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The 8 Top Free and Open Source Dropbox Alternatives

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Businesses, big or small, have a lot of digital stuff.

I’m talking about everything from accounting spreadsheets to email messages to contacts to legal documents to invoices to business cases.

Many small businesses don’t use a shared or cloud-based file storage system—all their files are small enough to save on local computers. Yet there often comes a breaking point when…

  • Archival requirements—sometimes mandated by law—become too demanding
  • Data and files can’t move from the office to the field—or to the employee who is working from home
  • File ownership becomes unclear, leading to lost data
  • Sharing files, typically over email or a thumb drive, isn’t efficient or intuitive
  • The business hardware can’t handle file demands

But file storage isn’t always cheap, and choosing the right file and document management software isn’t always straightforward. Many businesses go right to Dropbox, which, according to Gartner, is “the best-known provider of cloud file storage and sharing, with the largest user base for consumer services.”

Yet “best-known” isn’t always “best for your small business.” In fact, there are tons of free Dropbox alternatives that are better than the original.

Dropbox alternatives

To be clear, there’s a lot that Dropbox does right (if you have a strong opinion on it, leave a review). When filtering through the huge number of free and open source file storage services, I found businesses tended to care most about these five features:

1. Free storage

Dropbox’s free storage starts at a measly 2 GB, with the potential to upgrade to 18 GB (users get 500 MB per referral and bonuses for following Dropbox on social media).

As I researched Dropbox competitors, I found an overwhelming number of free storage software options offering a cap of 2 GB or 5 GB, so the minimum for this list was raised to 10 GB. Doing so eliminated some better-known file sharing services, such as SugarSync.

Locally-hosted options are confined by hardware capabilities, so they were not subject to this restriction.

2. Security

Dropbox uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) network encryption protocols (TLS and SSL are essentially the same thing) when moving your files around. It also uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for files at rest. AES is so secure it’s the National Security Agency’s only approved publicly accessible cipher and it’s used to protect government classified information.

That’s all to say, Dropbox is super secure, and small businesses would probably prefer a similar level of security for their file storage. Therefore, all recommended software here have TLS/SSL and/or AES encryption.

3. Mobile apps

Dropbox offers free Android, iOS, and Windows mobile apps. Recommendations here were required to offer at least one free app for one of those services.

4. Collaboration and sharing features

One of Dropbox’s best features is the ability for files to move from device to device and from user to user. All programs recommended here provide sharing features.

5. Scalability

Unless you go for one of the locally-hosted, open-source Dropbox competitors listed below, there’s a good chance that your business will eventually need to upgrade. Dropbox jumps from its free account to Dropbox Plus at $99 a year for 1TB of storage space. The free Dropbox alternatives listed below must scale at a similar rate or be an entirely free system with more than 100 GB of storage available.

With all those qualifications in mind, I sifted through hundreds of file storage services and ended on the eight free or open source Dropbox alternatives in this list. They are arranged alphabetically, as each free file storage system offers unique benefits.

 

1. Box

When it comes to file sharing there is probably no greater rivalry than Dropbox vs Box. That’s because both products are incredibly similar: both provide intuitive file storage and sharing over a public cloud, both provide high-grade file security, and both can easily work as an online business center.

Box’s main customer base are businesses, whereas Dropbox largely caters to consumers. That’s why Box sometimes markets itself as a project management solution, complete with tasks and discussions around relevant files. It also prides itself on being secure enough on a number of global compliance fronts, including HIPAA, PCI, FINRA 17a-4, and FedRAMP.

Using Box functions similarly to Dropbox too—simply drag files into the application for them to upload. However, unlike Dropbox, Box’s free, personal edition also integrates with popular programs like Google Apps, Office 365, and Outlook, and provides some advanced file-sharing features like granular permissions setting, custom URLs, and a number of free Box-branded add-ons, like Box Capture, Box Assured, and Box Notes.

