Okay, it’s officially the year of the cloud sync—and the bandwagon is getting pretty crowded. In a marketplace that’s already dominated by the likes of Box.net, Dropbox, Windows Live Mesh, Mozy and joined by newcomers like SugarSync and Amazon Cloud Drive, it’s hard to find compelling reasons to try yet another cloud-syncing program. Canonical—the makers of Ubuntu—however, think they can convince you to try their version of online backup/cloud-based file syncing on for size.
While the idea of an open source maven throwing its hat into the ring with one of the hottest (or most saturated, depending on your perspective) software trends of the moment may sound promising, so far, Ubuntu One’s cloud syncing service hasn’t broken any new ground—at least not for the industry. It does represent an interesting departure for Canonical, however, in that it is part and parcel to one of the group’s first efforts to collect money from everyday end users. Previously, Canonical paid their bills by offering enterprise level tech support and consulting for business operations, while offering their core product—the open source Ubuntu operating system—free of charge. The Ubuntu One family, which includes the syncing client, an iTunes-like music store and a premium paid iPhone app—on the other hand are paid services.
Without further ado, here’s a review of the Ubuntu One file syncing service.
Ubuntu One’s cloud storage presents typical fare. 2 GB for free, downloading/uploading files from the web and syncing to your Linux-based desktop via the Ubuntu One client. You can buy more storage space, if you want it, and for about $3.99 you can access your music and contacts via two separate iPhone apps. That last bit is the biggest downer. Neither Dropbox nor SugarSync charge for their mobile apps, which have far and away more functionality—including music playback. Same goes for Amazon Cloud Player. Furthermore, the need for two separate apps is also undesirably clunky.
Ubuntu One snarkily offers its users the opportunity to beta test its Windows-based client, because they understand that some users still run “legacy operating systems.” But even for beta software, the Ubuntu One desktop app for Windows is underwhelming. Right off the bat, it’s off-putting since it requires the .NET framework to run. After that, the setup is surprisingly opaque. Whereas Dropbox, SugarSync and Box.net go to great lengths to walk you through every function of the software, Ubuntu One kind of dumps you off and leave you to figure it out, without so much as letting you choose a location for your sync folder.
Beyond that, the client feels misanthropic in a number of ways. It’s status updates from system tray are notably daunting, using words like “metadata” and “mirroring” that are nonsensical to casual users and unhelpful for those who understand it. Automatic syncing when files change is a pending feature, which is fine, but for a hassle-free cloud-syncing tool, you’d think that this functionality would be a pillar of the client, not a perk.
Ubuntu One is free up to 2 GB, and you can upgrade with a 20 page (i.e. 20 extra GB) for $39.99 a year or $3.99 a month. That rounds out to about $2/year per gig, which isn’t outrageous, but isn’t the cheapest you’ll find. Furthermore, the Ubuntu One mobile apps cost an additional $3.99/mo or $39.99/year on top of that. Considering the wealth of free options to choose from, that’s far more than you should be paying for a mobile cloud app from an open source Linux developer.
Ubuntu One could be promising. But as long as Dropbox has a client for Linux—and they do—there’s almost no reason to choose Ubuntu One.