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My new favorite free utility: Dropbox

Lately I've been playing with Dropbox, a free utility for Macs, Windows and Linux based machines. It's a pretty simple concept; an internet drive that allows you to sync your files between multiple machines. There is really not too much to using it; a small application is installed that monitors a folder on your hard drive (normally placed in the user's home directory but you can put it anywhere). Dropbox monitors changes to that folder and if a file is updated it is pushed up to your virtual drive on the interwebs. If you have multiple machines with Dropbox installed and pointing to the same account then they will automatically pick up the changes.

While this sound like something that can just as easily be accomplished with a network share, the nice thing about Dropbox is that the files are automatically copied to the machine's local drive. In my case I have three physical machines: a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro and an HP Slimline that serves as an Ubuntu workstation. In addition I usually have a Windows XP instance running on my Mac Pro using VMware Fusion. As I am currently working on some file importing routines for my product I am jumping between machines frequently; now if I make a change to files I need globally I see this little notice pop-up on each machine:

Mac (Growl notification)


Windows XP


Linux (Ubuntu)


So if I make a change anywhere it is auto-reflected wherever I need it. If I then grab my MacBook Pro for a meeting and the place I'm going doesn't have internet access I still have a locally updated copy of the files that will be updated as soon as I get back to a live connection.

If you are away from your machine and need access to those synchronized files you can log in from anywhere and download the files from your account. You can also place your files into a public folder that will allow you to share them with others, though I haven't tried that feature yet.

Dropbox comes with 2GB of storage for free; you can upgrade to a 50GB version for $9.99 / month or $99 / year. I've had it running on all of my machines for about a week now and have been impressed with how easy it is to use.

Got a great solution for keeping files synchronized on multiple machines? Drop a note in the comments, I'd love to hear about it.

24 comments:

Christopher Robin said...

David,

I've been using Dropbox since the summer, I've found it to be very useful as well. I particularly like the ability to share select folders with multiple other Dropbox users. I used it to share my recorded lectures for a graduate class I taught last year. The size of the recordings were to large for the university's course site, but the 2 GB of Dropbox was just enough for the full semester of lectures.

Anonymous said...

Dropbox seems like a nice service, but users should be aware of their policy:

"BY UTILIZING THE SITE, CONTENT, FILES AND/OR SERVICES, YOU CONSENT TO ALLOW DROPBOX TO ACCESS YOUR COMPUTER TO ACCESS ANY FILES THAT ARE PLACED IN THE 'MY DROPBOX,' 'DROPBOX' FOLDERS, AND/OR ANY OTHER FOLDER WHICH YOU CHOOSE TO LINK TO DROPBOX."

I take that to mean that files are not encrypted and that Dropbox could have full access to your data should they want it.

--Jim

Sam said...

It is amazing how well dropbox works and how crappy the iDisk function of MobileMe is.

The day I downloaded dropbox was the day I began to plan to drop mobile me. It just works!

Anonymous said...

I've used DropBox on my MacBook Pro and 2 XP machines for several months and I am very happy with it. In regards to security, the quoted text by Anonymous-previous is required by DropBox; otherwise, without having permission to access the My Dropbox folder on your computer, the service wouldn't be able to do what it does, i.e., copy files from your computer to theirs. In fact, this statement provides protection, since the implication is that you have not given permission to access files that you have not linked to DropBox.

And, in fact, data is encrypted - see https://www.getdropbox.com/help/27 (one of their Top 10 questions).

Finally, for documents I am particularly sensitive about (e.g., financial statements), I copy to a TrueCrypt encrypted volume that resides in My DropBox folder - works great.

[btw, I have no affiliation with DB, just love the service]

David Alison said...

@Jim: As it reads in the agreement it says the data in the actual Dropbox folder (or a linked folder), which it would need access to in order to keep a copy of it. The value of this service, much like any online service, is subject to license restrictions and best practices that the company uses. If you are really concerned about the data that you place in an online service then using some form of local encryption is a wise idea.

SadFootSign said...

The great thing about Dropbox is that it supports symlinks which means I can keep my .vim directory the same across all my computers and platforms.

brian said...

Dropbox is my favorite program. It's incredibly easy, FREE, and provides me a great way to back everything up. I'm just an average computer user, so 2GB is more than enough for me. I only sync documents and pictures, and not that much of either. Glad you mentioned it, David!

MagerValp said...

My crappy Netgear router had been giving me more problems than usual, so the other week I walked down and picked up a Time Capsule. The disk is shared over Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n at home, and to the rest of the world over my 10 Mb fiber connection.

