Have you ever run out of storage and desperately needed a place to temporarily store large amounts of data? If so, then you should have a look at the Amazon S3 storage service. Of course, the service is not free, but prices are moderate. If you only need the space to overcome a temporary storage shortage, then the storage costs won't really hurt your organization. The advantage over those free online storage services is that the amount of data you can store at S3 is more or less unlimited.
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There are different ways to use S3; today, I will just discuss the possibility of copying files from your servers or desktop to Amazon's online storage service. Amazon offers a simple web-based S3 file manager, but this is only something to use if you are on the run and want to access your S3 storage from an Internet cafe or so (if you dare). There are quite a few free Windows tools that allow you to upload and download files to S3. For this article, I tried three free S3 explorers: Amazon S3 Firefox Organizer(S3Fox) 0.4.7, S3 Browser 1.9.7 and Cloudberry S3 Explorer 1.6.3.
Amazon S3Fox is an add-on for Firefox. As far as I know, there is no version for any other web browser. Thus, if you don't use Firefox, this tool probably is not an option for you. Even though S3Fox runs in a web browser, the application's look and feel is almost like native Windows application. Like most S3 file managers, S3Fox divides the screen into halves. On the left hand side, you have your local file system and on the right hand side, the remote S3 storage. The tool has all of the essential features. You can create S3 buckets (folders with a unique name), upload, download, share folders, edit the Access Control List (ACL), and retrieve the bucket URL. S3Fox also allows you to synchronize local and remote folders. However, in my test, this didn't work reliably. Sometimes the upload or download was stuck in the queue; sometimes S3Fox uploaded a file even though it was unchanged.
There is a free and a pro version of S3 Browser (29.95 USD, 39.95 for the portable version). The main downside of the free version is that it is only for private use. Check out this comparison table for information about the differences between the free and the pro version. S3 Browser is the only tool I tried that doesn't divide the screen into two panes. The tool only displays the contents of the S3 buckets. Whenever you want to download or upload files, you always have to browse to the local folder. This is quite cumbersome. What I like about the S3 Browser that you can secure your Amazon credentials (Access Key ID and Secret Access Key) with a password. Since Amazon's Secret Access Key is much too long for a password, it has to be stored in the S3 Browser. S3Fox also allows you to store your credentials, but it doesn't offer password protection. A downside of S3 Browser is that it doesn't support synchronization.
Cloudberry S3 Explorer
Cloudberry S3 does support synchronization and it even works (contrary to S3Fox). The only thing I dislike about this tool is that every time you launch it, the request to register pops up again. You can postpone registration, but if you really want to work with this tool, you will register it sooner or later. Cloudberry S3 Explorer's feature list is quite impressive for a free tool. The only feature I am missing is password protection for the S3 credentials. (Cloudberry S3 Explorer can protect sensitive date with a master password.) The most interesting feature is the support for PowerShell! This means you can use the tool to manage S3 with PowerShell (upload, download, set ACLs, etc.). The user interface looks nice and is easy to use. It allows you to work with tabs, which is quite useful if you work with multiple buckets. My choice clearly is Cloudberry S3.
I also had a close look at the commercial tool Bucket Explorer (49.99 USD), but at first sight I couldn't find a feature that would justify this price, considering that Cloudberry S3 is free. (Update: I removed the link because the site contains now malware.)
Another tool I found is SMEStorage. It supports not only S3 but also other cloud storage services such as Mosso Cloud Files, Box.net, or GMail-as-a-Cloud. You need an SMEStorage account to use the tool, which costs 25 USD. It is interesting to note that you can use Windows Explorer to access S3 with this tool. This is also a feature of the upcoming TntDrive tool, which is not yet available.
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Do you know of another Amazon S3 file manager? Please let me know.