Here at Cloudwards.net, we’re big fans of online collaboration: why work in a stuffy office when you can work wherever, whenever and with whomever? To make online collaboration viable, though, you need the right tools for the job.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at two of our favorite tools, in this Google Drive and Sync.com co-operation article.
Google Drive is an established cloud storage solution, with a host of integrated productivity apps designed for collaboration. Sync.com, meanwhile, is a blossoming cloud storage contender, that offers a secure and private means of communicating with collaborators.
During this review, I’ll walk you through the finer points of each, to help you understand how they can benefit collaboration endeavors in different ways.
I’ll also take a look at available plans, so you can start planning how to implement them into joint work projects.
A Cloud in the Workplace
For the past several years, Rightscale has surveyed businesses to see how they are using cloud technologies to bring their workforce together.
In their 2016 results, the firm reported that:
- 89 percent of organizations use public cloud services
- 16 percent use more than one public cloud service
- 77 percent use a privately developed cloud solution
- 71 percent use a combination of public and private cloud solutions
This shows that businesses often use different cloud-based programs for different tasks, depending on what they are best suited for.
Where Google Drive Excels
As a freelance writer, I frequently use Google Drive to collaborate with partners and clients. Google’s suite of office applications work very well and makes collaboration a lot easier than more traditional products do, thanks to the ability to easily write, edit and make suggestions in real time.
1. Sharing in Google Drive
From the web UI, you can share any folder or file with Google Drive. All you need to do is right-click on it and select the “Share” option from the drop-down menu.
Content can share by link or email. In both cases, you can grant others viewing, commenting or editing privileges.
Sharing via a link can be a bit risky.
With no password protection, anybody with a copy of that link will be able to access your content. Emails, on the other hand, restrict access to the recipient.
2. The Google Docs Suite
Sharing content is great, but collaboration can be clumsy without proper application integration to go along with it. As it happens, that’s probably what Google Drive does better than any other cloud storage service.
Their native office suite is free and powerful, and includes the following programs:
- Docs: word processing and web publishing
- Sheets: spreadsheets and charting
- Slides: presentations
- Forms: data collection (i.e., surveys)
- Drawings: diagramming
The great thing about these apps is that once you provide access to a file, other users can work alongside you. That work can involve dropping a few comments in margins, marking suggested edits or making actual changes.
Collaboration can get a little confusing, if multiple people are working on the same document, helping sort out all the confusion, is the “revision history” feature, which lets you monitor who’s done what.
Revision can even roll back changes to previous versions of a document, which is handy for when you decide certain edits should have never been made.
3. Third-Party Google Drive Apps
Developers love working with Google Drive, as evidenced by the many third-party apps available for it. Even better, Google makes it easy to find and integrate apps with your storage space.
Just click the “My Drive” button and select “Connect more apps.” Then, use the window that pops up to search or sort through available options.
A few of my favorites include:
- CloudConvert: quickly convert files from one type to another
- WappWolf Automator: automate procedures like file transfers
- DocHub: edit and annotate PDF files
- Pixlr Editor: nice browser-based Photoshop clone
- HelloFax: send and receive faxes from Google Drive
Other cloud services offer third-party integrations too, but none of them seem to make it as easy to discover and activate them as Google Drive does.
Where Google Drive Falls Short
In case you missed the news, Google has been at the center of user privacy controversy. Most of the contention arose after Edward Snowden revealed to the world that the NSA was secretly surveilling Internet communications.
In doing so, he also outed relationships between the NSA and several major tech corporations, like Microsoft and Google. Public outrage over the revelations greatly intensified the spotlight on online user privacy, especially within the cloud environment.
Perhaps in part because of this increased attention, Google Drive finally started encrypting user content on their servers in August of 2013. That’s a good thing since data breaches are on the rise.
However, it isn’t enough: for one, Google Drive still doesn’t encrypt user metadata. It was metadata — not content — that the NSA was collecting in the first place. Also, even though they now encrypt content, Google retains the keys to decrypt that content whenever they want.
This fact allows them to scan your data to see what’s getting uploaded and hand over plain text copies of files to others. Moreover, rogue employees or even hackers could obtain and distribute those encryption keys, too.
Such gaping security holes is why many cloud consumers are now looking to other services for added protection.
One such service quickly becoming a favorite among security advocates is Sync.com (see our most secure cloud storage roundup).
How Sync.com Protects Your Data
What makes Sync.com so secure? For starters, they keep data encrypted server-side, to mitigate any unauthorized access attempts. Additionally, data traveling between your device and the Sync.com data center gets protected with a secure SSL/TSL tunnel.
Of course, Google Drive does this now, too.
The big difference here is that Sync.com doesn’t retain your encryption key. That key is generated locally on your device and remains there.
Before being sent to the cloud, data gets encrypted with 256-bit AES encryption. It never gets decrypted until it comes back to you. This system is commonly called “end-to-end” or local encryption. However, there’s a third name that I like best: zero-knowledge encryption.
It’s “zero-knowledge” because Sync.com has no idea what content you’re storing on their servers. It could be a recipe for Bavarian cream pie, a better script to Suicide Squad, or the schematics for a flying saucer.
It doesn’t matter, to Sync.com, it’s scrambled nonsense.
