I’m Using Dropbox to Sync Key Files Across My PC, Laptop and iMac
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.
- 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).
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
3.55.0 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.
- 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
iswas 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.