Dale Dietrich
friedman: always supply your comparative advantage
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I’m Using Dropbox to Sync Key Files Across My PC, Laptop and iMac

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I have recently been experimenting with various cloud-based services. Among the best are EverNote, Google Apps Gmail with iMap, xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) and, now, Dropbox.

As described in more detail below, among other things Dropbox: (i) allows me to securely sync office documents between my PCs and Mac at any location; (ii) unchains me from my office PC; (iii) liberates me from coding on a single PC; and (iv) allows me to draft and maintain my Windows Live Writer blog posts from any of my PCs situated anywhere.

Dropbox Benefits

  • Sync: Dropbox synchronizes your key files between any number of Internet-connected PCs, laptops or Macs, effortlessly and instantaneously.
  • Access Your Key Files Anywhere: Synced files are also maintained on the Dropbox servers. You can login to your account from any web-enabled computer to securely access your files (download or upload).
  • Security: All file transmissions occur over an encrypted SSL channel. All files stored on Dropbox servers are encrypted using AES-256 encryption accessible only by you with your account password.
  • Backup: Because your files are synced across at least two PCs, your files are effectively backed-up.
  • Real-Time Offsite Backup: Because your files are also copied to the Dropbox servers, they are effectively backed-up, off site, in real-time.
  • Undo/File Recovery: Remarkably, Dropbox maintains a 30 day history of every change made to your files so you can undo changes or undelete accidently deleted files.
  • Shared Files & Folders: You can share files and folders with other drop-box users. For example, you could set up a shared folder of photos accessible only by friends and family through their Dropbox accounts.
  • iPhone App Coming Soon: You can view all your Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, etc. files  using the free Dropbox iPhone App coming soon (see iPhone, Blackberry and other Dropbox mobile details here).

Click here for a detailed list of Dropbox features.

Dropbox Demo

How I use Dropbox

  • Office Document Use: As a lawyer I access, edit and annotate Word documents and pdfs all day, every day. When I move from my PC to my laptop, I save the file I’m working on and by the time I shift to my laptop, the changes made to that file are synced to my laptop. Similarly any edits made on the laptop are instantaneously synced back to the desktop. No longer do I have to email the document to myself, save it to a USB key, copy to/from network drives. I simply open and save files on whatever PC, laptop, or Mac I’m using, and the latest version is instantly available on the other synced devices.

  • Remote Office (Starbucks) Use: As a sole practitioner I often want to get away from my desk. Since all Dropbox transmissions are encrypted, I have secure file access/syncing to/from my laptop from any hotspot such as at Starbucks (affectionately referred to as my remote office) or through a Wifi connections at my client’s offices.
  • Coding Use: Previously, if I wanted to do coding, I was stuck on one PC. Now I can freely move amongst PCs. Code edits made on one PC are automatically synced to the others.
  • Moving Files Between Mac and PC: In the past it was a pain to shuffle files between my Mac and my PCs – even on the same network. No longer. So long as I keep the files in my Dropbox directory hierarchy, all my key files and folders are synced in real-time across the Mac-PC divide.
  • Blogging: I use Windows Live Writer to write blog posts. My PC and laptop are set up to save draft WLW posts to my Dropbox folder hierarchy. As a result, all draft posts written on one PC are instantly accessible from any other. I can take up where I left off on any PC knowing that the last draft was automatically synced across all the devices.
  • My Current Dropbox Usage Stats: As I write this there are 34,250 files in 2,946 folders taking up 3.44 GB of space, that are continuously synced between my primary PC, my laptop and my iMac.  These are almost all Word documents, pdfs and jpeg images. At the moment I have a 3.5 5.0 Gigabyte Dropbox limit [Aug 21, 2009 Update: Thanks to 6 Daleisphere reader, using the referral link (see below) I now have 5 Megs of capacity].

I’m certain I’ll discover more uses over time. But Dropbox has already changed the way I use my computers and access my files.

Easy to Install and Use

After signing up, you download and install the Dropbox applet onto the computers you wish to sync. You tell it where you want the drop-box folder on each PC. From then on, anything you put into any of those folders, and any edit you make to any of those files, is instantaneously synced to the other systems (see the Dropbox tour here).

