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Friday, September 20, 2013

Can Copy.com Unseat Dropbox?


The cloud storage space is becoming increasingly crowded with competitors. There are so many, in fact, that I’m sure I could piece together 200GB or more in cloud storage space just from the free tiers that most cloud services provide. One name still stands out from the throng; Dropbox. They were one of the earliest entrants to provide file sync capabilities, and now they've got a massive stable of over 100,000 apps that make use of their platform. Despite all that Dropbox does right, they’re still expensive. That leaves the door open for competitors, and one that recently caught my eye is Copy.com.

You may have read my Bitcasa post. If you did, you’ll know that despite Bitcasa’s unlimited storage, it doesn't have the all-important file sync capability necessary to replace Dropbox. Copy, on the other hand, most certainly does. At first blush, it seems to match Dropbox feature for feature at a price point that is less than half of what Dropbox charges. Read on to find out if I think Copy has what it takes to stop Dropbox’s huge momentum.

The Good

Price: This is of course the main draw to even consider an alternative to Dropbox. Where Dropbox charges you $99 for 100GB of storage, Copy gives you 250GB. Where Dropbox gives you 2GB of free storage to start off with, Copy gives you 15GB (20GB with referral)! This alone may be enough to cause some to ring the death knell for Dropbox.

Unlimited Referrals: Unlike Dropbox, which limits you to 500MB per referral and 16GB of total referral space for a free account (1GB/32GB for Pro), Copy offers 5GB of free space for both the person making the referral, as well as the person accepting the invitation, with no max limit! Some have reported having free Copy accounts in the TERABYTE range.

Fair Storage: This is an intriguing feature that allows you to share a large folder with a group of people, but have only a proportionate amount of data deducted from your total data quota. For example, let’s say that I have a 6GB folder and I share it with five of my friends so that we can each contribute to, and collaborate on, the same set of data. Instead of me using up 6GB out of my total 20GB limit (and each of my friends also using 6GB to store the same data), each of us only has 1GB of data that counts against our limit. Note, this is entirely different than just sending someone a link to your data. That latter feature does not require that the recipient even have a Copy account and you would have 6GB deducted from your limit. The video below may help you better understand the Fair Storage feature:


Folder Share Options: Copy offers great flexibility with sharing links to folders. Recipients receiving links can choose to download just individual files (a feature Bitcasa doesn't offer), or the whole folder as a .zip file. Best of all, Copy makes it very clear in the web UI what folders or files are being shared. It also allows me to easily revoke sharing or restrict access to verified users.   

Full Feature Set: In addition to folder sharing, Copy ticks off all the major features I look for in a cloud storage service. This includes things like file versioning, undelete with unlimited retention (Dropbox charges extra for unlimited retention), data encryption, data de-duplication, desktop apps for Windows and Mac, mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, a well-designed web UI (more on that below), ability to view media files directly without downloading them, selective sync, and fast (responsive) syncing with bandwidth controls.

Established Company: Whenever I invest my time uploading all of my data to a cloud storage provider, and setting up links to data that some will rely on, I want to be sure they’ll be around for a while. Some startups like Bitcasa concern me as their business plans haven’t yet been proven to work long-term.  Copy, on the other hand, is run by Barracuda Networks which has over 1000 employees and 150,000 customers (as of July 2012). That’s still no guarantee that they won’t disappear tomorrow, but it gives me a fair amount of comfort that I won’t have to move all of my data and send out new links anytime soon.

The Not so Good

I chose not to call this section “The Bad” as I haven’t yet found anything wrong with Copy that constitutes a deal breaker. These are really just minor annoyances that can all be resolved over time.

No web restore for deleted files: I banged my head against the desk for quite a long time as I tried to figure out how to undelete files from the web interface. Well, as of the time of writing, you can’t! Oddly, you can undelete files from the desktop app, which even Dropbox can’t do.

The web UI: I mentioned above that this has a well-designed UI. Indeed it does. There is most definitely clear evidence of attention to detail. The problem is I just don’t like the navigation. Some will probably love it, and maybe I’m just stuck in my old ways, but I have a hard time adjusting to the screen dividing from left to right again and again as I dig deeper into a folder. This forces my attention to the far-right side of the screen 90% of the time and makes me feel like I’m wasting two-thirds of my screen. I have to respectfully disagree with Fstoppers on this point. The UI is certainly usable, it’s just not a draw for me. 

Not enough apps: As opposed to Dropbox’s 100,000 compatible apps, Copy lists only four that make use of its APIs. That is undoubtedly going to grow as Copy gains acceptance, but for now, that’s one of the major issues that keeps me from switching to Copy as my primary storage location.

The name: I’m not the most creative person in the world, and I’m certainly not a marketing major, so I can’t fault Copy too much on its name choice. My qualm is how horrendously unsearchable a common name like “Copy” is. I even have trouble finding details with “Copy.com”. I wanted to do some research for this post to explain conclusively if Copy does data de-duplication or not as their support page makes no mention of it. Searching for this information is so difficult, I eventually gave up and contacted support (It does have de-duplication but still waiting on the answer of how it is done, and if it is global or local only. I'll update this post when I find out). 

Unclear icon overlays: This is a very small nitpick, but I love how Dropbox has bold, clear icons on files indicating if they have been synced, or are in the process of syncing. Copy’s icons are very subtle and sometimes hard to see. Most won’t care about this, but something to keep in mind. It’s all these small touches that keep Dropbox looking more polished.

Final Thoughts

Copy is one of the most impressive “Dropbox killers” I’ve seen yet. There are numerous competitors out there, but I’m always looking to consolidate into as few cloud storage services as I can so that I’m not trying to remember which service I put a file on. Copy most definitely passes the “good enough” test, and comes dangerously close to getting me to switch from Dropbox. For now I’ll be sticking to Dropbox for my primary cloud syncing app, and Bitcasa for its unlimited storage. However, I’ll be watching carefully what Copy is doing. They have the feature set to compete toe-to-toe with Dropbox, but only time will tell if they can stop Dropbox’s momentum. If Dropbox fails to continue innovating and being cost-competitive, Copy very well might become the new king of cloud storage.  

If you liked this post, please sign up for Copy using my referral link so that we can both enjoy 5GB of additional free space.  If not, feel free to go directly to Copy’s website, or sign up through a friend.