Free storage

10 GB

Security

SSL/TLS, 2-Factor Authentication, and 256-bit AES

Mobile apps

Android (4.2 stars)

iOS (2.9 stars)

Windows phone (4.0 stars)

Collaboration features

  • Comments
  • Document preview
  • Integrations
  • Note-taking tools
  • Permissions setting
  • Share files
  • Tasks

Pricing

The first tier of upgrades can go one of two ways: individual users can upgrade for $10 a month for 100 GB of storage. Business can also upgrade for just $5 a month for 100 GB, but that “starter” program requires a minimum of three users.

Pros

  • An emphasis on collaboration makes Box an excellent choice for small teams
  • Enterprise-level file security
  • Free plans still have access to standard customer support

Cons

  • Free version provides no version control
  • No free storage expansion options (Dropbox allows its users to “earn” more storage)
  • Slow and unreliable iPhone and iPad apps

Used Box? Leave a review!

2. Cloudup

Image via TechCrunch

If you’re looking for a Dropbox alternative that’s easy to use, offers plenty of free storage, and puts an emphasis on file sharing, Cloudup may be your best bet.

Cloudup is to Dropbox as instant messaging is to email; it’s faster and simpler but doesn’t provide the labeling and infrastructure that some users enjoy from Dropbox’s service. Instead, Cloudup automatically renders an image of all hosted files—from documents to music files to movies—for Pinterest-like scannability.

Cloudup uses simple drag-and-drop uploading and allows users to send file links as they work—a feature Dropbox doesn’t have at all. While file upload size is capped at 200 MB, Cloudup provides 200 GB of free storage to its users, making it one of the largest free file sharing and storage options available.  

With that said, that’s the complete rundown of Cloudup. It doesn’t have version control, commenting, or even an option to upgrade to more storage (so you would have to migrate your files if you used all your space). Cloudup is great for freelancers and businesses that do not intend to grow larger than five people, but that’s it.

Free storage

200 GB

Security

SSL/TLS

Mobile apps

Android (4.3 stars)

Collaboration features

  • Document preview
  • Share files
  • Visual, shareable “streams”

Pricing

Free

Pros

  • Gorgeous aesthetic for a pleasurable user experience
  • Incredibly intuitive—if you can drag-and-drop, you can use this service
  • Password protection available for “streams,” which are essentially visual folders

Cons

  • File upload size is capped at 200 MB
  • No options to scale, so it’s best for freelancers
  • Support is limited to Twitter and email

Used Cloudup? Leave a review!

3. Google Drive

While some other popular Dropbox competitors like OneDrive and Sync were nixed when creating the requirements for this piece, Google Drive prevailed. If you’re already using other Google apps like Gmail, extending into its free file storage and sharing ecosystem is often an obvious choice.

Once you create a Google account, you can access Google Drive through your browser, mobile phone, or through its app. Use its system to create folders as you would on your desktop and take advantage of its starring and labeling systems to keep yourself organized. While surprisingly still not as robust as its search engine, Google Drive does provide a search function to find missing files.

Users can share files on Google Drive privately or publicly. Each type of Google file (like Google Sheets, the free spreadsheet app, or Google Docs, the free word-processing tool) also comes with a number of extensions so you can customize as needed.

Free storage

15 GB and unlimited low-resolution photo storage

Security

SSL/TLS, 2-Factor Authentication, and 256-bit AES

Mobile apps

Android (4.3 stars)

iOS (4.7 stars)

Collaboration features

  • Comments
  • Digital signature
  • Document editing
  • Document preview
  • Note taking
  • Permissions tools
  • Plenty of add-on apps, like WordPress, PandaDoc, and MindMeister
  • Share files
  • Tasks
  • Version history

Pricing

Upgrades start at $1.99 a month for 100 GB of storage or 1 TB for $9.99 a month

Pros

  • Popular system that’s easy to sync with third parties
  • Searchable, easy-to-use content management system
  • Well-loved mobile apps for Android and iOS

Cons

  • Can’t directly edit files that aren’t a part of Google’s App suite
  • Gmail counts towards total file storage cap
  • Slower upload speed than Dropbox

Used Google Drive? Leave a review!

