With more and more users turning to the Internet to store and share documents, Linux developer Ubuntu has also entered the market with a beta version of its UbuntuOne service (http://www.ubuntuone.com). The platform is a competitor to the likes of Dropbox and allows users to synchronise files between computers as well as sharing them with friends and colleagues.
To use UbuntuOne users have to be running Ubuntu 9.04, the April release of the operating system. This in itself is a potential problem for users that regularly switch between platforms. The UbuntuOne client software can’t be installed on earlier releases of Ubuntu, other Linux distributions or other operating systems.
Having said that, users of Ubuntu 9.04 will find the installation of the client software straightforward and quick. Once invited to the beta programme and logged in, the UbuntuOne website walks users through the process.
Once installed the client software icon sits quietly in the user’s task bar until activated. Starting UbuntuOne for the first time prompts the user to identify their computer with the online application. This is done on the UbuntuOne website and is very simple and quick. Installing UbuntuOne also adds an UbuntuOne directory to the user’s home directory. From this point on any files dropped into this directory will be synchronised with the Internet-based account.
Files are quickly synchronised with the server without need for interaction. There are a few quirks with the interface which settled down after a short while. One of these was when editing a file previously synchronised with the server, the client kept on warning that the online version of the file had been altered. This was most likely a timestamp issue and is not too annoying, although it would be nice to not have that.
Apart from the UbuntuOne directory there is not a great deal of functionality on the desktop side. Users can simply add files to the UbuntuOne directory and let the application get on with its work.
The web interface for UbuntuOne is more capable and is very easy to use. The three-paned interface allows users to browse their uploaded files, share them with other users or download them to the desktop. It’s not the most attractive of interfaces but it is simple and clean to use. The Ajax interface means that once the web site is loaded changing between directories and files is quick, even over a slower connection.
Sharing directories with other users is done in the sharing tab and just requires an email address for the person you’re sharing it with. There is an option to also mark the folder as read-only so that others can’t modify the contents. It’s a simple but effective process, although the other user will require a Launchpad account to access the files.
The beta edition of UbuntuOne is available with 2GB of storage space for free. There is also a paid-for edition which offers 10GB of storage for US$10 a month. 2GB is adequate for storing most text documents and work-related files. Video and audio added to this would probably mean users would have to opt for the paid-for 10GB account.
UbuntuOne’s obvious competitor is Dropbox, a service that has been running for many years now. Dropbox also offers a 2GB account free of charge. But it’s next account up offers 50GB for just US$9.99 or even less than that if paid for annually. If you’re going to pay for an account then clearly Dropbox’s offering is significantly better than UbuntuOne.
Dropbox also has the added advantage of being cross platform with desktop clients for Windows, Linux and Mac, which makes it a better choice for users that regularly swap between operating systems. On the web interface side, UbuntuOne is not as attractive but still has most of the functionality that Dropbox does.
UbuntuOne is still in beta so there are likely many changes that will be rolled out later in its life, which could make it a compelling service. Particularly as Ubuntu rolls out more cloud services and adds those to UbuntuOne and the desktop.