A clash of the Titans is underway between Google and Microsoft, with both players lobbying to be your preferred provider of free online storage space and productivity applications. These are often referred to as being "in the cloud," or cloud-based computing. Cloud-based solutions free users from maintaining programs or backing up data, as the service is done for them automatically by the provider.
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The cloud-based fray heated up recently when Google expanded the capabilities of its free Google Docs application. This is a free online productivity suite that allows users to edit and share word processing documents and spreadsheets. Previously users could only store documents created within Google Docs, but now any type of file, up to 250 MB in size, can be uploaded to Google Docs. Up to 1 GB of total space is available for free, and additional space is 25 cents per GB per year. Thus, 100 GB of online storage would cost $24.75 per year. Google Docs users can then use the Shared Folders feature to segregate and share portions of their online storage with other users. This provides an easy mechanism for allowing multiple users to share and update the same document without having to shuttle revisions around via e-mail.
Microsoft initially answered Google Docs with Office Live Workspace. This free application provides up to 5 GB of document storage online for free. Users can also create new Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents on their desktop, but automatically save the documents online. Any type of document can be uploaded to an Office Live Workspace. Similar to Google's Shared Folders feature, Microsoft allows users to create folders known as workspaces that can be shared with others. Users can also create task, contact, or event lists that can be synchronized with Outlook. It's also possible to store free form notes or lists in a workspace.
Microsoft also offers another cloud-based solution, known as Skydrive. Users receive 25 GB of storage space for any type of file. Further, Skydrive users can utilize the beta version of Office 2010 Web Apps – lightweight versions of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office Web App documents can be saved online in a Skydrive account, or downloaded to a desktop. To use Office Web Apps in a Skydrive account, choose the New link within a document folder to view a list of document types.
This free storage arms race could eventually pose problems for online services like iBackup, Dropbox, and others that provide online storage space on a subscription basis. DropBox does offer 2 GB of free online storage, but charges monthly fees for additional space.