A virtual pen-drive
Most of us use pen-drives to backup essential files, and to move them between machines. Between work and home I work on up to five machines, and a real problem is version control – which machine (or the pen-drive) has the most recent version of a file.
Help is at hand with a very nice piece of software called Dropbox. The software is available for the PC, Mac, iPhone and Linux (with an Android version on the way). Once installed it creates a folder on your machine in to which you drop files you want to share across machines, or indeed you want to share with colleagues or friends. The sharing with others could be on-going development with colleagues, or photos with family. When someone joins a shared folder, the folder appears inside their Dropbox, and syncs to their computers automatically. The requirement to keep all your shared, backed-up, and synced files in a single folder is an annoyance that Dropbox’s makers promise to correct in a future version.
Dropbox combines elements of many different applications: SVN, WebDAV, online storage, network storage, music and file sharing, FTP, Flickr, and Google Docs, just to name a few. And it manages to do so with style and simplicity. It is non-technical and seamlessly integrates into the normal working environment.
Whenever you log in to the internet, your machine synchronises your local folder with the on-line storgage, in the backgound – in effect moving all the files to and from from the virtual pen-drive. Experience shows this is a very smooth, background operation. Connected to the whole system is a simple website that once logged in allows you to view files you’ve got stored, view recent activity, and organise your sharing options. It’s basic, but it does mean that if you are at a new computer, be it in an internet café or someone’s office you can still access your files.
If the user accidentally deletes files and remembers that he or she will need them later, there is an option to “undelete” the files from the web. This is a handy backup feature that could save a lot of time and worry. In addition, when files are updated, Dropbox also saves the previous version of the file as a back up. That way, the original is available for use if it is needed. Dropbox uses Amazon’s S3 service behind the scenes to house your data. Encryption of the on-line files is not offered.
By default, you are given 2GB of storage for free, and you can choose to upgrade to the “Pro 50” package giving you 50GB of storage for $9.99 a month or the “Pro 100” package giving you 100GB of storage for $19.99 a month.