Dropbox, Sugarsync and Box.com: The critical differences

Cloud storage services are a terrific tool for small business. They address 90% of your backup needs, make collaboration easy, and are pretty cheap.

Using one goes basically like this: create and pay for your account, install their software on your computer, choose which folders on your hard disk to sync, and then the program begins silently copying your files to their servers. If you make a change to a document on your computer, the system automatically pulls the newer version into the cloud.

Your files can also be pushed down from the cloud into a second computer. This makes the two-computer lifestyle a whole lot easier, and nearly eliminates the need for USB flash drives.

Even if you’re at a public computer, you can still access all your documents, by logging in to your account online. Each of these services also has apps for smartphones and tablets, and using them is typically a lot faster than opening your laptop.

Our three favorite cloud storage services are Dropbox, Sugarsync and Box.com.

Each are about $15/user/month, and each makes sense for a certain type of situation. Let’s review the critical differences.

 

Dropbox

On the downside, the service was built for individual users, and the corporate sharing features do not compare well with Sugarsync or Box.com.

 

Box.com

  • Box-logo-box.com-box-net-newThe best sharing and permissioning tools. You can give someone different permissions for different folders, and allow them to upload-only or read-only etc.
  • Pleasing web interface for user and file administration.

However, their sync software for Macs is fluky and occasionally needs a restart to trigger a sync. Box has promised an April 2012 fix.

 

Sugarsync

sugarsync_250At this writing, Sugarsync is the service which gives you the most control over where to keep your synced files. Dropbox and Box.com both make you bless a single special folder on your computer. There are two reasons for that. It is intuitively easier to understand: “Look, this folder is the one that gets synced.” Second, most people in the Windows and Mac worlds will use the default “Documents” folder for their files.

But this single-blessed-folder approach breaks down if you don’t use the default “Documents” folder, or have a second hard disk with shareable material. Perhaps you don’t want to sync everything in your “Documents” folder. This single-blessed-folder approach also leads to having two copies of a file on your computer, which means sharing an important spreadsheet requires an extra step.

Sugarsync lets you choose which folders get synced. It means a more complicated setup, but one better suited to the power user or someone picky about where they put their files.

 

No Bad Choices

I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these services. Perhaps the best thing about cloud storage services is that the switching costs are so low: you can just uninstall one service and install another. In a multi-user company, that will require some individual handholding, but there is no need to change file formats and no risk of losing data.

Final word: The elephant in the next room is Google. Today there was another leak about Google Drive, which will probably compete directly with Dropbox, Sugarsync and Box.com. I wonder how well the first iteration of Drive will integrate with the Google Apps platform. UPDATE 17APR2012: Yep, here it comes.

Four Great Remote Training Tools

As more companies use web-based apps to power their sales and marketing campaigns, we have become acutely aware of the need for good user training.

This winter we have rolled out installations of Solve360 (a CRM), SugarSync, Expensify, QuickBooks and various Google products.

The canned help for these services is generally good, but usually not enough to fully engage everyone. Personalized handholding and troubleshooting goes a long way towards full user adoption — which is the key to a project’s success.

If we’re not on-site, these are the four tools we use most often to help coach individual users along the learning curve.

chrome-remote-desktopChrome Remote Desktop

This is a free add-on app for the Google Chrome browser, which allows someone to give total control of their computer to another person in a remote location.

This is most useful for a “tech support” situation, e.g. if someone is having trouble understanding where to click in a new app, or has gotten lost in a web-based app.

Making a connection is pretty simple. The user opens Chrome, goes to the Remote Desktop page, and initiates a sharing session. Chrome provides a unique twelve-digit code, and they repeat it to me over the phone. I punch that code into Chrome on my computer, and the connection is made through Google’s servers. I can now “see” the user’s desktop in my version of Chrome, control their mouse, and make keyboard entries.

The above startup sequence takes about ten seconds. Screen lag is very minimal. Security is good: the code expires after a few minutes, and an inactivity timeout closes a connection automatically.

Webinar tools like GotoMeeting and WebEx have a similar function to “give desktop control” to a remote person, but Remote Desktop is vastly easier for ad-hoc use.

meetingburner1Skype and MeetingBurner

On the other hand, I may want to show my screen to someone else.

Skype allows 1:1 screen-sharing, and doing so is pretty convenient if you’ve already established a Skype voice connection with the remote party. Also, the Skype IM window permits you to share chunks of text like URL’s or a set of bullet points. However, if Skype gives you a dodgy connection, the display lag can be significant.

