We are living in the Information Age and today one of the most important things to most of us is our data. If our computers, tablets, phones, or other devices disappeared, or the webapps we depend on shut down tomorrow, the files we lose would be harder to replace than the things themselves. From pictures to music to the new web app you’ve been creating, we’re keeping more data than ever and all of it is stuff you want to access anytime, anywhere, without ever losing it.
The good news is there are many apps today to help keep your data synced and safe. Dropbox is one of the most popular file sync apps ever, but SpiderOak is another promising offering that helps ensure your data is safe and secure as well.
We’re going to take a deeper look at what both of these services offer and then hopefully you can decide if Dropbox, SpiderOak, or another service is the one you need to keep your data synced and safe.
The Syncing Options
There are three basic things most people want to do with their files: access them from any device, share certain ones with others, and make sure they’re never going to get deleted. Both SpiderOak and Dropbox are great at both of these tasks. Interestingly, though, they each emphasize a different aspect of file management which makes them both work quite differently. Let’s take a look.
Dropbox was inspired by the idea of a box that you can throw all of your files into and always find them later. Founder Drew Houston wanted to have an alternative to flash drives, which, like CDs and floppies before them, are frustratingly easy to lose. So, he created an app that’s amazingly simple to use.
After a quick setup, you’ll have a Dropbox folder in your computer’s user directory. Anything you put in the folder will be synced to your online Dropbox account as well as to any other computers you use with the same Dropbox account. No complicated interface or confusing settings, just your files in a folder that’s always synced.
SpiderOak, on the other hand, was built out of a frustration with the number of apps needed to keep up with data and the general lack of true privacy with online file services. Instead of having an individual app for backing up, syncing, and sharing files, SpiderOak is designed to be your main online file backup solution that also lets you sync and share backed up folders.
It’s more complicated to use than Dropbox, but it aims to do more than just be a box for your files. And it does this while keeping your data entirely secure by never storing your password or encryption key on their servers.
Still, all in all, Dropbox and SpiderOak still basically do the same thing: they sync your data online and to your other devices while letting you share it with others. How are they really different? Let’s take a look at their major differences and where each app comes out strongest:
Before you start using a file sync service, one of the most important things is the price. Dropbox and SpiderOak both offer 2 GB of free storage with all accounts. Beyond that, Dropbox costs $9.99/month for 50 GB of storage or $19.99/month for 100 GB of storage. Those are the only two pricing plans publicly avilable; if you need more or less storage, there’s simply no option for it.
Editor’s Note: Dropbox for Teams is also available and offers increased storage options.
However, Dropbox has an attractive way to get more storage: for every other person that joins Dropbox because you invited them, you can get 250 MB of extra storage space for free, forever. If you’re a student, you can bump that up and get 500 MB of extra free space for everyone that joins because you invited them.
Student and paid accounts can accumulate up to 16 GB of extra, free storage from referrals. Free accounts can accumulate up to 8 GB of extra, free storage from referrals. See Dropbox Help.
SpiderOak, on the other hand, offers 100 GB plans for $10/month if you need more than the free 2 GB. If you want more storage, you can pay $10 more per month for each additional 100 GB of storage. This lets you get as much storage as you need. If you’re a student, though, you can get a 50% discount on any SpiderOak premium plans. Either way, SpiderOak’s storage is already 50% cheaper than Dropbox, so you’re definitely getting more storage for your money.
Ease of Use
Dropbox is easy to get started using, but can be difficult for new users to figure out what to do with. After a quick install, you’ll have a new Dropbox folder in your computer’s User or Documents folder. Dropbox includes a settings tool, but it includes so few options that you could almost ignore it completely.
The power of Dropbox comes from what you can do with a folder that’s always kept the same on all of your computers (and in the cloud). Anything you put in the Dropbox folder will automatically be synced with your online Dropbox dashboard and any other computers you use with it. Check out Web.Appstorm’s Ultimate Dropbox Toolkit & Guide to find even more ways to put Dropbox to use.
SpiderOak is more complicated to get started with, though as mentioned before, it’s also more powerful. To start out, you install the desktop app and select folders you want to backup. Once they’re backed up, you can choose to sync them to other computers or create ShareRooms to share files with other users. You’ll be able to monitor everything from the app, including detailed stats about your network and more.
Dropbox definitely begins to feel restrictive once you use an app like SpiderOak that lets you sync and share any folder on your computer, so sometimes a more complicated app isn’t bad. Check out the review on Mac.Appstorm to see more of SpiderOak’s features.
Dropbox may start as a folder on your computer, but it’s a robust webapp as well. You can upload files and reorganize them into folders right from your browser and even setup new shared folders without touching your computer’s file browser. Almost everything you can do with Dropbox on your computer can be done with its web app, except for dragging and dropping files into folders. Perhaps they’ll eventually add that with HTML5…
SpiderOak’s web app is much more simplistic than Dropbox’s online interface. You can’t upload files from your browser, but you can download any file or a whole folder as a zip file. It’s an easy way to access your files from anywhere, but not quite as convenient if you need to save files from an internet café on the other side of the globe.
One interesting thing is that you cannot reset your SpiderOak password from the web app to make sure that your password is only stored on your machines. For the most part, SpiderOak is a client-based app that uses the cloud but isn’t quite a fully fledged web app — and for many purposes, that’s perfectly fine.
Both Dropbox and SpiderOak also offer robust mobile apps for iOS and Android so you can access your files on the go. Dropbox is integrated into most popular iOS productivity apps so you can easily save files on the go, while SpiderOak is mainly only usable from their own app. For the most part, though, that’s enough to let you view and edit your files wherever you are.
Security is one of the major differentiators between the two services. Dropbox promises that your files are secure, with all files being transfered with SSL security and AES-256 encrypted on their servers. Dropbox employees can’t directly access your files, but they can see file names for support purposes. Additionally, your password is stored on their servers and can be reset online. This makes Dropbox safer than most web apps, but it still has some potential for problems.
SpiderOak takes security to the limit. Your data is encrypted with your own private encryption key and your password is only saved on your computer. In fact, you can’t reset it online at all. SpiderOak can’t see your actual files or their names; all they see on their servers is encrypted data. This makes it quite a bit more secure, but it can make it more difficult to use. If you forget your password, you can’t even access your files yourself!
That said, sometimes you have to find a medium between perfect security and perfect simplicity. Dropbox’s system makes it easier to share files privately and publicly and lets it be integrated with a vast array of apps and services.
SpiderOak’s more restrictive web app and sharing policies make it more secure, but can also make it harder to use. That’s a tradeoff that everyone has to decide what’s best for them. For the most part, Dropbox is secure enough for most needs, but you’ll have to decide for yourself what priority is best for you.
So, Which Is Best?
That, our dear readers, we leave for you to decide. Both Dropbox and SpiderOak are great services, and, although they’re different, they each have their strengths. Plus, they’re not the only options for online backup and sync.
For syncing and sharing files, other popular options include Box.net and SugarSync, while there are tons of popular online backup services such as Backblaze, Carbonite, Mozy, and others. And if you only want to share files quickly, we’ve created a whole list of the most popular webapps for sharing files.
Overall, though, Dropbox and SpiderOak are the services we use most for keeping our most important files safe. Dropbox is refreshingly easy to use, and integrated with so many apps that it’s the de facto sync service of today. SpiderOak, on the other hand, brings a new focus on security and data backup that’s nice to see with webapps. There’s other differences, so if you haven’t tried them out, you can always see which you prefer with their respective free accounts.
How do you keep your files synced and backed up? Let us know any unique ways you use Dropbox, SpiderOak, or any other file sync and backup app!