Last week we pointed out that MobileMe‘s ‘Find My Phone’ feature is now a free stand-alone service for those who have the latest software on the iPhone 4G. If not, the fine folks at MacWorld.com figured out how to get a 3G/3GS onto the same service (although someone’s 4G is required to set it all up). And we have had numerous stories about how computing is moving to ‘the cloud,’ where software and services will sit awaiting your beck-and-call. The ubiquity of fast (and often wireless) networks help make such cloud computing possible (leaving aside what the tiered internet of the near-future will look like).
A great piece of software that we have been using to get our documents up in that cloud is ‘Dropbox,’ and we wanted to introduce it to you. Please note that we get no kickbacks or referrals. Oh, and Dropbox is free.
As in lunch. As in ‘There’s no such thing…’ Dropbox is free for up to 2Gigabytes (2000 Megabytes; about 1/2 a DVD). Subscription rates over that to 50 GB and 100 GB. If you need more than that, you’re probably needing to invest in your own servers system.
Dropbox is a quick and easy download that installs a Drobbox Folder in your User folder, and a handy icon in your OS’s tool bar. That icon is the key to synchronized goodness: if you need a document, your list of passwords, any text file, even photos, sent to your very own cloud, click that icon to open the Dropbox folder that resides on your Hard Drive. As a traditional folder on a traditional HD, you can manipulate it and fill it with any number of things. Dropbox then silently and quickly syncs the content of that folder to your account on its server.
Better still, any other machines (other Macs, the PC you can’t quite part with yet, most any iDevice/mobile device) that have access to your account also get the document, your list of passwords, any text file, even photos. Not surprisingly, any changes you make on those other devices will be reflected back to your at-home computer after you resave the file.
If you are comfortable working through the Terminal on a Mac to do some basic coding, you can make your Dropbox folder do wondrous things for you and your materials (short of making drinks). And a growing number of applications are incorporating features specifically tied to Dropbox.
Dropbox is not the only game in town. I have also worked with, and Apple’s MobileMe. ZumoDrive works on quite similar technology and felt as quick ad Dropbox (Both are using network/internet technologies that mean the files move as quickly as the network allows.). ZumoDrive claims the ability to store in the cloud, but these go well beyond the 2GB free count.
MobileMe has an array of options, and if you are drawn to 55%-plus of them, it might be worth the $99 per-year price. But I have found the syncing system cumbersome, especially among many devices, and data tends to be buried in folder hierarchies that require some bravery (or boredom) to start poking around. Worse still, I often end up with duplicates and triplicates of calendars and smaller files moved among machines – leaving me to figure out which is the latest.
What ultimately kept me on my free Dropbox account is its focus and elegance. I know where the file is on my laptop’s HD. I know where the account is located via a web browser. I know when I sign into my Dropbox account from a school or work computer, the files I need will be there. If you are getting a 128GB MacBook Air (or any other netbook) from Santa this year, software like Dropbox will prove invaluable as a means to keep materials synchronized without burdening the hard drive within. Viva the cloud – start thinking of how you want to navigate through it.