4. hubiC


If one of the reasons you’re looking for a Dropbox competitor is that you want something secure and based outside of the United States (and out of the NSA’s clutches), consider hubiC. hubiC is a newer, French platform that Geek.com called “the offshore Dropbox alternative you’ve been waiting for.”

The first thing users tend to notice when comparing hubiC to Dropbox is that hubiC offers a substantial amount of free storage; hubiC’s free plan comes with 25 GB, with the option to upgrade to 2.5 T of free storage just by recruiting friends to the service. That’s over a thousand times more free space than Dropbox offers. Not only that, but hubiC doesn’t limit maximum file upload size and can double as a full backup for your computer.

While hubiC is certainly a standout file sharing and file storage tool, its feature set is pretty thin. Most notably, it requires that all links to a user’s file have an expiration date, and hubiC needs its users to create a new link every time a file is modified (the changes don’t automatically show up). There are no available password protections, so be careful with whom you share your files.

Free storage

25 GB with the potential to get up to 2.5 T

Security

SSL/TLS and data is hosted between three data centers

Mobile apps

Android (3.7 stars)

iOS (4.0 stars)

Windows Phone (4.2 stars)

Collaboration features

Pricing

Upgrades start at €1/month a month for 100 GB of storage, or 10 TB for €5 a month

Pros

  • Generous free storage options and incredibly low upgrade costs
  • No file type restrictions
  • No file upload limits

Cons

  • No way of directly contacting support
  • Shared links don’t automatically update with new file versions; a new link is required for any uploaded changes
  • While secure, hubiC’s link-sharing features lack basic security features, like passwords

Used hubiC? Leave a review!

5. Nextcloud 12

Nextcloud 12 is the newest file sharing darling of the tech community: it’s open source, free, secure, and surprisingly easy to use for the number of features it offers. Even though it just came out in 2016 (as a spinoff to another free Dropbox competitor, ownCloud), it has gotten major positive coverage from tech sites like TechRepublic, ZDNet, and CIO. I predict that, over the next few years, Nextcloud will become synonymous with file storage just as Dropbox has over the next few years.

Nextcloud tends to attract three kinds of users: those who are highly security minded, those who want huge scalability potential, and those who are fans of other open-source projects, like Collabora Online.

Nextcloud can be run on most LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) or LAMP-equivalent servers. This means you can likely host your Nextcloud installation with your existing web host. If not, you can use one of the Nextcloud managed providers. Home users can use the Nextcloud Box ($80 + Pi), which offers an affordable, Raspberry Pi-based solution for easy and secure self hosting.

Like Google, Nextcloud offers a surprising number of add ons—for example, your small business could use Nextcloud for communication features like video calling, project management features like task management, and sales features like contact management. While Nextcloud isn’t an all-in-one software by any means (who would want that, anyway?), its free, enterprise-level features gives Dropbox stiff competition.

Free storage

Depends on your hosting plan

Security

SSL/TLS, 2-Factor Authentication, and 256-bit AES

Mobile apps

Android (4.3 stars)

iOS (4.5 stars)

Windows phone (No rating available)

Content management

Private cloud, drag-and-drop file storage, folders, search

Pricing

Nextcloud offers enterprise support starting at 1900€ per year. That gives you access to “core engineers,” security consultations, support for your custom apps, and a three business day SLA.

Pros

  • Huge number of features for a free file sharing and storage service
  • Dedicates resources to enterprise-level security features
  • Some collaboration features, like tagging and commenting on files

Cons

  • Beyond forums and IRC chat channels, support isn’t available except for paying, enterprise-level clients
  • While a large number of add-ons are available, few are aesthetically pleasing, easy to use, or functional on Nextcloud’s mobile apps

Used Nextcloud? Leave a review!

6. pCloud

If you’re looking to find a true Dropbox lookalike with a little more free storage and maybe some extra features, pCloud may be the closest you can get. While this Dropbox alternative just launched in 2013, it already has six million users and a chorus of positive press behind it. pCloud is a contender for mass adoption in the next few years.

pCloud’s hardy set of features and high-level security are what have attracted so much attention. For example, free accounts get file versioning, restoring deleted files, built-in audio and video players, and remote downloads—all only available in upgraded Dropbox accounts.

