Must have app: Dropbox

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 16 Mar 2010
Like many people these days, I work across many machines in a typical workday. While I might have a Windows machine at the office, I have a Mac at home and I backup all the computers to a Windows Home Server in the cupboard.

I have a few “essential” folders that I always want to have access to (things like finances, insurance info, passport copies, contracts etc.), regardless of which computer I am working on, and yes it can become a hassle having to keep them all in sync, especially if you have to walk around with a flash disk to each computer. I found the best way to do it – DropBox.

Multiplatform

Dropbox installs as a simple app on your Windows, Mac or Linux machine and then keeps track of all the folders you drop into it. Now at first you only get 2GB of space for free, if you want more you have to pay for it. But as a method to keep essentials like word, excel and PDF docs, it works great. I installed Dropbox on my Macbook first, and it just creates a simple Dropbox folder into which you throw your documents. Then as soon as you find an internet connection, it simply uploads those files to the Dropbox server, which can then be accessed from any web browser, you just need to log in. (Imagine being in a foreign country and needing some document – you can just pop into a internet café…)

Keeping it all in sync

But the true beauty of Dropbox is the syncing ability. I installed Dropbox on work machine, a Windows 7 workstation. You install dropbox, give it your login details, and just like that it downloads all your documents to that machine as well. It just lays in the system tray and informs you if any files have changed every now and then. But the syncing is where it gets interesting – any change I make to a document gets uploaded to Dropbox, and then gets changed on all my machines that use Dropbox as well. In your window it just marks the updated folders with a small green tick if everything synced. I turn blue while updating.



I also have a Windows Home Server at home, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dropbox installs on it without any problems. While it might not give a WHS add in, you can install it using Remote Desktop. So now my documents are backed up instantly on that server as well, because it has an internet connection.

Sharing files:

Sometimes you need to share files to many people, but email is not the best platform. You can use dropbox to enable a "public" folder. You can then enable which people can access it, and then send them a URL directly to a file. This is particularly handy for larger file sizes - like say recordings of a meeting, which might be too big email.

What about bandwidth?

Now you might wonder about bandwidth usage, especially with SA’s current broadband problems. Dropbox is pretty smart in that first looks for another dropbox machine on your local network, and then gets the file locally, without using the internet. And it always just uploads or downloads files that were altered, not your entire dropbox.

Accessing your dropbox from your iPhone

Then the cherry on the cake is that your dropbox can be accessed on your iPhone as well. Just install it from the appstore, and login again. And just like that you have access to your dropbox. Now this was the initial reason I started using Dropbox – I wanted some way to get access to my essential documents from anywhere using my iPhone. And it works a treat. You do however need a internet connection, but you can select favourite files that gets stored locally on your iPhone. Like I mark my insurance papers, passport documents etc as favourites. That way I can access them even away from a 3G connection.

What would I like to change about Dropbox? Nothing really - but I think they will do even better if they make more mobile apps. What about Android, Blackberry and Symbian?

I am very impressed by Dropbox – it covers in the cloud backup of my documents, keeps my documents in sync on a variety of machines, and gives me access to my files from anywhere, be it from my iPhone or even a internet café.

Give it a go here. Dropbox is free up to 2GB of storage, but they sell 50GB for $10 a month as well.


Disclosure: I was in no way, shape or form given anything for this review. I just find it a great product.
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.