Dropbox: My Online Hub

I have a computer at work and a computer at home.  Both are laptops, but both serve their own purposes.  I’ve tried a good handfull of methods to have a consistent experience from one to the other.  My solution to this problem is Dropbox, a free (or fee-based, for larger accounts) tool that synchs files between computers through the cloud and also gives me the peace of mind that I’m not only working with the most recent version of the file, but that I’ll have access to it whether I’m online or offline.

For years I carried around a simple USB drive (okay…”pen drive”) with a handfull of key applications and documents.  This was a slick solution for quite some time, but I found I was going through them pretty quickly (they’re not all that durable and the hardcore ones are clunky).  This evolved into my iPod because of the 80GB hard drive (and I had it with me anyway, which offset the clunky factor).  While I loved having easy access to my files, applications and music, it ended up being a hassle to have an outside device tethered to my computer. The extra device I carried around drew lame questions and made my system a bigger hassle to take places.

There was also extra work I made for myself trying to deal with file versioning. Inevitably, I’d take a local version of a file, then have to remember to copy the finished product back out.  As this became more and more frequent, it got tough to keep track of which instance was the right one.

In the back of my mind, there was always this fear that I’d lose my data with a hard drive crash.  This meant making extra copies…locally and on other external drives.  It got tough keeping straight which computer or which drive had the most recent backup, too.

There were online hacks to use Gmail as a file repository (GmailDrive is one example) but it only took one lock of my Google account to put a quick stop on that.  I used Carbonite for a year, which was great for backup and recovery, but not a real solution for synch.  As an aside, I stopped using it when my hard drive crashed and I wasn’t able to recover my files because of a technicality…

Dropbox has been my hero.  A simple installation application creates the “My Dropbox” folder that sits under My Documents.  These files get synchronized out to the getdropbox.com server (2GB starting capacity for a free account, larger available).  Next step (in this multiple computer scenario) is to set up Dropbox on each of the other systems, providing the same account information.  Dropbox kicks right in and starts populating the second computer’s My Dropbox with all of the same files that were on the original system.dropbox

The software runs in the background, waiting for changes, and once an updated file has been saved and closed, the new data is uploaded (and almost immediately) updated on the other computer (if it’s on and connected to the internet).

Pseudo Techie Stuff:

  • Dropbox is monitored by a host agent that looks for file changes.
  • The synch only uploads the part of a file that’s changed, not the whole file.  (So if I wrote a novel and saved the 50MB file to Dropbox, then later realized I forgot to include “The End”, it’s smart enough to only upload a few bytes of data instead of all 50 meg.
  • Both a local copy of the most recent file and a cloud copy are retained.
  • Version history is tracked and older versions of a file can be restored through the web interface.
  • Files on getdropbox.com are encrypted, but user-defined keys are not an option (yet).

I’ve been going strong for several months now and it’s been a fantastic experience.  Dropbox almost exclusively handles my synchronization requirements.  I say almost because large video files (multi GB .VOB files of my band’s shows) are much more quickly transfered over USB or the local network. I’ve been able to silence the fears that the file I want to be using lived on my other computer.

Some of my favorite other features of Drobpox include:

  • “Public” folder which allows me to send links to people who can download the files I put in there
    • Great alternative to sending a file in email, just send the link (like a great video of a co-worker losing it during a fire drill)
    • Image hosting for online content, I trust it will be there more than tinypic (Photo of my band hosted on Drobox)
  • Sharing Folders with other Dropbox users: Far better way to transfer files than over IM…and it gives a little notification balloon saying that a new file has arrived.

These are only the basics, and believe me, I have a lot more to say about the service.  If you’d like to try it out yourself, you can download it yourself at http://www.getdropbox.com/ or (if you’d be so kind) you could click through this link, which will give me referral credit and increase my dropbox size by 300MB when you sign up.

More to come on how I use Dropbox to make digital life a heck of a lot easier.

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