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This document describes three ways you can use cloud file storage, and offers explanations of benefits and considerations. The information here applies to services like Apple iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. These offer the option for easy file synchronization across multiple devices. These services are also used for sharing large files and large numbers of files that are too excessive to send as email attachments.

This document does not consider cloud backup services like Carbonite or Crashplan which are primarily intended as file recovery services in the event of a system crash.

LEVEL 1 — Web Interface

If you are collaborating with various people who are using different cloud services, it’s helpful to use the web interface and not the cloud sync software. This way you don’t have competing synchronization services running, and excess files taking up room on your hard drive.

An advantage of the web interface is that files can reside in the cloud without taking up room on your computer. Only the files you need in the moment get downloaded for work.

There is also the option to work on files in the cloud without downloading them. An example of this would be a shared Microsoft Word or Excel file. You could leave it in the cloud and edit the file using the web-based Microsoft Office applications. Google Docs is another example where files might be stored in the Google Drive cloud, and edited there as well.

A drawback of the web interface is that it’s not as easy to work with organizing large numbers of files. Also, the web interface requires Internet access. Without an internet connection you would not be able to access your files.

LEVEL 2 — Cloud File Sync App (Limited File Sync)

Most cloud file storage services offer software that can run on your computer, tablet, and/or phone.

A folder or similar storage area is made available on your device. When you click and drag files to that folder, they will be synchronized in the background to your cloud service.

This approach is considered more convenient than the web interface because there is no need to go to a website and login for uploading or downloading.

Also, the sync app allows you to use the familiar folder system on your computer or device. This means you can select and organize large numbers of files and folders, for easy organizing, and this will be reflected in your cloud drive storage.

If there are files you need to share with others, or to have accessible from multiple devices, you can use the file sync feature.

With this approach, only the files you place in the cloud sync folder will be uploaded and synchronized to your cloud storage.

LEVEL 3 — Full Synchronization

Level 3 is similar to Level 2, except with this configuration, the entire contents of your Desktop and Documents folders will be synchronized to the cloud.

With OneDrive on a Windows computer, your Pictures folder will also be synchronized. Windows has other features that allow you to automatically put screenshots on your cloud drive.

DropBox lets you specify which folders to have synchronized to your computer and there is also a feature that lets you automatically save backup copies of photos in the cloud.

With Apple iCloud Drive, on an Apple Mac computer, when enabled, only your Desktop and Documents folders will be synchronized. Any additional files would need to be put in these two locations to be synchronized. The assumption is that your photos will be in the Photos app, which synchronizes separately.

Apple has a service called Music Match ($25 per year) which saves and synchronizes your entire music collection to iCloud. This includes music imported from CDs or other sources. The songs are matched with higher quality versions. So, when you listen or download them in the future, you will get the higher quality versions.

So, depending on the service you use for full synchronization, there may be other features or nuances to how the system works.

You can use multiple services simultaneously and synch to different cloud services. If you do, then of your files will show up in those multiple services. This can slow down your computer and will use up additional data for your Internet plan.

Sharing Files and Folders

You can share files and folders by having two or more people share the same cloud login. However, that approach isn’t recommended. It is better to use the cloud service sharing feature that lets you share files and folders in one of two ways:

  • READ ONLY — A common way to share files is the read only feature where you get a link to a file or folder, then share that link with someone who will be able to view or download the file.
  • FULL ACCESS — It is possible to provide someone with a link that will allow them to have editing capabilities to a file or folder, or you could use the invite feature to add their email as an authorized user with access to the file or folder.

Some services require that the recipient have (or setup) an account with the service before they can read a file, and particularly with the full access editing capabilities. is a service that can notify you when a file has been viewed or downloaded. This is helpful if you want to share a file securely, and then erase it once the recipient has viewed or downloaded it.


If you are a Microsoft 365 subscriber ($100 per year), the service includes 1TB of cloud storage per user. One terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes. Google provides 15 GB for free, but you can pay a nominal fee for more storage. Other services have comparable subscription plans for additional storage beyond the free level.


It helps to become familiar with the available services. Consider your needs and planned use of each system. Perhaps talk with a tech friend to get their advice.