Cloud Storage Remains Competitive – Dropbox & OneDrive Compared
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There’s no name in cloud storage that carries more weight than Dropbox. The plucky upstart has been around for six years and has survived attempts by much larger companies to oust it from the market. While Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft offer a competitor, many users still turn to Dropbox by default Don't Be A Dropbox Jerk: Cloud File Sharing Etiquette You Should Know Don't Be A Dropbox Jerk: Cloud File Sharing Etiquette You Should Know Are you annoying the people you share files with services like Dropbox? Maybe; here are some things you do that may bug others, and some rules you can use to avoid doing so. Read More .

With that said, Microsoft has made serious improvements to OneDrive and has become one of the most viable alternatives. Over the last year the company has increased the free storage limits, raised file size caps, and launched numerous apps. These improvements have made the service far better for its users – but are they enough to catch up with Dropbox?

Free Storage & Paid Pricing

The price you pay for a service is usually important, but both Dropbox and OneDrive can be used for free. While some users will choose to pay many will never see the need. The question is not “how much does it cost?” but instead “what do I get?”

Comparing the free accounts is a bit difficult because of Dropbox’s unique storage limits. The company starts you off with 2GB, but deals out more storage for a variety of actions, such as connecting your Twitter account, referring friends or attending Dropbox keynotes. Some users have gathered over 40GB of free space. That requires dedication, however, and most people will end up with around 8GB to 10GB before their patience wears thin.


OneDrive has an edge here because it offers 15GB for free. There’s no gimmicks, no hoops to leap through, just fifteen gigabytes of storage free and clear. Microsoft does run limited-time upgrades, though, usually in conjunction with a product release. For example, if you enable auto upload from the camera roll 5 Smart Ways to Customize & Improve OneDrive in Windows 8.1 5 Smart Ways to Customize & Improve OneDrive in Windows 8.1 OneDrive can be a blessing or a curse. It's deeply integrated into Windows 8.1. You'll either want to get the most of it or disable it completely. We can help with both. Read More , Microsoft will currently upgrade you to 30GB free storage.

If you want more storage you have to pay, and here again the two companies differ. Dropbox Pro offers one personal storage plan with a terabyte of space for $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. There’s also a business plan that provides 5TB for five users. That’ll set you back $75 a month or $795 per year.

Microsoft offers up to 200GB for $3.99 per month, or a 1TB “OneDrive for Business” plan that’s only $30 per year. However, you must sign an annual commitment to qualify for Microsoft’s inexpensive Business plan.

There’s no winner in the arena of paid plans. Microsoft’s generally less expensive, but it doesn’t offer personal users as much space and its business plan locks you into a commitment. You’ll have to consider your needs and decide which better fits your budget.

Web Client

Both Dropbox and OneDrive can be used entirely through their web interfaces. You can download, upload and manage files easily on any computer from which you can log in to your account. However, the look and feel of each interface differs.


Dropbox takes a minimalistic approach. The interface is simple and icons are small. A tiny toolbar on the left side presents you with options while a few buttons at the top let you manage and upload documents. There’s not much in the way of organization, which can be a pain. In my opinion Dropbox no longer considers its website to be its “main” interface, so the web client is secondary to the desktop/app clients.


OneDrive is much different. There are many options for sorting files and the overall aesthetic is more reminiscent of a Windows 8 app. It’s not busy, but it’s not simple, either. The web client is easy to use as your main interface with the service because there’s several ways to organize and the default view provides more data about each file and folder.

Desktop Client

Each service offers a desktop client for storing files in the cloud 5 Fileshare Options That Work From the Windows Desktop 5 Fileshare Options That Work From the Windows Desktop Share your files directly from where you use and store them - your computer. Desktop apps offer advanced sharing features and can be used to keep files backed up in the Cloud. Read More . With Dropbox, the desktop client feels like the interface you’re expected to use. You can do almost anything from it besides manage your account and it integrates seamlessly into your Windows or Mac interface. Personally, I haven’t used the Dropbox web interface in over a year because I’ve had no reason to open it. The client even offers a handy summary view in the Windows taskbar / OS X menu bar 3 Tools To Unleash Your Mac OS X Menu Bar 3 Tools To Unleash Your Mac OS X Menu Bar The menu bar on my Mac gets more attention these days than the Dock. The reason for this is quite simple - it's incredibly compact and dynamic in comparison. One menu bar application will show... Read More  that provides a list of recent changed documents and details about your current sync status.