And as for security, pCloud offers standard SSL/TLS encryption alongside multiple file storage locations for every uploaded file, so you’re guaranteed to never lose your data. For a small fee ($3.99 a month), users can upgrade to pCloud Crypto, which offers military-grade encryption.

pCloud is so confident that its data can never be hacked, it offered $100,000 to anyone who could hack into its system. While over 2,800 people have tried, no one has succeeded.

As for ease of use, if you can use Dropbox, you can use pCloud, both in the cloud and locally.

Free storage

New users start with 10 GB of free space, with the potential to get up to 20 GB through shares and signups.

Security

SSL/TLS

Mobile apps

Android (4.3 stars)

iOS (4.0 stars)

Windows phone (3.9 stars)

Collaboration features

  • Comments
  • Document editing
  • Document preview
  • Integration with WordPress
  • Permissions settings
  • Share files
  • Version history

Pricing

Upgrades start at $3.99 a month for 500 GB of storage

Pros

  • Easy to setup and use
  • Plenty of attractive media-based features, like HD video and audio players
  • Unlimited upload and download speeds (limited only by your internet service provider)

Cons

  • Free users cannot password-protect their links
  • No real collaboration functions beyond file sharing
  • Starter plans offer only 10 GB of free file storage; you’ll have to hussle pCloud to get all available 20 GB

Used pCloud? Leave a review!

7. Seafile

Seafile has a bit of lore among cryptocurrency enthusiasts and security nerds. In 2016, Fortune reported that the Beijing-based, open-source Dropbox competitor was ditching its sole payment processor—PayPal—for security reasons.

According to the article, PayPal wrongly “classified Seafile as a service for illegal file-sharing” and “demanded that Seafile monitor its customers’ data traffic and files for illegal content, and send the payment firm detailed statistics about the types of files synchronized over the service.” When Seafile refused to comply, PayPal, Seafile’s only payment option, dropped it as a customer.

While the two brands quickly reestablished their relationship (after Seafile started to invest in “a German payment gateway” and Bitcoin), Seafile gained a reputation for being true to its end users, even if that meant losing out on profits.

Not that money is Seafile’s biggest driver. Before the code was made available to any interested developer, Seafile was the pet project of a handful of Tsinghua students. The free, open-source system provides plenty of easy-to-use features that can easily support many small business needs. For example, free “community” accounts include multi-platform file sync, mobile apps, and version controls.

And if your business is small enough (has three users or fewer), Seafile gives away its professional version, which includes file locking, document previews, remote wipe, and full text file search.

Unlike the other popular open-source file storage systems (like Syncthing), Seafile is surprisingly straightforward to setup and use. Upon downloading the drive and syncing clients for Linux, Windows, or Mac, follow the well laid-out guidelines available on Seafile’s site. From there, you can share all your information with up to 25 of your colleagues on the same server.

Free storage

Local

Security

2-factor authentication and 256-bit AES

Mobile apps

Android (4.2 stars)

iOS* (4.0 stars)

*Pro plans only

Collaboration features

  • Audit log
  • Comments
  • Document editing
  • Document preview
  • Permission controls
  • Share files
  • Version history

Pricing

Upgrades start at $100 per year for nine users. Beyond that, Seafile charges $48 per user, per year, and discounted pricing is available for public and educational institutions

Pros

  • Easy-to-use open source file storage system
  • Free users still get SSO with Shibboleth
  • Users can use a virtual drive, which essentially allows them to extend their local disk space to their share of the Seafile server.

Cons

  • Few communication features, such as commenting on files
  • Support is only available over email
  • The number of features reserved for free users pales in contrast to the professional edition

Used Seafile? Leave a review!

8. Zoho Docs

Zoho isn’t often equated with file storage—the brand is far more recognizable as a customer relationship management or invoicing software provider—but don’t discount Zoho Docs as a viable Dropbox alternative, especially if you have a small team.

