Apple’s iCloud is a slick, versatile cloud storage service – but it does have limitations
There are lots of cloud storage services available these days, such as Dropbox and Microsoft’s Skydrive, and they’re a great way of storing your important files online so that you can gain access to those files from any computer, tablet or mobile phone that has an internet connection.
At first glance, Apple’s iCloud looks similar to those other services. It gives you 5GB of online storage free, and can synchronise your files by automatically sending a copy of each file to all your computers and mobile devices.
However, iCloud doesn’t just enable you to store individual files such as photos or word processor documents; Apple has designed iCloud so that it can handle a much wider range of information, including emails, telephone numbers and contact details, and calendar events too.
The iCloud service is free to use, and is built in to all recent Macs. It also works on Apple’s mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad, allowing you to automatically sync files and information across multiple devices. There’s even a version of the iCloud software available for Windows PCs.
Start using iCloud
It’s easy to get started with iCloud as the software that controls it is included in the Mac’s OS X operating system, and also in the iOS software that runs on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
However, iCloud is only included in the Lion and Mountain Lion versions of OS X. If you’re still running Snow Leopard or any previous versions of OS X, then you’ll need to upgrade to Mountain Lion for the relatively modest sum of £13.99.
If you’re using a PC you can download the Windows version of iCloud. It’s a free and runs on Windows 7 and Vista.
To activate iCloud on your Mac, open the System Preferences panel (found in the Dock) and click on the iCloud icon. The first time you do this you will be asked to log in to iCloud with your Apple ID. All new Macs prompt you to set up an Apple ID when you first buy them, but it’s easy, and free, to set one up if you don’t have one.
Your Apple ID also lets you set up a password so that no one else can gain access to your iCloud account without your permission.
This is where iCloud starts to differ from rivals such as Dropbox and Skydrive; when you download the software for Dropbox, it creates a special Dropbox folder on your Mac or PC. Any files you place in that folder are automatically uploaded to your online Dropbox account and then copied to any computer or mobile device you own that also has Dropbox installed.
Skydrive works in much the same way as Dropbox, creating a Skydrive folder where you keep all the files that you want to store in the cloud. Apple takes a different approach with iCloud. The iCloud preferences panel provides a list of different options that allow you to specify which types of files and information you want to store online. These options include emails, contact info and calendar events, as well as photos and other types of documents.
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