The added benefit of zero-knowledge encryption is that even under a court order, Sync.com couldn’t turn over a decrypted version of your content.
Also, with 256-bit AES encryption, anybody who manages to breach Sync.com’s servers wouldn’t be able to decrypt your content without a supercomputer and a few billion years to spare.
1. Sync.com and Collaboration
Securing a work product is one thing, but how about facilitating collaboration? Sync.com doesn’t have the integrated applications that Google Drive does. Hopefully some day it will, therefore becoming viable as a Google Drive replacement.
In the meantime, Sync.com does do a much better job than Google Drive when it comes to working in a safe and secure place, away from prying eyes.
Like Google Drive, cloud content can be shared with others, even if they’re not Sync.com subscribers.
Content gets shared by generating a secure link.
Content links can be emailed to specific recipients, or copied and pasted into another medium (like Slack).
Another kind of link, called an upload link, can be generated to allow others the ability to upload content to your folders.
When you create a link, a unique encryption key stretched by a password-strengthening algorithm (PBKDF2) gets appended to it. This key isn’t transmitted or stored, so Sync.com never knows what it’s. securing
However, to enable correct zero-knowledge decryption of links between collaborators, you’ll need to opt into Sync.com’s “enhanced privacy” feature.
Enhanced privacy is supported on:
- Chrome (files up to 25GB)
- Firefox (files up to 500MB in size)
- Internet Explorer 10+ (files up to 500MB in size)
- Microsoft Edge (files up to 500MB in size)
Sync.com has a few additional security measures to protect links, which are likewise not available on Google Drive.
These include the ability to:
- Password protect links
- Set link expiry dates
- Set download limits for links
Sync.com also provides logs to audit activity on shared content and the ability to remote-wipe shared content. Rather than creating shared links, users can also create shared folders.
In the case of folders, users get invited by email. With the appropriate permissions, invitees can edit content in that folder and in turn invite others to access it.
Finally, to protect users from unwanted edits or accidental deletions, Sync.com let’s paying subscribers maintain unlimited file versions and recover deleted content indefinitely.
Nothing helps keeps team chemistry solid, like being able to undo your (their) mistakes.
2. Device Syncing
Incorporating both Google Drive and Sync.com into your online collaboration efforts won’t be very convenient if you can’t access content on both, whenever and wherever you need to.
Fortunately, both Google Drive and Sync.com let you sync content in near-real time, across Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices.
To enable syncing, Google Drive and Sync.com create separate sync folders on a hard drive. These folders can be accessed just like any other file system folder, but get directly linked to the cloud. Any changes made to content in the sync folders gets automatically uploaded to the cloud.
In turn, those changes get passed along to your connected devices – or those of your collaboration partners, if sharing is enabled.
Syncing not only lets you hop seamlessly between devices, work remotely and work offline, but Mac users work alongside Windows users and vice versa.
Now that we’ve looked at how each service can benefit your online work, let’s take a look at their respective plans. That way you can price these services out for your own collaborative endeavors.
Google Drive grants users a generous 15GB of free cloud storage. If that’s not enough, there are numerous pricing tiers available:
|Total Storage||Monthly Cost|
Such flexibility makes Google Drive even more perfect for pairing up with a service like Sync.com. It lets you limit your total investment by scaling your Google Drive storage to your needs.
If you’re looking for a broader business solution, Google’s G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work) is designed with just that purpose in mind. There are two G Suite plans available, the basic plan which offers 30TB for each user at $5, or the business plan which offers unlimited storage at $10 per user.
Both G Suite plans offer additional benefits like business email, video conferencing, shared calendars and admin controls.
Sync.com gives users a starter plan with 5GB of free cloud storage space. Referrals earn users with an extra gigabyte per referral. Referees get the extra gigabyte too, so be sure and invite your collaborators.
However, many of the key features discussed in this piece require that you upgrade to a paid plan. This includes:
- Link expirations
- User activity logs
- Remote wipes
- Upload links
- Unlimited file versioning
- Indefinite deleted file recovery
Sync.com doesn’t have the most diverse pricing structure. There’s only two personal plans available, both called “pro.” The %00 GB plan costs $4.17 per month, while the 2TB plan costs $8. Billing is on an annual cycle, so you’ll need to pay for 12 months up front.
If you’re looking to build out your virtual office with Sync.com, they offer two business plans as well. These are $5 per user for a total storage of 1TB or $8 for 2TB. The main difference with the regular plans is that the account owner gains access to more advanced admin controls. Read our Sync.com for Teams review.
Sync.com’s biggest weakness, integrated apps, is Google Drive’s biggest strength. Google Drive’s biggest weakness, security, is Sync.com’s biggest strength. How do you use both in such a way that they support your online work in the best way possible?
Use Google Drive for:
- Projects where security isn’t as critical
- Ongoing projects requiring live collaboration
Use Sync.com for:
- Projects where confidentiality is paramount
- Long-term, secure storage of work product
With free plans, personal plans and business plans available, you should be able to match both services to create a cost-effective solution that will take your team projects to the next level. You could also use Google Drive to backup your data.
Do you use these services to enhance your work relationships? We always love to hear other perspectives, so feel free to comment below!