There’s a sweet spot for Zoho Docs free users. The suite comes with 5 GB of free storage per user and caps at 25 GB total. However, up to 25 users can use the system. That makes Zoho’s file-sharing service ideal for small teams, especially since it boasts some fairly impressive additional features, like a high free file-upload limit (1 GB), email integration, Dropbox integration (if you just have to have both), built-in document editors, version history, tagging, access management, and even digital signatures.

Using Zoho Docs is intuitive; simply download the Zoho Docs Sync system and drop in whatever files you would like to share. The free plan provides access to features like in-app chat and administrative controls, so Zoho Docs could easily become your business’s go-to file storage station.

However, Zoho Docs does not support all file types. It supports common business files, including documents, presentations, spreadsheets, audio, and video, but it doesn’t have the specialized capability to host industry-specific file types, like AutoCAD (.dxf), Photoshop (.psd), or Microsoft Project (.mpp). Before investing in Zoho Docs, be sure that it supports all the file types that you need.   

Free storage

Up to 25 GB

Security

SSL/TLS

Mobile apps

Android (4.0 stars)

iOS (2.5 stars)

Collaboration features

  • Comments
  • Digital signature
  • Document check in and check out
  • Document editing
  • Document preview
  • Dropbox Integration
  • Note taking
  • Permissions settings
  • Share files
  • Version history

Pricing

Upgrades start at $5 and 100 GB of storage per user, per month

Pros

  • Easy-to-use system from a well-established brand
  • Excellent for teams who want to live-collaborate on documents
  • Plenty of substantial bonus features, including up to 25 versions of version history

Cons

  • Does not support all file types
  • iPhone and iPad apps are unreliable
  • Some file editing services, like Zoho Show, are not available without an internet connection

Used Zoho Docs? Leave a review!

Which Dropbox alternative do you use to store your business “stuff?”

Millions of users rely on these seven options to manage their files, but that doesn’t mean any of them are right for you. Tell me: what do you use? Why did you choose it? Or if you’re partial to paid options, what systems are worth the cash?

Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a content manager for Capterra, a free online resource that quickly matches businesses to their software needs. She specializes in project management tips, tools, and tricks . She also runs her own blog on content marketing. On the rare occasion Rachel isn't writing, she's reading, hiking, jogging, or spending time with her friends and family.

Comments

Extremely helpful article. Thanks for all the hard work it took to put this together.

I’d request a couple of minor improvements. (A) It sounds like you used some sort of decision matrix to rank the top seven. My priorities might not be the same as your priorities, so a table of the products’ scores would be very helpful to me. (B) You can’t just name-drop OneDrive without giving the reason why you ruled it out!

Thanks Richard!

The ranking factors are at the beginning of the article. Free storage over 10 GB, high security (TLS/SSL and AES) minimum, at least one mobile app for Android, iOS, and Windows, collaboration and sharing, and scalability. The options were listed alphabetically, so aren’t necessarily #1, #2, etc. OneDrive doesn’t offer a free 10 GB, so it didn’t make the cutoff.

Regarding:

Unlike the other popular open-source file storage systems (like Syncthing and Nextcloud 11), Seafile is surprisingly straightforward to setup and use.

I disagree. Nextcloud, anyhow, is no more difficult to setup and use then Seafile, in my opinion. The client install is certainly no more involved than for Seafile. Seafile has a Windows server, but it doesn’t look like just anyone could install it — it’s a lot more than just click “Next” ten times on the installer.

Nextcloud does not support Windows, this is true, but the installation on Linux is extremely easy and there are very simple instructions here https://civihosting.com/blog/how-to-install-nextcloud/ and some hosts will install it for you as well.

The other option is to use a Nextcloud VM from here https://www.techandme.se/nextcloud-vm/ which doesn’t appear to be significantly more complicated than Seafile as well.

Great article, overall, however — thank you!

Hey Hershel,

Thanks for your insights into open-source Dropbox alternatives, and actually Nextcloud and Syncthing were originally on my list. They were eliminated because they were more for information architecture than file sharing than the other options on this list.

