December 7, 2009

The Magic of Dropbox for Sync and Sharing

Stop sending attachments by email. Stop worrying about losing files from theft of your computer or a hard disk crash. Stop fretting about backups.

With Dropbox you can. (In case you're wondering, there are no affiliate links in this post.)

I found this elegant productivity booster just weeks ago. If you're in a corporate environment you may find access blocked but you may find uses at home, with friends or for hobbies.

I was looking for a way to access the latest version of key files on different computers. Normally, this would require emailing the files or moving them between machines with a USB memory stick. That's inconvenient.

Collaborate Online
You can share files with Google Docs or online Web storage but this can be a hassle. Suppose it's an Excel spreadsheet. You may need to download the file, edit and then re-upload. Not fun.

Use Dropbox instead. The concept is remarkably simple and seamless. You put files in a special folder on your computer called My Dropbox. By default, this is a subfolder of My Documents. Instructions probably differ slightly for Mac and Linux users.

A copy of anything you put in your Dropbox goes online. Now you have a backup and anywhere-access to the files.

Work Locally
You may never need to access the files online because of an amazing feature. Copies go onto the hard drives of the computers to which you gave access.

Suppose you have a work computer and a home computer. You can now edit the files you put in your Dropbox on either machine. Changes show up on the other machine within moments. Bye-bye e-mail. You won't even notice Dropbox working quietly in the background.

With Dropbox, you get effortless archives and anywhere access. You work on files right on your computer, which is convenient and does not require an ongoing Internet connection.

Where do you store your passwords? I use KeePass Password Safe which is free and open source. I always want access to the latest passwords everywhere. Dropbox makes this automatic. I can now add, change and view passwords on any of my computers.

Dropbox gives you 2 GB of free storage which is great for a trial. That's what I'm using right now. As your storage needs increase, you can upgrade to 50 GB for $10 US a month.

Dropbox is remarkably easy to use. You don't need to think about it at all. You just work the way you normally would. The synchronization takes place in the background.

If you want to share files with others. Say you're working on a project for a client. You can set up a folder in your Dropbox and give them access. You both have access to the latest files without the bother of e-mailing.

The files in your Dropbox are not encrypted which may be a concern. However you can use normal tools like TrueCrypt (free, open source) for that purpose.

Since Dropbox puts the same files on different computers, disk space can be a challenge. I want access to the same files on my main notebook computer and netbook. That's impossible because the netbook has a much smaller hard drive. The workaround is to only put selected files into the Dropbox, which means that many files aren't shared. Maybe this shortcoming will get fixed in the future.

I didn't realize that a badly-needed tool like Dropbox existed. I'm still amazed at how well and simply it works. See for yourself and share your thoughts.


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