Dropbox is a file sync app that installs a lightweight client on your PC, monitors a "My Dropbox" folder on your drive, and automatically syncs files in that folder online and to any other computer you have Dropbox installed on. It also makes sharing files with family, friends, co-workers, projects, etc super easy.
There are plenty of other similar file sync apps, ones I’ve tried are Microsoft Live Mesh, ZumoDrive, and some of these others. I’ve found all these either feel ‘heavy weight’, are tricky to use, or have some other annoyance. Dropbox just beats them all hands down for its pure simplicity.
Get Dropbox using this URL and get 500MB additional free drive space (I get 500MB free too).
The key thing to realize is that you’re working with files in a normal folder like any other on your computer. I find this is the trickiest thing for people to grasp at first. You save your files to folders today right? The only difference is that the little background Dropbox app watches the “My Dropbox” folder and copies new and changed files to the Dropbox cloud and any other computer you have Dropbox installed on. Just start editing and saving your files in the dropbox folder. I work out of my Dropbox folder for just about everything these days.
Fun story, just the other day I needed to get a small file from my laptop to a co-worker’s to install a driver. I started copying the file onto a USB flash drive, then remembered we both had a shared Dropbox folder, so I copied it there too. By the time I rotated my swivel chair with the USB flash drive in hand, the file was already on the co-worker’s laptop in our shared Dropbox folder. Faster and easier than using a USB flash drive. I must say that was cool.
These are the top scenarios that I use Dropbox for:
- Keep files in sync between your PCs
All you PCs that have Dropbox installed with your account will be kept in sync. Handy for keeping the same set of files on your home, office, and laptop computers.
- Access your files from anywhere
If you’re not at one of your machines, your files can be easily accessed by logging into the Dropbox website.
- Keep a folder in sync with others
You can create a folder, right-click and choose Dropbox > Share… to share a folder with someone else or a group of people. Then the files in that folder will be kept in sync between accounts. My wife and I use this for our Quicken data and other files and I use this extensively with my business and tech partners.
- Easily share a file with anyone
Need to quickly share one file with someone? Just copy the file into your Dropbox\Public folder, right-click and choose Dropbox > Copy public link. This puts a URL into your clipboard that you can then paste into an email or elsewhere to quickly share a file with anyone.
- View files from your iPhone
Wherever you go you can access your files via your iPhone too. There are built in viewers for common file types like text files, Excel sheets, Word docs ect. No editing here, but super handy for viewing. I hear there is also an Android app too.
- Backup of files
Dropbox also keeps a history of each file online, so if you or a friend you’re sharing a folder with accidently delete a file or folder, you can recover them with just a few clicks. Occasionally a colleague changes a file and I need a previous version, no problem, built in version history w Dropbox.
Some other nice benefits:
- 2GB free space to start out with
- Simple web-based UI for online access
- Windows Explorer add-in to show status of synced files
- Create photo albums for easy viewing
How it Works
Here is a little bit on how the Windows Explorer extension works. Dropbox’s PC UI is nicely integrated with Windows Explorer. When you install Dropbox and create an account, it puts a "My Dropbox" folder under your "My Documents". Then when you drop a new file or folder into the "My Dropbox" folder or sub folders, it puts a cute little blue glyph (see the .pdf file below) over the file to show you it is being copied up or down to the Dropbox server. When it is synchronized, the glyph goes green.
Multiple people can have the same file open at the same time. If a file is saved on more than one computer that would cause a potential conflict, Dropbox automatically renames the files by adding a note in the file name so they you don’t overwrite and loose data.
For more information… lifehacker.com is quite fascinated by Dropbox and has info such as "The Cleverest Ways to Use Dropbox That You’re Not Using" and a Dropbox Tag for their many posts about Dropbox. p.s. That link to download Dropbox and get 250MB additional free storage is here.
Question for You
Have you tried Dropbox? If so, found any new or interesting ways to use it? It seems all my friends and family that try it love it and find new clever ways of using it. Let me know by leaving a comment. thanks
Updated on 2013-04-05: Added reason #6 above, sharing link went from 250MB to 500MB, and added paragraph about how Dropbox is just a folder on your computer.