The functionality differences mean that the latter two tools require way more coding knowledge to be able to use to their greatest capabilities. Since this post is target toward individuals and small businesses, recommending those two wouldn’t make sense for this audience.

With that said, thank you for calling out those two Dropbox competitors for those interested. I’m sure those Googling for Dropbox alternatives for enterprise or file management will really appreciate it, and I’ll keep them in mind for a more enterprise-level article.

Best,
Rachel

Hi Rachel,

What kind of ‘coding knowledge’ do you mean, if I might ask? Nextcloud is certainly easier to use (universities often pick us over other solutions as our easy UI keeps their support teams from getting flooded) and easier to deploy on a server as Seafile, being merely a PHP app and requiring no firewall changes. Of course, one could use hosted Seafile but that is true with Nextcloud too – just pick one of over 50 providers from nextcloud.com/providers.

If you meant that it is work to enable the apps, that is literally one click (they’ll get downloaded, installed and enabled automatically), so that can’t be it either, right?

And nothing is as easy as the Nextcloud Box – connect it to the network, visit nextcloud.local, give username/password and done. Zero configuration.

Am I missing something here, at what point did you bump into ‘coding knowledge’ being required above and beyond Seafile when installing Nextcloud? We’d love to fix that as being easy to use is our first priority, well, after security perhaps 😉

Greetings,
Jos
(from Nextcloud)

Hey Jos, thank you for your thoughtful response to the free Dropbox alternatives article.

I actually went back and forth quite a bit on Nextcloud 11, and even escalated the question of whether or not to include you folks to my editor while writing this piece.

The heuristic that we ultimately agreed on is that the small or mid-sized business, freelancer, or entrepreneur who ends up using this article to select a Dropbox competitor probably not only doesn’t have a background in IT, but also doesn’t have a readily accessible IT department or support system. When using Dropbox, users can “set up and go” without any coding background whatsoever. That modifier for this piece ended up knocking out other free solutions like DatAnywhere, Syncthing, and Nextcloud 11.

When researching Nextcloud, I found that you folks attract three types of users: those who are highly security minded, those who want huge scalability potential, and those who are fans of other open-source projects, like Collabora Online. Because I found those three types of users making up your main audience, and articles written about Nextcloud emphasized a coding background (like many open-source communities), Nextcloud was filtered out of the article.

If the comparison on the Seafile review is what is causing alarm, I’m happy to remove it. I’m also happy to hear the case for including Nextcloud in the next update of this article–feel free to reach out directly to rburger@capterra.com.

All the best,
Rachel

Hi Rachel!

Thanks for the reply, it is nice to get the background on the choices made. You’re right that it is the comparison with Seafile that was most surprising, especially as you noted how it was easier to use.

We actually have quite an audience in small/medium businesses through many of our providers. More than 2/3rd of them target small businesses and quite successfully so from what I can tell. I don’t track it very closely but a few I talk to occasionally have thousands of users…

I admit this is rather hard to see – unlike the hosted/proprietary solutions, we simply offer code and let others do their thing with it. That tends to result in wide-casting, so to say, giving less clarity when it comes to target users.

You’re right in your point about security (and privacy), though, even those who pick a provider do so because they trust that (local) company over a much larger, far-away online business.

But I think the biggest thing right now is the move that is happening towards collaboration, think Office 365. Receiving a file without context is pointless, and being able to go one step further and actually get stuff done in the same platform you use to share files is becoming very important. We see this need especially from small businesses and freelancers, who look for a single platform for file sync & share/calendar&contact/document editing. Essentially… a private cloud 😉

I notice most options you give above offer little or none of this, with the notable exception for Box which works with Microsoft on document editing. And Dropbox is also moving in the direction of collaboration, adding functionality all the time and also working with Microsoft.

What I’m saying is – file sync & share is so 2010, where’s the collaboration? 😉

Cheers and thanks,
Jos

Seems like you forgot 2FA under security in Nextcloud. 😉

/VM developer

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