Microsoft OneDrive – 30 GB. Their basic free plan is 15 GB for everybody, but there was a special recently where if you sync images you got an extra free 15 GB. See more about their pricing and services below.

SpiderOak – 9 GB. Their basic free plan is 2 or 4 GB (they say 2 GB but it really seems to be 4 GB), and I got some extra referral bonus space.

I didn’t include Apple iCloud in my test because I am not sure how cross-platform compatible it is yet. But the free amount I have is 5 GB and for just $1/month you can increase that to 20 GB of space. Apple is playing catch-up in this service area since DropBox became so popular.

Now back to Microsoft for the moment…

As far as paid plans go, Microsoft’s OneDrive is intriguing because it is bundled with Office 365. For just $7/month (personal user – but they don’t care if you use it for business purposes or not) you get 1 TB of cloud storage + the completely current desktop version of Office + the iPad version of Office + the online version of Office + 60 minutes of international Skype calls per month.

You have to admit seems like a good deal, and it saves on buying the Office suite. But I’m worried because OneDrive clocked in as one of the slowest for syncing files.

My results of syncing the above-mentioned folder containing the movie file were as follows:

DropBox 7 seconds – the fastest by far. Also the movie played via the web almost instantly, which is great for sharing.

Box 46 seconds.

GoogleDrive 47 seconds.

Microsoft OneDrive 2 minutes 12 seconds – disappointingly slow. Also, the movie would not play via the web.

SpiderOak 2 at minutes 38 seconds was the slowest. This is a relatively new service I saw recommended by Eric Snowden, and read some articles about, and was interested in it because of reportedly good privacy policies.

This isn’t a review of all the features of each service. The one I’m most familiar with is DropBox, and most everybody I know has DropBox so it’s easy to exchange files with them. 

In my multiple tests just now I saw how each time I deleted the folder from DropBox, an archive was kept of each deleted version, and it was easy to restore. There are lots of user-friendly DropBox features, and it is available for just about any computer system and mobile device, which is why it is usually the “go to cloud service” for most of my sharing.

GoogleDrive is next in familiarity, and many people I work with like using it. Plus they have a competitive set of Office-like online apps for collaborative document creation and sharing. So it’s not just storage – it’s a work environment.

Microsoft OneDrive and Office 365 have come late to the game of online document creation and sharing. However the Office suite is ubiquitous, and the fact you can easily switch between the online version at Office.com and your desktop version is attractive, and you can collaborate and share, as with GoogleDrive. Plus you get the desktop versions of Office with it, so it seems like an economical way to have Office online and offline, plus loads of cloud storage at a great price. But it just seems so slow for file syncing, which is what worries me.

I am less familiar with Box, but was impressed that the syncing speed was as fast as GoogleDrive.

If Microsoft OneDrive was anywhere near as fast as DropBox – or even GoogleDrive – I would leap on it, because there is so much bundled in. But the speed, and the fact that my uploaded movie won’t play, worries me. So I suspect if I got an Office 365 subscription I would not make great use of the OneDrive storage area.

Bonus fact: Apple’s iCloud has a nice new feature if you use Apple Mail in OS X 10.10 (Yosemite). You can email an attachment up to 5 GB in size to anybody. The file is stored in iCloud and if the recipient’s email account doesn’t allow the receipt of  large files they will automatically receive a link instead to download the file from iCloud. Sounds clever.

A 5 minute look at SkyDrive

If you know DropBox, you know SkyDrive. In my 5 minutes cursory look at SkyDrive I can see it being a real challenger for DropBox. Or another way of looking at it is, why not have both?

Conceptually they work the same way. But there are some immediate advantages to SkyDrive as well. For one thing, there is more free space (7 GB to start with, instead of 2 GB). And you can more selectively control sharing. While I hear this is/has changed in DropBox, their permissions has always been very rough. Basically giving somebody shared access to a DropBox folder lets the other person control the folder’s contents, and all the sub-folders and files therein. SkyDrive has more selective settings it seems.

SkyDrive also lets you create Word and other Office documents via the web, much like Google Docs. I haven’t checked to see if there is collaborative editing or not.

There are also search features (though it was not able to find a word in a test Word doc I created via the web UI). Photos uploaded can also be automatically resized, which is nice when sharing. That worked great from my iPhone.

Google is also coming out with Google Drive, but (1) it’s not ready for me yet when I try to access and (2) the iOS apps are not available as of this writing. But I was able to immediately download and use the iPhone app for SkyDrive (which synced to my iPad) and it works just fine on both. So Microsoft has beaten Google out the door on this one.
I see a lot to like and not really anything to dislike about SkyDrive in a first test drive, except the search didn’t work on the web. Of course I never get search to work in DropBox either, so they are even on that score so far.

This is just a superficial look so far, but I say why not go for it and get some more cloud storage. I mean, why not?