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iCloud Alternatives for Windows

written by: •edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 8/26/2011

You've probably heard all about iCloud, the new cloud storage system for Apple Mac and iPhone/iPad users, but what about Windows? Can a Windows computer connect to the service, and if not then what are the alternatives?

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    Using iCloud for music Cloud computing services are becoming more and more popular, with Microsoft offering 25 GB of free storage to its users through Windows Live SkyDrive and Apple offering the somewhat more comprehensive iCloud solution to owners of Macs and iOS devices.

    The differences between these two systems are minimal; while the Apple PR machine will tell you that iCloud is a completely new invention, the similarities with various existing services are striking. However, if you have an “iDevice" and a Windows computer, you’re one of many users for whom accessing iCloud from a Windows PC is high on the “most wanted functions" list. It might also be something that a Mac user with a dual boot configuration wants to access while they are running the Windows partition.

    As things stand, however, there is no way to access iCloud from a Windows computer. This means that the advantage of storing photos, MP3s, contacts and email messages in the cloud and syncing them between devices is restricted to Mac OS X computers and iPhones, iPod Touch players and iPads. Or is it?

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    Why Can’t I Access iCloud from Windows?

    First of all, let’s look at why you cannot access iCloud from a standard Windows PC.

    ICloud requires you to have a special Apple account which is then accessed from a Mac or iOS device. This account can’t be used to share and sync data from a Windows PC or laptop as no Windows client application has been developed to make this possible.

    As a result, a large proportion of Windows computer owners who also own an iPhone or iPad are going to be disappointed with the level of functionality available with iCloud.

    Despite this, you can access iCloud from a Windows Vista or Windows 7 computer as long as you are connected to a network that uses an Apple server. This could prove slightly confusing in the long run, so it seems likely that if Apple want iCloud to really take off, they will have to revise the requirements to make the service more usable for people that don’t own Macs.

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    Is SkyDrive a Usable Alternative?

    As hinted at above, however, iCloud isn’t the revolutionary service that Apple – always to be admired when it comes to PR – has suggested that it might be. There are various alternatives that might be used, and if you’re the owner of a Windows computer and have a Windows Live account then you can start using one of them straight away.

    Note that this solution can be considered the anti-iCloud; while Apple’s solution is only suitable for iOS devices and a Mac computer, Microsoft’s SkyDrive is suitable only for Windows PCs and Windows Phone 7 handsets.

    By way of comparison, Apple’s iCloud offers the following:

    • iTunes in the cloud
    • Photostream syncing of photos
    • Syncing of apps
    • iBooks synchronization
    • Document syncing
    • Online backup
    • Mail, contacts and calendar syncing

    Meanwhile, Windows Live SkyDrive offers:

    • Zune Music and SkyDrive storage and syncing
    • Syncing photos with Windows Live and Facebook
    • Syncing of apps between devices
    • Document syncing (full document syncing introduced with Windows Phone Mango)
    • Online backup
    • Mail, contacts and calendar syncing

    In fact, the only difference is that SkyDrive doesn’t offer an eBook syncing service which should come as no surprise given the fact that Microsoft no longer has an eBook service.

    Anyone using a Windows Phone 7 device and a Windows PC can enjoy the same quality of cloud syncing without worrying about signing up to iCloud.

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    Are There Any Other Solutions?

    Naturally, you shouldn’t be left thinking that the choice is between an Apple solution and a Windows solution, as there are alternatives.

    Probably the most obvious is Google Apps, which can be used with an Android device to sync apps, email accounts, calendar information and contact details as well as documents from an Android device to the Google Cloud. Over the next few months Google Music will be rolled out around the world, offering a cloud music storage alternative that is expected to dwarf what is already available from Apple.

    If you don’t have any interest in auto-syncing solutions and can live without the whole email/contacts/calendar sync, then you might consider taking advantage of Dropbox, a free service (with a paid alternative for larger storage) that will allow you to access and upload data to a remote cloud storage account.

    Another alternative is www.homepipe.net, a free or paid service that allows you to share photos, documents and music between your computer (Windows, Mac OS X or Linux) and your mobile phone (Windows Phone 7, iPhone or Android).

    The most important thing is to avoid being blinkered into thinking that iCloud is the only solution. As we’ve seen, there are alternatives that are free to use and can be accessed via multiple platforms.

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