Throughput has tripled compared to the Apache WebDav server I had running behind the Netgear router, and and instead of the router crashing daily it's been running perfectly since I bought it.

The best $299 I've spent in a long time.

Mark Bradley said...

I too have been using this with great success although occasionaly I find the odd file does not sync, which is often an issue. I use the full paid version. I have also been testing Microsofts Live Mesh which does simialr things albeit less elegantly. and of course box.net is also a good service for sharing etc but Dropbox currently beats them all.

SimpleLife said...

Works great with 1Password and Devonthink Pro.

Makes iDisk seem pathetic. I like Box.net better for file sharing though.

Dropbox still has a few growing pains, but awesome overall.

It finally has folder purge, but I wiish it had bulk purge folder operations, and better file sharing features like box.net. They say it's coming soon.

It's a memory and CPU hog, but it's SOOO worth it.

Dropbox said...

Hey everyone,

Jon from Dropbox here--

Just wanted to chime in with a few things re: our security/privacy. First off, I'll be the first to admit that our terms and service may seem a bit draconian in nature, and we've been working with our staff to put out a new revision that seems less 'big brother'-ish.

On a second note, all files are very secure: everything is transferred over SSL and encrypted with AES-256 before being stored on our backend. We're never permitted to view user files, and even in cases of troubleshooting we only have access to metadata (dates, sizes, filenames, etc).

If you guys have any other questions, just direct them to jon at getdropbox dot com

Thanks!

Hendrik said...

I have been using DropBox for a while too and have been very happy with it. I mostly use it for syncing my Things and 1Password settings as well as for sharing files with others. I love the convenience of dragging a file into the DropBox Public folder and then just choosing "Copy public link" from the context menu.

To synchronize pretty much everything else between my computers I use Unison.

Anonymous said...

I really like Live Sync / Live Mesh. Mesh seems similar to dropbox from what I get from your description, but with 5 GB free online storage. Live Sync comes without online storage and hence with practically no size limit.

Allen O'Loughlin said...

Thanks for this tip, David. I was just looking for a seamless solution for synchronising files across a couple of PCs. We use an antiquated version of Quicken for our finances and my wife wanted to have access to our data on both the PC and her laptop. Dropbox works perfectly and its faster and much simpler than copying files across our home network. Good to read that data is encrypted as well.

David Alison said...

@Allen: Glad to hear this helped. I've been really pleased with Dropbox - the more I use it the more I like it, especially the fact that it works on all of my different OS's.

Christopher Robin said...

David,

Your response to the last post reminded me that you can also use Dropbox with your iPhone. You can sign in on the web site and open the documents that are formats that the iPhone can typically open.

David Alison said...

@Christopher: That's a brilliant idea! Hadn't thought of it. And the getdropbox.com site adjusts to the iPhone too. Excellent.

Thanks for mentioning that Chris!

Anonymous said...

@Christopher

That was a great idea! I have been using Dropbox for a while and lets me access files across all of our computers and between home and work.

I just tried the web link on my iPod Touch and it works great! Thanx.

TheOtherLarry

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Chris said...

David mentioned this on a Tweet the other day, but a Dropbox iPhone app is imminent. Unless Apple blocks it (unlikely), and the process is "normal," it should be out within the next two weeks. I've also been introduced to SugarSync. I have no problem having a couple of different 2GB cloud accounts...it's just like having multiple USB drives. And SugarSync does have a iPhone app already. Dropbox and SugarSync offer rewards for referrals, so if you don't have an account, want to start one, and don't mind using a referral, please contact me. I'm a teacher and can always use a few extra MB on the cloud.

David Alison said...

@Chris: Thanks for the info on SugarSync, I'll check it out. Do you have a referral link? If so I'm cool with you dropping it into the comments here if that will get you some extra MB of storage.

online back up said...

I love how Dropbox synchronizes my Ipod with my laptop and Blackberry. Their picture viewer is a great feature too. you can share your pictures with friends and family anywhere.

web hosting uk said...

Its a great service and I love the integration with various iPad apps. For me the one weakness is the inability to sync folders outside of the dropbox. I know this is coming relatively soon (The watch any folders feature) and I am really looking forward to this. Any idea of a timescale? Basically right now I am only using Dropbox for my documents but once this feature comes out I will use it to sync photos and other things and I will almost certainly pay for an enhanced storage option.

seo hosting said...

Dropbox is running on a cloud platform. The best thing about application services that run on cloud is that you can run in on mobile.