Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things: Dropbox for File Sharing, Synch and On-Line Backup

There are many excellent free and paid services on line, and Dropbox  is one of those services which I use on a daily basis.  Dropbox is a service which offers online backup and file synch and sharing from your home computer.  A freemium service, it provides 2 gb of storage for free, and additional storage for a small monthly fee. 

Dropbox is a small piece of software (24mb) which you download on each computer you want to use it on.  It will then install a folder in your “My Documents” folder called “My Dropbox”.  You connect each computer to a single account.  While it has mobile applications for iPad, iPhone and other mobile devices, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use these.

Online Backup and Synch
Any files that are saved into the My Dropbox folder are then uploaded to the web and synched to the other computers.  I like that a copy is stored locally and on-line. This is unlike Google docs which has only the on-line copy unless you manually download another copy.  You can work on documents when you aren’t connected to the internet, and they will synch when you’re next connected.  Having my documents stored on-line, in addition to locally, allows me to access files from any internet connected computer.  I can also add files to my Dropbox via the web interface, essentially sending them to my home computer. 

DropBox has two ways to share files.  You can share files with other Dropbox users by creating a link between your shared folder and theirs.  That way, any file placed in that folder will be synched to their Dropbox as well as your own.  It’s a great way to share pictures or collaborate on documents.  Alternately, if people don’t have a Dropbox account, you can share files publicly.  You place a file in the “Public” folder, and then can get the link to the file and send that to the other party.  They then click the link to download the file.  This has the advantage of not clogging someone’s e-mail with large attachments.

While making files “public” might sound daunting, the link to the file is not published except by you, and includes a random seven digit string, making it difficult for someone to accidentally find your file.  According to the Dropbox user forums, Google does not index these files, so they won’t show up in Google’s search results.  For additional security, you can make file names long random strings of letters, numbers and characters like you would a password and / or create a password protected zip file, so that even if someone downloads the file, they’d need the password to open it and access the contents. 

Dropbox isn't intended to be your primary on-line backup.  Paid accounts start at $9.99 a month for 50gb of storage, nearly twice the price of dedicated on-line back up services such as Carbonite, which offers unlimited storage but lacks many of the features of Dropbox.  

Sound interesting?  Want to try (and hook me up with some extra storage)?  Use this referral link to create a Dropbox account and you and I will both get 250mb of storage in addition to the 2gb free accounts. 

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