MeetingBurner, at this writing, is the freshest entrant in the webinar world. I use this app when broadcasting my onscreen actions to more than one person, or to a non-Skype user. Startup of MeetingBurner consumes about a minute of the broadcaster’s time.

MeetingBurner has a free tier of service, and a paid tier that enables the recording of webinars.

The latest beta of the Skype program for Windows allows 1:many screen-sharing. Yet the more attendees you have, the more likely it is that someone doesn’t have Skype. Better to use MeetingBurner.

Screenr

So far, we’ve covered how to train people remotely in real-time. To convey basic usage of a web app to a group of users, we use Screenr to build canned tutorials.
screenr_logoScreenr records a portion of my screen, plus a voiceover. The resulting video is available for viewing online by the user, and even plays well on iPhone/iPad. Private sceencasts (which might show proprietary information) are possbile with Screenr’s paid tier of service.

We find Screenr most useful for demos that introduce a new app, or brief “skills” videos that coach someone through a particular feature.

Since these screencasts are recorded live and can’t be edited, they should be brief and introduced as informal tools.

 

Webinar tools – the state of the market

I’ve been doing a lot of remote training this month, and quickly surveyed the landscape of webinar services.

For someone who needs to share their computer screen with someone out of the room, it’s a good time to be a buyer. There are a number of viable services which make it easy for your viewer (no downloads!), offer integrated audio conferencing, and have a good system for inviting people.

All prices approximate.

$50/month

  • Webex and GotoMeeting are the market leaders, and both offer a very polished experience for the viewer. If webinars are important to your business, you can’t go wrong with either.

 $10/month

  • YuuGuu. Requires you download a browser plugin, which is pretty standard for this space.
  • Zoho has been around for a while, and  “Meeting” is one of their suite of apps. It’s pretty effective. Screen redraws seemed a little slow when I tested them.

 Free

  • Skype. Only allows you to share your screen with one other person. Requires that the viewer have Skype installed; many people do already, but it’s not worth asking them to install it just for a webinar.
  • CRM gorilla Salesforce bought free webinar app Dimdim in early 2011, but shut it down in March. So cross Dimdim off your list. In its place we have…
  • Anymeeting. Formerly Freebinar, this is a relative newcomer in the space. Your viewers see ads alongside your screen.  My current favorite for one-off meetings.

 

 Update – January 20, 2012

Meetingburner, which was creeping out of Beta in 2011 and is now getting play at a Lifehacker bakeoff, is the new hotness. Free, no ads, and a somewhat more polished UI and design than Anymeeting. The two services are quite comparable, which is good because they will push each other for the near future. Consumers win.

Zoho Meeting – Free Desktop Sharing

The attack on paid software and services continues.

In general, free and open-source software isn’t yet robust enough to stop the corporate dollars flowing to Redmond. Nor are shallow-pocketed companies likely to try, since the development effort to match feature for feature is just too much. Heck, most of these companies may be gone in a few years if they don’t make the transition to an ad-supported or paid-tier model. Or get bought for their codebase and user list, like Writely. But for now, it’s a good time for entrepreneurs, consultants and startups.

Here’s one example why. Zoho is a suite of free web-based productivity apps (like Google’s Docs etc). They’ve been around for about a year, and in that time have built a remarkable array of services. The only one I’ve looked closely at is their desktop sharing product, called Meeting.

A WebEx Replacement?

Meeting had an immediate appeal to me. Hours after first learning about Zoho (in a TechCrunch comment), I had been telephone-training a couple of people how to operate Drupal, my pet web-based content management system. Ted and Nina and I got through the training adequately, but since it was conference-call-based, there were the usual, “Er, what page are you looking at?” moments.

Desktop sharing services like WebEx and GoToMeeting are the preferred tool for this kind of remote demo and training. They work well. I would have no problem paying the $40/month (or WebEx’s per/minute/attendee fee) if I had regular high-leverage webinars or demos to host. But for a casual training session with Ted and Nina, can the free tool do the job just as well?

Road Test

The answer is “apparently, yes.” It worked like a charm on the first swing.

The abridged process: 1) Presenter creates a free Zoho account. 2) Presenter installs a browser plugin, if it’s his first time. 3) Presenter clicks to start a meeting, and enters email addresses of invitees. 4) Invitees get the email, click on a URL, and once on the Zoho site click on the Join button.

As for the blow-by-blow, I can’t add much more than Matt at Paininthetech.com did during his runthrough, or TechCrunch on the Meeting beta a year ago.

Running a desktop sharing app for a meeting always introduces some complexity, but Zoho is worth a go for your next training session. Plus, you can’t beat free.