Cloud storage price wars! First blood to Google!

And so it begins. The price war in the cloud. There are few tech companies that would not like you to store all of your files in the cloud, and there are several big names vying for attention. The obvious contenders for the crown are Microsoft with SkyDrive (sorry, OneDrive), Dropbox and Google Drive -- of course there are plenty of others, but these are the names that trip readily off the tongue. As computer users we have become increasingly comfortable with the idea of storing files online; in fact we almost demand it. If an app or service does not offer cloud storage, there are instant complaints about the lack of between device syncing.

But cloud storage does come at a cost. On the face of it, online storage is available free of charge. All of the big names -- and many of the smaller ones -- provide gigabytes, in varying quantities, of space gratis. But for cloud storage to be truly useful, everything needs to be stored there. The 5GB of free space from one provider is not to be sniffed at, but 5GB disappears very quickly. Opt to store all of your photos online, for instance, and the gigabytes will very quickly be eaten up.

But never fear! If you need more space, you may have it. But at a price, of course. Unlike hard drive space, this is not storage space you are buying outright (usually, at least), but renting. In this regard it quickly works out to be a tremendously expensive way to house your files. Of course there are the added benefits of being able to grab your files from any device but it is down to the individual to decide whether this is a price worth paying. Just as it costs more to rent a house than to buy outright, it cost more to rent cloud storage each month or year.

But Google is kicking off a price war. In the battle for users, the search giant has drawn first blood by slashing its pricing. There is yet to be any reaction from the likes of Microsoft, but it is hard to image that this will not descend into all-out war. By cutting the prices of its storage, Google is sending a clear message to its competitor -- take us on if you dare!

The price cut is obviously going to appeal to users old and new. Been considering investing in a little more space? Now's the time to do it! Not quite sure which cloud storage provider to go for? Google's lower price certainly makes it more attractive! But what is the real price? Yep... I'm going to bang the privacy drum again! We already know about online spying, government data requests and the like, but there are millions of users -- myself included -- who are happy to store all manner of personal files in the cloud ready to be poked and prodded by god-knows-who. Is this the price we’re willing to pay for the ability to sync files between computers or automatically backup photos from our phones?

The cheaper option for everyone would be to invest in a NAS drive and configure it for remote access. Terabytes of data could be yours for a fraction of the cost of big name cloud storage. There's also the huge advantage that you are placed firmly in control of how and when data is accessible. Whether you're looking to keep things private, or need the option to share with others, just how far you take it is entirely up to you. You don’t even need a network drive. Dust off that old laptop that is being used to prop up the wonky table, and with the right software (free of course), you can make its hard drive, and any USB drives you choose to connect, accessible online.

Will I go down this route? Probably not. I'm lazy. I use Google Drive because it's there, it's easy and it works. I could have ended up using OneDrive, Box.net or something else, but Google snared me first, and I'm yet to hear a particularly compelling reason to switch allegiances. Integration with so many services and apps means that Google has managed to worm its way into my life -- and the lives of countless others -- like a rampant cancer. There have been numerous incentives along the way to help sweeten the deal, and the decision to stick with Google has been made slightly easier thanks to being 'given' an extra 100GB of storage for doing nothing more than being in possession of a Chromebook. Thanks Google!

I have no idea if Google is looking through my files. They probably wouldn't tell me if they did, but I haven't got the time, energy or inclination to sift through the clauses of the user agreement. Based on our knowledge of government data requests, if government bodies are poking their noses into my affairs, Google would probably not be able to tell me anyway. I'll probably see a few tailored ads, but so what? I'll cope.

How do you make your files available to other computers? Or, indeed, do you need to? Perhaps you're happy sticking with locally stored files, email them between computers as required? One thing is for sure, though: Google making the first move in the price wars that are almost certain to come has all but guaranteed its ultimate dominance.

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