Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tip Tuesday - USB Drive vs. Dropbox

Dropbox Logo
In my arsenal of "free alternatives to commercial software," freeware application and web service Dropbox is one of my all-time favorite cloud-computing tool. It has basically replaced the need for me to carry a USB drive, "My Passport" hard drive, etc. Dropbox instantaneously backs up and syncs my files over the internet and to any computer I install it on. A nice screen-cast (kind of like a video) is available here.

After you install the application, it will create a "My Dropbox" folder on your hard drive at a location you can specify. Any file you put inside that folder will automatically be synced and monitored for changes, and each time a change is saved, it backs up and syncs the file again. Even better, Dropbox does revision history, so if you accidentally saved a file and wanted to revert to an old version or deleted a file, Dropbox can recover any previous version.

Any file that's synced with Dropbox is available on any computer you sync it to, or through the Dropbox web interface. Best of all, your synced files are accessible to you offline. This is very handy if you still have dial-up or have a need to be disconnected every now and then (on a plane, for example).

The file sharing aspect of Dropbox is one of the simplest and most efficient that I have seen. All the user must do is drag files to-be-shared into the “public” folder. Each file has a specific URL associated with it for access by the intended party. This method is for individual files; however, Dropbox also makes it possible to share entire folders. All the user must do is right click any folder, choose “Dropbox” and then “Share”, and finally enter the email addresses of the people that will be accessing the files. Multiple addresses can be entered at one time. Personally, I don't use this feature, and I really don't want Dropbox to end up like RapidShare.

There is an especially easy way to share photos with Dropbox. The photo gallery for this tool is “tightly integrated into the desktop,” according to the website. All the user has to do is drag any folders containing photos into the special Dropbox folder named “Photos,” and when that user refreshes the photo gallery, Dropbox creates a photo album with the same name. All of the albums have their own URL link that can be shared with others.

How much space do I get?
During the beta, Dropbox is limited to 2GB of storage space and syncing. The software and service will remain free of charge, but if you need more than the 2GB, premium accounts will be available. You can earn additional space with referrals. So when you sign up using my link, we automatically both get 250MB of additional space. There's a max, however, of 3GBs in addition to your 2GBs. Not bad. Dropbox puts it much nicer: "Earn up to 3 GB of extra space (250 MB per referral), just by inviting your friends to join Dropbox!"

What platforms does Dropbox work with?
Dropbox is free and is considered a cross-platform solution: Meaning it works on Windows, Macs and Linux. Best of all it's available via the web from any computer, and sporting a new & improved navigation and drag-and-drop support for all the files and folders.

Even better ... Some time in Q42008, Dropbox pushed out a snazzy new iPhone interface so you can quickly access your synced files from the mobile convenience of your iPhone or iPod touch. And since the iPhone doesn't come with a memory slot, and hence the different drive capacities, getting Dropbox will simply act like that memory slot you wished you had. Now if you use the space for music, pictures or even video, then I recommend another entirely different service. That, however, is a different post for a different day. Let me know in the comments if you can't wait, or simply email me at theahmadism [squigly thing] G mail [dot] c o m

Want more?
With a bit of creativity you can easily combine dropbox with such applications as KeyPass (or KeyPassX for the Mac), 1Password, Freepass, etc.
Dropbox syncs KeyPass & 1Password

On KeyPass, assuming you've already created what you need and have a database that the application generated, you simply go to KeyPass, go to to File -> Save As and point it to your My Dropbox folder. On all the computers, make sure you point KeyPass to read from that file: Open KeyPass, File -> Open Database, and point it to the synced KeePass database file that you added to your Dropbox folder.

It's very similar in 1Password, and the 1Password blog covered it well, so I won't bore with repeating that.

Speaking of security, how secure is Dropbox?
Here's what Dropbox had to say from their FAQ page:
We take utmost care to ensure Dropbox is secure and take security very seriously. All transport of file data and file metadata occurs over SSL. All files are encrypted with AES-256 before being stored on our backend.

Want even more?
Although it's for Window only, the free DropboxPortable makes the popular file-syncing application thumb-drive friendly, so you can access your synced bucket from your thumb drive no matter what computer you're using.

Having Dropbox on a thumb drive may seem like an oxymoron, and it's great that Dropbox allows you to access a synced bucket of files on your several computers so you know you're always working with the latest and greatest, but if you're using a computer where you can't install Dropbox permanently, this portable version lets you enjoy the benefits without hassling with Dropbox's web-based access, where the process of editing and syncing files is much more clumsy. The application isn't perfect, and requires an attentive installation process, but if you can get it up and running, it's a great option for getting more from Dropbox.

So, what are some of its cons?
The downside is that Dropbox currently only works from within a single root folder called “My Dropbox.” All files which you require to be synchronized must be located in this folder. Dropbox does plan to extend this in the future to allow you to use your pre-existing folders but it’s not available at the time of this writing. In the meantime, there's now a way to get around that posted here, and it works like a charm. In a way, there's really no con to using Dropbox at all.

I Love Dropbox

Did I mention that there's a Dropbox iGoogle gadget?
gadget provides quick access to any of your Dropbox files through the comfort and convenience of your iGoogle dashboard. Off the bat the Dropbox gadget is a little funky, but if you install the "Fix Dropbox Width" Greasemonkey script in addition to the iGoogle gadget, it fits perfectly among your other iGoogle gadgets.

There are many other uses. A simple Google search will surly yield enough creative uses of the service. For me, though, I haven't used my USB drive all that much in a while; a long while. I was able to convince my wife to try it instead of her USB drive, and she's now addicted to it and has, on at least a couple of occasions, commented on this being amonst the best solutions to which I introduced her. Within the last week alone, I've introduced two friends who have loved it as well. And while I'm happy to do so just for getting the extra 250MB per referral, it is an awesome service without that.

Go ahead, put that USB drive to some other use, and sign up to use Dropbox using this link to get us both an additional 250MB. And when you're done, be sure to grab your own referral link and post it on your Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Blog or even tweet it out.

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M-Freeman said...

Please update the link to v2 of the dropbox gadget. The Greasemonkey script is no longer necessary.


Daniel said...

Awesome, thank you!!