Talking tech since 2003

I love Amazon’s S3 service and honestly feel that it is the most innovative and intuitive file storage solution that I have ever come across.  I say this because S3 has the flexibility to work as a file storage solution and by being paired with Amazon’s CloudFront service has the ability to take on light web-hosting tasks; all at an insanely reasonable price.  Because of this high level of usability, S3 has the potential to be a very useful tool for a great number of people and businesses.  However, there is one thing that I personally feel is stopping S3 from being more widely used.  It’s somewhat difficult to use.

This is an issue that I discussed briefly when I wrote my review on Amazon S3 a couple of days ago, and an issue that I said could be easily remedied with the use of third-party software.  In response to this, CloudBerry, a software development company, gave us the opportunity to do an in-depth review of their S3 Explorer software which is aimed at giving S3 the most user-friendly interface as possible.

Upon first firing up S3 Explorer, I was presented with a screen that allowed me to add my Amazon Web Services account to the application.  Because of the structure of the S3 service, this consisted of entering a “access key” and “secret key” that was easily obtained from the S3 account page.

From there, the main interface of the program reminded me a lot of an FTP client.  Having said this, the client has a two-column interface which allows for the end-user to easily drag and drop files in order to transfer them to and from their S3 buckets.  This is an aspect that I was personally impressed with because by allowing a user to use a somewhat familiar interface, S3 Explorer ensures that there is a relatively low learning curve in using their software.  In this same sense, S3 Explorer is so flexible that it can actually serve as an FTP client if the need arises.  This is especially convenient for a user looking to transfer data between the S3 service and an FTP account all whilst using one clean and usable interface.

Additionally, S3 Explorer has a tabbed interface which allows a user to work with multiple Amazon S3 accounts simultaneously, even allowing them to transfer data between accounts.  For a power-user or multi-tasker, this can be a priceless and highly productive feature.

After data is uploaded into the S3 ecosystem, S3 Explorer allows for the end-user to change file and bucket permissions in a very simple user interface.  When working on group and collaborative projects, this functionality makes S3 Explorer the ultimate file sharing tool, combining the ability to store large files in S3 with the ability to manage said files in a clean and simple interface.

In this same light, S3 Explorer makes it easy to quickly make a file “private” (accessible only to you), or readily available to the public with only a few clicks of the mouse.

While I expected S3 Explorer to make managing existing buckets easier, I was definitely impressed with its ability to create new S3 containers from directly within the application.  Moreover, the ability to manage CloudFront distributions from S3 Explorer really ties the Amazon Web Services together and makes this application the Swiss-army-knife of S3 utilities.

Another thing that makes S3 Explorer well worth it is the fact that it offers the ability to synchronise folders between your computer and your Amazon S3 account.  In doing so, one can make S3 one of the most cost-effective offsite backup solutions.

Going hand-in-hand with the synchronization/backup features, S3 Explorer allows the data uploaded to be automatically compressed and split into chunks.  This is convenient for saving resources when storing backup copies of valuable information.  The “compare” tool also makes it extremely simplistic for one to compare the contents with an S3 bucket with contents on their local hard drives, ensuring that their backups and offisite copies of files are always up-to-date.

Amazon S3 is a very dynamic and flexible file storage service and can only be taken fully taken advantage of with the use of software applications that are as dynamic and flexible as S3 itself.  CloudBerry S3 Explorer is well worth the $40 price-tag simply because it allows you to harness the power of Amazon S3 (and CloudFront) in the most familiar and simplistic interface possible.  And the fact that S3 Explorer allows for advanced features (many of which you might not need, but will still want to have if you ever do) means that it will be able to simplify all of your S3 needs, no matter how complex or challenging.


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