The concept of ‘the cloud’ nicely embodies the idea that most people use their computers more as portals onto the internet than devices in their own right. We used to download data in order to store it, now a lot of us do the exact opposite. The explosion in cloud storage isn’t slowing down a bit, but some providers are already looking to reign in the use of their services.
Microsoft’s OneDrive wasn’t the first cloud storage service (Amazon’s AWS S3, storage supplier to DropBox, launched a year before the service formerly known as SkyDrive), but it is extremely popular. In fact, OneDrive became one of the few services which could match up to Google Drive.
Recently, though, Microsoft cut storage limits for their free plan from 15GB to 5GB. It’s a pretty major change, not least because it drops OneDrive out of competition with Google Drive’s 15GB free offering.
Microsoft referred to “a small number of users [who] backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings,” in defence of their move, claiming that “In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average.” This explains the end of unlimited storage, but not so much the reduction in free allowances.
Unfortunately for OneDrive’s subscribers, however, the cut doesn’t stop at the free plan. Previous 100GB and 200GB plans have been struck from the menu, with only a 50GB $2 plan available for non-Office 365 users. The price has remained the same while the data allowance has halved. Office 365 users who previously enjoyed unlimited storage allowance are now capped at an admittedly substantial 1TB.
So, has there been a slight change of heart? Well, in response to the user backlash, which responded decidedly negatively to the perceived accusation that users were to blame for the cut, Microsoft have backed down to some extent, choosing to protect legacy users from the change by allowing those who currently have more than 5GB stored to ‘opt-in’ to retain their existing 15GB free limit. Users who don’t opt-in before the end of the year will lose the opportunity, but retain full privileges for 90 days before their account becomes read only. With upload privileges gone, users will still have 9 months to back up their data before their account is locked.
Finally, users who are currently over the new 5GB quota will be given a year’s free subscription to Office 365 Personal, with the accompanying 1TB of OneDrive storage space. This seems a fairly generous offering by Microsoft, as well as a good opportunity to hand demos out to the increasing number of people using free third-party solutions instead of MS Office. It also increases the extent to which OneDrive is tied to Microsoft’s other services.
Microsoft have made a creditable effort to appease their current users, but Google Drive still offers the original OneDrive limit (admittedly shared with Gmail and Photos). DropBox basic, while offering only 2GB initially, can be bumped up to a 16GB allowance by inviting friends. For those who have an interested network to bring along with them, Copy.com is probably the best bet for free storage at the moment: starting you off at 15GB, Copy gives you another 5GB permanent storage space for each person you invite.
With Windows 10 currently being rolled out across all sorts of devices, we might wonder how this big reduction in allowances will affect Microsoft’s presence as a service provider. They’ve always made the smallest proportion of their profits from online services (MS Business Division bringing in the biggest chunk of their billions), but will this change leave prospective new users any reason for signing up to OneDrive? In a world of cloud and even ‘fog’ computing, we might wonder how this fairly polite retreat from future contention will impact Microsoft’s profile as a world-leading software and service provider.