Dropbox constantly monitors your synced directories. If any file changes, only the changed part of the file is synced. This makes for lightning fast syncs. Frankly, I still marvel at how fast the syncs occur.

Obeys My Cloud Computing Rules

Dropbox works within my cloud-computing rules. Namely: (i) the service uses the cloud but my key files are never left only on the cloud – I am never left at Dropbox’s mercy; (ii) files are securely encrypted as they are synced between computers and as they reside on the Dropbox services; and  (iii)I am not locked into their service. I can leave it at any time.

Dropbox is not a Resource Hog

For Dropbox to function, it runs constantly in the system tray whenever your PCs/laptops are turned on. I was initially concerned that the constantly running app would be a system resource hog. I’ve used Dropbox for over a month and have not found this to be the case.

Dropbox Limitations

  • 2 to 5 Gigs Free Limit: The free version limits you to 2 Gigs of capacity on signup. You can instantly increase this to 2.25 Gigs by using my, or anyone else’s,  referral link (see below). If you refer others to Dropbox, you, and the referred person, get an additional free 250 megs of capacity – up to a limit of 5 Gigs. Note: the 2 Gig limit is not an upload-download limit, rather its the cumulative file-size limit. So, as mentioned above, as I write this post my Dropbox limit is was 3.5 Gigs. Accordingly, the cumulative file sizes of all the files and folders contained in my Dropbox folder had to be less than 3.5 Gigs. There are no monthly upload/download bandwidth limits like there is with Evernote, for example.

    By way of comparison Windows Live Mesh gives you 5 Gigs of sync capacity for free right out-of-the-gate. There is no WLM referral program that I am aware of.

  • Odd Freemium Pricing: Dropbox’s fermium business model relies on tiered pricing above the free 2-5 Meg capacity level (see Dropbox pricing details here). For $9.99 per month you can increase your allotted capacity to 50 Gigs. For $19.99 per month you can increase it to 100 Gigs. Those are awfully large jumps from the free level. 5 Gigs is about all I really need today, to keep my crown-jewel files synced between my devices. I would personally pay, say $10 a year, maybe $20 a year to increase that to, say, 10 Gigs. But I don’t need anywhere near 50 Gigs of synced capacity and certainly wouldn’t want to pay $120 a year for this. I think Dropbox is missing a big revenue opportunity here by not offering a smaller capacity tier between the free tier and the 50 Gig tier at a lesser monthly price.
  • ‘Forced’ Dropbox Directory: By default, you must use a directory named ‘My Dropbox’ on your PC or Mac. This initially gave me heart-burn. To facilitate my nightly backup, I have some 35,000 core files stored in some 3,000 folders in my c:\files hierarchy on my primary PC – the document directory that I have set all my apps to default too. It is that directory that I want synced. When you read this Dropbox support forum post, you learn that in an earlier version, Dropbox permitted users to specify the name of their synced’ directory. Apparently this directory naming freedom caused too much user confusion so Dropbox changed the policy and force new users to use ‘My Dropbox’ for the name of their base directory.

    Happily there is a very easy work around to this limitation. After installing Dropbox, and before adding any files to the newly minted ‘My Dropbox’ folder, download and run the DropboxPath.exe applet referenced here on the Dropbox Support forums. This applet is run from the Windows Command Line as described in that link. You can use that applet to name the Dropbox directory anything you wish. Once the applet creates the directory,  you are good to go. Whoot! It takes 30 seconds to run.

    If, like me, you have a pre-existing directory you want to use, before running the applet:
    -  rename that directory to a temporary name (in my case I renamed c:\files to c:\files.org);
    -  run the applet;
    - set the Dropbox directory to the directory name you want to use (in my case c:\files);
    - then move the files and folders from the temporary renamed folder (in my case c:\files.org) back to the newly created folder with the old name you want to use (in my case c:\files). 

  • One Root Sync Directory Limit:  Dropbox allows you to sync only one folder hierarchy – ie: the ‘My Dropbox’ folder, or the folder name you choose with the DropboxPath.exe applet, (including any folders inside of that folder). By way of comparison Windows Live Mesh allows you to sync files from any folder anywhere on your PC or Mac.

