Product Review – Dropbox

 

Cloud computing is all the rage these days with online storage & backup being one of the most well-known aspects of it. Over the years I’ve played with a number of online file sync services and I always left a little less than impressed. Each service had advantages and disadvantages with the disadvantages outweighing the advantages (at least for me.)

Screen shot 2010 08 06 at 10.21.47 AM

I’ve been hearing about Dropbox for a long time and just assumed that it was like the others that I’ve tried and it was only recently that I decided to give it a go and I must say that I’m very impressed. Here’s the scenario that got me started:

I am the current secretary for our local Lion’s Club (Lions Club of Palm Beach-Currumbin) and the club recently decided to buy a laptop to be used by each new secretary, instead of passing CDs of files and big boxes of records around. I needed a way to keep the files on the new laptop backed-up in a way that I wouldn’t need to maintain even after I leave the position and that would sync with my own computer so I don’t have to keep switching back-and-forth between the two computers (I do most club work on my own laptop.) Back in my dusty memory I remembered hearing about Dropbox and that it had a free version, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. It worked perfectly right out of the gate, so well in-fact that I was stunned, I’m used to something going wrong at some point.

Here’s the features about Dropbox that I really like, and work perfectly in my situation:

  1. It’s free for 2 GB of storage. That’s big enough for all of our Club’s records and with it tied to the Club’s e-mail address it keeps me out of the loop when I pass on the secretary laptop.
  2. The sync is seamless. And I really mean seamless. It’s so simple to set up that practically anyone can do it and the sync just worked and kept working. At no point in the process was I wishing I could have some kind of manual control, the automated system worked great.
  3. LAN sync. If you are syncing files between two computers in the same subnet then it will copy the files directly instead of going up to the cloud and back down. Particularly helpful for that first sync on a new computer.
  4. Shared folders. I now have two Dropbox accounts, one for the Club and one for me. I share the files in the Club account with my account so that I can edit them on my own computer. It’s also a very handy way to share some files with friends and co-workers. 
  5. Web access. All files can be accessed on a web site that works very well, it’s not slow and kludgey feeling like I’ve seen before.
  6. Previous versions. Works great as a backup solution.
  7. Cross-platform. Supports Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android and soon Blackberry. 

Now, there are some disadvantages, but they didn’t affect me.  Your mileage may vary.

  1. Size limit. You can pay to get more than 2 GB of storage, but they only go up to 50 GB. That may grow in the future, but for some people it won’t be enough. There is a 250 MB bonus for referrals (which I got because I referred myself… shhhh…)
  2. One Dropbox per computer. Each computer can only be tied to a single account. There are some workarounds, but they aren’t perfect. Proper use of shared folders makes this much less of a problem than it seems at first.
  3. Only one Dropbox folder. You only get one folder syncing up to your Dropbox account. It would be nice if you could map different folders to different locations and there may be some workarounds for this. It’s not a concern for me now, but I could see me wanting it in the future.

All-in-all Dropbox is a perfect solution for most cloud storage problems. They’ve left some things out that I’m sure make it easier to perfect those few things they do, so I won’t quibble.  It’s free and so easy to install you really can’t go wrong to take it for a spin.