Dropbox: File Synchronization Made Simple

July 22nd, 2008

Dropbox ListingAt a glance, there’s not much to Dropbox. Download the program, install, then put files you’d like to share into one of the two folders Dropbox creates for you on your computer. One for files, the other for photos. When you’re ready to sync or share, you sign in to Dropbox.com. That’s it. Share away.

Yet beyond the simplicity of Dropbox there is a lot of capability, ranging from synchronizing files to cross platform compatibility. It is a small step toward “cloud computing,” which is the term that has been given for the next generation of computing that puts storage of all media and data online, freeing your computer to be a streamlined processor. Dropbox certainly accomplishes part of this, allowing you to upload online for the purpose of sharing or syncing, but the original files stay in your folders, giving you the best of both worlds. Share, sync, and even restore versions while maintaining local control over the information.

It begins after the install and a sign into Dropbox.com. If you are working between two computers you will see your files and folders marked with a green checkmark, which indicates that your file has been synchronized between the two systems. Synchronization is quick, only a few seconds. The Dropbox only uploads the changed information — the “delta” between the old and new version — and it all happens within the folders.

File sharing is useful for documents that are being shared to make a refined product, and you could easily imagine a product like this being used in design departments or for longer documents that require several editors. In the days before synchronization there was a lot of confusion, mainly centering around the complicated homemade numbering systems that were used to identify drafts sent between computers. With synchronization this in no longer a concern, and Dropbox ups the ante with cross platform support, allowing users to share files from PC to Mac and back. Users looking to share from their folders will also like the ability to make an entire folder public, or to send an url to a specific file, saving time for the recipient. For photo sharing, the integrated gallery makes for easy viewing, but the feature to note is the ability to drag and drop a folder from your computer into the DropBox photo folder and have it carry the titles across. Easy to share, easy to sync.

However, all the sharing and synchronzation in the world would not matter if there was no safety for the files themselves. Fortunately Dropbox has a restore feature in the web interface. Deleted files can be restored from an easy to reach menu option, and Dropbox also keeps snapshots of your files so you can return to any version of the file. Security-wise, Dropbox encrypts every file, as well as transporting over SSL. Sharing requires a one step invite (on a pull down menu on the file) so accidental sharing is unlikely.

On the downside, it is difficult to overlook that the application in private beta relies on webhosting as its control point, which means that no matter the security of the files, they are being shared by Dropbox and you. This, in combination with a required download for all participating computers begs the question of whether it is more secure and less trouble to simply upload to a server. Linux users will also question (and apparently have been) Dropbox for not supporting their platform.

Users have reported some interesting uses for Dropbox, ranging from synchronizing chat logs, to syncing bookmarks between machines, or routing faxes to the Dropbox folder. All in all, Dropbox shows itself to be a versatile, easy to use file sharing platform. Find Dropbox and similar applications with the Listio search share+files.

See also: Comparing: Dropbox, FolderShare, SugarSync and Syncplicity

Next in this series: FolderShare: Sharing And Remote Access In Sync

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