Dropbox Referral Program

[August 21, 2009 Update: As of 2:00 pm on August 21, 2009  I have reached my 5.0 Gig Dropbox limit. I do not know if the referral link will now give you 250 gigs if you use it. Please leave a comment below if using my referral link still yields 250 Megs of extra space. I’ll update this post to let others know. Thanks to Janine Haugh, Travis Moser, Charles Phillips, Dave Toerber and Troy Fulkerson for using my referral link.]

If you sign up for Dropbox using my Dropbox referral link you will get 250 Megs more capacity to start– and so do I. Instead of 2 Gigs, you’ll start with 2.25 Gigs. If you are interested in checking out Dropbox, please do us both a favor by using my referral link. (Note: You don’t have to do anything more than click through on my referral link just before you sign-up to get the additional 250 Megs of capacity.)

 

A Note on Windows Live Mesh

As alluded-to above, Windows Live Mesh is a very similar service. I tried it for several months before using Dropbox. While it has advantages over Dropbox (higher free capacity out of the box – multiple directory/folder sync support), I could not get it to work. Part of the problem was that the instructions for how to use it are sketchy at best.

Since de-installing it and using Dropbox, I have read a few blog-posts on it which shed light on its proper use. I think I know what I did wrong.

Given Dropbox’s 5 Gig free limit (once I max-out the free capacity through referrals that is) I’ll probably setup and use WLM concurrently with Dropbox to increase my syncing capacity.  If/when I get Windows Live Mesh working, I’ll write a follow-up post about it too.

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting, I’ve heard of people using WLM for that (because it can sync any directory) but not Dropbox. You must somehow save your Documents and Settings folder inside your Dropbox folder? I presume you using XP because under Vista and Windows 7 a user’s documents and applicatoin settings directories are separate. I’ve remapped my Windows 7 Documents directory under my Dropbox hierachy but don’t know a way of keeping application user settings under a dropbox hierachy. Care to elaborate?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been using Dropbox for a while now, almost for the sole purpose of having my complete Firefox profile sync across computers.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I hadn’t heard of Nomadesk before. It seems to be geared more towards team file syncing than personal file syncing but is essentially the same but with unlimited sync capacity. rnrnWhile it has a 30 day free trial, after that you pay. Both Dropbox and Windows Live Mesh have perpetual free options. I also couldn’t quickly see if it worked with the iMac. It also doesn’t seem to have an iPhone app.rnrnThanks for the heads up zenzino.

  • Anonymous

    I was checking out a trial of DropBox when I discovered Nomadesk. Not only does Nomadesk have 256 bit encryption to the cloud backup, it also encrypts your local files. You have access to your files whether you’re online or offline. They also have unlimited storage space. It has all the sync functions and lots of sharing options, too. http://www.nomadesk.com

  • zenzino

    I was checking out a trial of DropBox when I discovered Nomadesk. Not only does Nomadesk have 256 bit encryption to the cloud backup, it also encrypts your local files. You have access to your files whether you're online or offline. They also have unlimited storage space. It has all the sync functions and lots of sharing options, too.

  • zenzino

    I was checking out a trial of DropBox when I discovered Nomadesk. Not only does Nomadesk have 256 bit encryption to the cloud backup, it also encrypts your local files. You have access to your files whether you're online or offline. They also have unlimited storage space. It has all the sync functions and lots of sharing options, too. http://www.nomadesk.com

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Interesting. I hadn't heard of Nomadesk before. It seems to be geared more towards team file syncing than personal file syncing but is essentially the same but with unlimited sync capacity.

    While it has a 30 day free trial, after that you pay. Both Dropbox and Windows Live Mesh have perpetual free options. I also couldn't quickly see if it worked with the iMac. It also doesn't seem to have an iPhone app.

    Thanks for the heads up zenzino.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Interesting. I hadn't heard of Nomadesk before. It seems to be geared more towards team file syncing than personal file syncing but is essentially the same but with unlimited sync capacity.

    While it has a 30 day free trial, after that you pay. Both Dropbox and Windows Live Mesh have perpetual free options. I also couldn't quickly see if it worked with the iMac. It also doesn't seem to have an iPhone app.