OneDrive also has a PC and Mac client that integrates seamlessly into the operating system. Managing files is more difficult, however, because many tasks can’t be completed directly from the client. For example, Dropbox can generate a sharing link 3 Tools To Unleash Your Mac OS X Menu Bar 3 Tools To Unleash Your Mac OS X Menu Bar The menu bar on my Mac gets more attention these days than the Dock. The reason for this is quite simple - it's incredibly compact and dynamic in comparison. One menu bar application will show... Read More  from a file’s right-click context menu, but OneDrive makes you launch the web client to complete the same task. Microsoft’s desktop client also won’t link you directly to a folder or file’s settings and lacks version history for everything except Office files sync’ed through OneDrive.

There’s an OneDrive Windows 8 app, but it’s not of much use unless you have a Windows 8 tablet (in which case it’s the preferred interface). The web interface and desktop client work better for anyone with a mouse or touchpad.

Smartphone Apps

Dropbox offers an app for Android, BlackBerry, Kindle Fire Amazon Kindle Fire HDX Review and Giveaway Amazon Kindle Fire HDX Review and Giveaway Is the Kindle Fire HDX worth owning if you haven't owned a Kindle before? To find out, we purchased a 16 GB Kindle Fire HDX 7" (Wi-Fi) without special offers for $244, and we're giving... Read More , iPhone and iPad. Microsoft provides apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone and Xbox. This means both support the big two (Android and iOS), but there are omissions. There is not an official Dropbox client for Windows Phone, while Microsoft doesn’t support Amazon or BlackBerry devices.


The apps are free on all platforms, of course. While I’m sure some readers will be able to chime in with a few differences, the apps for each service function identically in my experience (on Android and iOS). They don’t look identical, though; the Dropbox app has the minimal white and pastel blue vibe, while OneDrive follows Microsoft’s bolder design.

Maximum File Size

While most people only upload small files like photos and documents, some user must upload much larger content. This can run afoul of the file size caps imposed by cloud storage providers.

Dropbox has an advantage here because it doesn’t cap the size of files uploaded via its desktop client or mobile apps. This is true whether you pay or not, though obviously you can’t upload a file larger than the storage you have available. Uploads conducted through the web interface are limited to a maximum of ten gigabytes, however.

Microsoft OneDrive, meanwhile, offers a maximum file size of ten gigabytes for personal accounts. At the time of this writing business accounts are restricted to a measly two gigabytes, but Microsoft says that cap will soon be lifted to 10GB. The limit applies to the web client and all apps.

File Sync Speed

Cloud storage can theoretically replace local storage 10 Ways To Use Your Cloud Storage That You May Not Have Thought Of 10 Ways To Use Your Cloud Storage That You May Not Have Thought Of When we talk about cloud storage, it usually revolves around backup and collaboration. So, let’s try to find some more interesting ways to fill up all the space they give us for free. Read More , but its performance can be a problem. To see how well each service handles file transfers performed two tests. In the first I added five photos to my storage via the desktop client, and in the second I added a single video file weighing in at 525 megabytes. I then timed how long it took for the files to appear on my laptop.



OneDrive clearly takes the win here, beating Dropbox in both tests and defeating it by four minutes in the large file transfer test. I also found that the OneDrive files were usable almost immediately, which the Dropbox files appeared to be unusable for a brief period (about thirty seconds) after they were supposedly sync’ed.

While Dropbox was slower, the superiority of its desktop client was obvious during this test. OneDrive does not provide any indication of a file’s transfer progress besides a small syncing icon which turns into a green checkmark icon when finished. Dropbox, however, shows you what’s being synced and how long it will take to complete, making it more user-friendly.

OneDrive Is A Valid Alternative

I think this article proves that OneDrive has become a great choice, and it’s particularly good for free or Windows 8 users How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 Storing data remotely and syncing them across devices has never been so easy, especially if you're using Windows 8.1. SkyDrive received a significant update, improving its integration with Windows and adding interesting new features. Read More , who will appreciate automatic syncing via their Microsoft account How to Use Your Windows 8 PC Anywhere - Without Taking It With You! How to Use Your Windows 8 PC Anywhere - Without Taking It With You! Imagine your files, settings, and apps followed you everywhere. In Windows 8 that's possible and we will show you how it works. Read More . In addition to gobs of space How To Get The Most Free Space On Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive & More - The Complete Guide How To Get The Most Free Space On Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive & More - The Complete Guide Cloud storage services offer a minimum amount of free space to everyone who signs up, but you can often get more. You can upgrade your cloud drive with gigabytes and gigabytes of free space in... Read More , OneDrive offers a superior web interface and quicker transfer speeds. The file size cap of 10GB is a downside, but you’re probably not going to store files that large on a free account anyway.

With that said, Dropbox is still more appealing to paid users. Its plans offer a ton of storage and come with no file size cap as long as you upload through the desktop client. The client itself is far superior, too, and provides sync status updates that can help you understand recent file changes and estimate how long a file will take to sync. Microsoft needs to do more for its business customers.

Which of these services do you prefer, and why? Or do you use a different cloud storage service entirely? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. Kate
    November 12, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    I'm actually very new to all this cloud business, but an learning to really like OneDrive. I'm uploading my first big batch of work photos, and it's taking forever! Is that normal?! ... I may be of that instant gratification generation, and need to not freak out about it. I mean, at least I can see them on both my laptop and my tablet as it (slowly but surely) uploads from my phone. If anyone knows a way to make this go faster, please let me know. Also, will it take this long for my boss to access these pics? He will need to download at least some of them at some point, and he has even less patience than I. ;)

    Great post and thread, btw! Very Very informative!

  2. larrymcj
    November 12, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Nice comparison, but you leave you a very important point for Mac users. While I like OneDrive a lot, I can't effectively use it because it strips the OS X metadata from files. If you want to retain OS X metadata, OneDrive is not the answer, though I'd like it to be given the pricing difference...not to mention the sync transfer is much faster with OneDrive.

  3. Caroline W
    November 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    I have to say that I much prefer Dropbox; I find it easy to navigate and it's UI much cleaner...But, I think their pricing plans are pretty rubbish, there's not enough choice which is where OneDrive wins.

    I have a few apps which I use for writing and generally they seem to only have Dropbox sync?

    I recieved 50GB for something that is only free for another 18 months, and as my storage already exceeds the measly 2GB - I will eventually have to pay.

    As Dropbox have been around for so long, I feel they are more 'solid' as a cloud provider and more likely to stay around (though OneDrive may probably too).

    Bit of a head-scratcher for me with this one.

  4. Solly Atwell
    October 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    There are some folk who actually think all this data is actually stored in some mythical "cloud"
    Never forget that all your data is, despite all the brainwashing of the term "cloud" still physically stored on someone's server somewhere.
    Do you implicitly trust someone else to look after your precious data/photos/music/ etc. ? Do you believe their servers will never be hacked/fail or that one day they might just outrageously up their prices in order for you to access your own data.
    I will never ever trust anyone else with my data and why I always have multiple back ups on my home network and a weekly backed up system image stored in a fire proof safe.

    • Tina
      October 13, 2014 at 10:39 am

      It's always a good idea to have backups. The Cloud can serve as one of many backup solutions.

      As for trusting someone with their data, if your computer is connected to the Internet, your data is at risk. Backdoors in all US-based operating systems and software ensure that the NSA can get a copy of everything you do, if they want to.

      Meanwhile, encrypting your data is the only way to make accessing your data a little harder. Although US-based encryption services probably contain a backdoor, too. If you're paranoid (i.e. painfully aware of today's reality), you must choose carefully.

  5. Gogogodzilla
    October 3, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Onedrive offers something that no one else does. You can grab files from your machine that aren't currently in Onedrive as long as you're authenticated as your Microsoft account as a user. I can grab files from any of my 4 machines even if I forget to drag them to my onedrive.

  6. LIDJungle
    October 3, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    FYI, you can also get 100GB free via Bing Rewards.

    My only complaint with One Drive is that it seems to take much longer to realize I have updated files and start synching them. When I remote in to work to get a copy of my code, it might take 5 minutes for the sync to start up.

  7. silentcon
    October 1, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    The dropbox app and web is better than onedrive IMO. In the dropbox app, you can favourite files which is stored offline while onedrive doesnt support offline. The web in onedrive is slower (i have too many nested folders). I get sync errors with Onedrive and it sometimes disappears from win explorer (i hibernate my laptop instead of shutting down thats why).

    I use onedrive though because i get 30gb storage free (after iOS 8 promo), integration with windows 8 and office live and onenote (useful in school).

  8. Dave Barnes
    October 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    The symbols hovering at the left of all the images is REALLY ANNOYING.

    • Tina
      October 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm

      They should only come up when you hover with the mouse over the image.

  9. Craig
    October 1, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    OneDrive is doing the share from desktop thing, you'll have to update teh article

  10. Dan
    October 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    I prefer a cloud provider that, at the very least, encrypts data on their servers. So while I have a free OneDrive account with 40GB, I prefer to keep my files in SpiderOak. If you are willing to jump through hoops, you can also reach 40GB on a free account.