    Thanks for the heads up zenzino.

  • http://twitter.com/xdreamwalker Jason H

    I've been using Dropbox for a while now, almost for the sole purpose of having my complete Firefox profile sync across computers.

  • http://twitter.com/xdreamwalker Jason H

    I've been using Dropbox for a while now, almost for the sole purpose of having my complete Firefox profile sync across computers.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Interesting, I've heard of people using WLM for that (because it can sync any directory) but not Dropbox. You must somehow save your Documents and Settings folder inside your Dropbox folder? I presume you using XP because under Vista and Windows 7 a user's documents and applicatoin settings directories are separate. I've remapped my Windows 7 Documents directory under my Dropbox hierachy but don't know a way of keeping application user settings under a dropbox hierachy. Care to elaborate?

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Interesting, I've heard of people using WLM for that (because it can sync any directory) but not Dropbox. You must somehow save your Documents and Settings folder inside your Dropbox folder? I presume you using XP because under Vista and Windows 7 a user's documents and applicatoin settings directories are separate. I've remapped my Windows 7 Documents directory under my Dropbox hierachy but don't know a way of keeping application user settings under a dropbox hierachy. Care to elaborate?

  • Marc Novakowski

    I've been using DropBox for a while now and love it. Even between computers on the same local network, it's often faster to just drag a file into the Dropbox folder than deal with network shares, etc. I think they might even be optimizing this case (two computers on the same LAN) so that files sync faster.

  • Marc Novakowski

    I've been using DropBox for a while now and love it. Even between computers on the same local network, it's often faster to just drag a file into the Dropbox folder than deal with network shares, etc. I think they might even be optimizing this case (two computers on the same LAN) so that files sync faster.

  • zenzino

    Ah, fellow Mac user. Yes it does seem to be geared more towards team file syncing, but the unlimited backup was what caught my eye. The syncing has been useful, though. They do have a Mac version and an iPhone .mobi site. I also read that they were releasing an app soon. It's not free but it's unlimited and has been perfectly reliable so it's worth it to me.

  • zenzino

    Ah, fellow Mac user. Yes it does seem to be geared more towards team file syncing, but the unlimited backup was what caught my eye. The syncing has been useful, though. They do have a Mac version and an iPhone .mobi site. I also read that they were releasing an app soon. It's not free but it's unlimited and has been perfectly reliable so it's worth it to me.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    That certainly makes mistakes. Since they only sync the changed portion of a file, doing that over a network should make things faster. What I'm not sure about is if the software is smart enough to notice when two systems are on the same network and just send the changed bits across the network or to they always send up to the dropbox servers and back down to the network. I doubt that could be faster than native network transfers since Internet latency is going to be so much higher than on a network. But, it is remarkably fast on my internal network too.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    That certainly makes mistakes. Since they only sync the changed portion of a file, doing that over a network should make things faster. What I'm not sure about is if the software is smart enough to notice when two systems are on the same network and just send the changed bits across the network or to they always send up to the dropbox servers and back down to the network. I doubt that could be faster than native network transfers since Internet latency is going to be so much higher than on a network. But, it is remarkably fast on my internal network too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barryjames Barry James Folsom

    I use Microsoft's Live Sync. Has anyone moved from Live Sync to DropBox? And if so, what was gained? Lost? Thanks for the help.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barryjames Barry James Folsom

    I use Microsoft's Live Sync. Has anyone moved from Live Sync to DropBox? And if so, what was gained? Lost? Thanks for the help.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Microsoft intends to merge Windows Live Sync (WLS) with Windows Live Mesh (WLM) over time. Here are some of the differences:

    1. WLS is Windows PC to Windows PC only – there is no sync to the cloud or to Macs
    2. WLM also has remote access functionality. You can loginto any other WLM PC from a synced PC. You can't do that with WLS
    3. WLM is a platform to build many more apps on in the future. WLS is going to die over time.

    You can read more about WLS on Wikipedia here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Live_Sync

    And more about WLM here on Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_Mesh

    And while you are at it check out the related Windows Live SkyDrive:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Live_SkyDrive

    …Dale

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Microsoft intends to merge Windows Live Sync (WLS) with Windows Live Mesh (WLM) over time. Here are some of the differences:

    1. WLS is Windows PC to Windows PC only – there is no sync to the cloud or to Macs
    2. WLM also has remote access functionality. You can loginto any other WLM PC from a synced PC. You can't do that with WLS
    3. WLM is a platform to build many more apps on in the future. WLS is going to die over time.

    You can read more about WLS on Wikipedia here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Live_Sync

    And more about WLM here on Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_Mesh

    And while you are at it check out the related Windows Live SkyDrive:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Live_SkyDrive

    …Dale

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  • RSR

    any feedback on the referal limit? Are new users still getting a bonus using your referer link?

  • RSR

    any feedback on the referal limit? Are new users still getting a bonus using your referer link?

  • joesmithe87

    GET 250 MB MORE USING THIS REFERRALS

    https://www.getdropbox.com/referrals/NTIxMDU5Nzk

    THANKS

  • joesmithe87

    GET 250 MB MORE USING THIS REFERRALS

    https://www.getdropbox.com/referrals/NTIxMDU5Nzk

    THANKS

  • RSR

    Thanks, did use your referral.

    Here's mine now if anyone wants to sign up: https://www.getdropbox.com/referrals/NTE5MTczMTE5

  • RSR

    Thanks, did use your referral.

    Here's mine now if anyone wants to sign up: https://www.getdropbox.com/referrals/NTE5MTczMTE5

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Hey, good idea Joe and RSR. My referral codes are all gone (as I wrote in an update to the original post). If others have a code they want to pass along, add a comment and include your referral code. However, if you do, please include an updated comment when your referral codes run out so users can move on to the next.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Hey, good idea Joe and RSR. My referral codes are all gone (as I wrote in an update to the original post). If others have a code they want to pass along, add a comment and include your referral code. However, if you do, please include an updated comment when your referral codes run out so users can move on to the next.

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  • Blake Larson

    Hey Dale,

    Thanks for the writeup on dropbox. I searched back to find this now that I have a laptop and desktop. That DropboxPath is a great little script and I am grateful that it exists. I now have my Documents folders (running Windows 7) on both my laptop and desktop as the dropbox folder, and it's working great so far.

    This page here (http://storecrowd.com/blog/dropbox-hacks/) talks about some “advanced” dropbox techniques and their solution for making the Documents folder be the dropbox folder was to use the windows options to change the location of the Documents folder. But that seemed waaaay too inelegant for me, and I recalled you figured it out.

    I only have 2.25 GB of storage right now, so if anyone finds this message and still needs dropbox, please use my referral link!:

    https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTcxNTYyMjk

    Great application

  • Blake Larson

    Hey Dale,

    Thanks for the writeup on dropbox. I searched back to find this now that I have a laptop and desktop. That DropboxPath is a great little script and I am grateful that it exists. I now have my Documents folders (running Windows 7) on both my laptop and desktop as the dropbox folder, and it's working great so far.

    This page here (http://storecrowd.com/blog/dropbox-hacks/) talks about some “advanced” dropbox techniques and their solution for making the Documents folder be the dropbox folder was to use the windows options to change the location of the Documents folder. But that seemed waaaay too inelegant for me, and I recalled you figured it out.

    I only have 2.25 GB of storage right now, so if anyone finds this message and still needs dropbox, please use my referral link!:

    https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTcxNTYyMjk

    Great application

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Yup, I went through that whole redirect My Documents idea myself before i found the DropboxPath script.

    Glad its working for you. I hope others do use your referal link, because I topped out a few hours after I wrote this initial post.

  • http://www.daleisphere.com Dale Dietrich

    Yup, I went through that whole redirect My Documents idea myself before i found the DropboxPath script.

    Glad its working for you. I hope others do use your referal link, because I topped out a few hours after I wrote this initial post.

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  • http://www.easyrecovery.ie data recovery

    I like dropbox even I use it like pen drive to move data from laptop to PC

  • http://www.guillaumeb.com/ GuillaumeB

    if you want to try out Dropbox and get 2.25GB for free from the start, use my referral linknnhttps://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTQ4MTY5

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