Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Cloud as Your Mobile Shared Disk

Although I’ve mentioned it in the past, I want to do a quick review of Dropbox, a “cloud network file system” for all your devices.  Although I had Dropbox installed for a while, the power of it really didn’t hit me until I talked about it with my friend Bill and using my new iPad.  I realized how it could solve several problems and truly further my goals for living in the cloud (compute wise that is).  If you need to share files between multiple PCs, phone, tablets (yours or with other people), this is the way to go.  You get all of this, wait for it..., for free.  You can sign-up for Dropbox for free and receive 2GB of space.

After the break, I’ll explian more about what it is, some of the key features, and a few use cases to demonstrate the benefits.

What Is Dropbox?
In the most basic terms, Dropbox is a mobile disk drive that allows you to synchronize files to all your PC and mobile devices, and share folders with friends or co-workers. You can even access your files from any web browser. You install Dropbox on all the PC's that you use and your mobile devices.  Dropbox has a client for Mac, PC, iOS devices (like iPads and iPhones), Android devices (phone and tablets) and Blackberry phones.  On the PC it creates a folder that looks like any other file folder.  You can add files or copy an entire folder full of files under that folder and then sit back and let the magic happen.  

The Dropbox folder looks and acts like any other folder on your PC except for the little icons that give you status, showing that sharing is turned on or what its replication status is.  As soon as you drop a new file or folder under the Dropbox folder hierarchy, it immediately goes to work syncing those items to the cloud.  Saving changes to files in Dropbox causes the same behavior.  If any of your other computers are turned on, they immediately start pulling those new items down to the local file folder and if they are on the local network, it’s blazing fast.  It's like having a network file system that all your PCs are connected to with  the performance of local access.  

Mobile Rocks!
Dropbox becomes even more powerful if you use an ultra mobile device like a multi-media phone or tablet.  I can access all of my files from either my iOS devices (iPhone or iPad).  I really don’t think in terms of transferring files to my iOS device, I just drag the files I want to use over  to the Dropbox folder on my PC.  I can view any document or images right from my iPhone or iPad using Dropbox.  If I do that a lot, I can mark a file as a “favorite”, the file automatically downloads and saves to my iPad or iPhone for fast access and offline viewing (and it stays in sync). You can sync to the latest version with the press of a button.  It gets better though.  Because I have “Docs To Go” installed on my mobile devices (for editing word, spreadsheet or presentation files), I can open or save a file directly to or pull from Dropbox.  I wrote a review on Docs To Go and the integration with Dropbox was a key feature that really made it rock.  Documents mailed to you from others can easily be saved to Dropbox from your iOS device. Share

If you want to publish a document or other file to everyone on the web, Dropbox makes that super easy.  Just put a file in the “Public” folder then right click on the file to find out what the URL is.  E-mail or publish that URL to your audience and you are done.   Collaborating With Others
If you need to share a folder with friends or maybe co-workers, just right-click on a folder and choose “Sharing” under the dropbox menu, enter the person’s e-mail address and you’re done.  You don’t need to know the person’s Dropbox account name, it figures it out when the person accepts your invitation to collaborate.  Now you can collaborate with others without the continuous mess of e-mail messages back and forth or trying to figure out who has the latest version.  One place, one file.  If the files are large or numerous, just being able to drop them in a shared folder is nice.  I used it to quickly exchange files with my friend Bill by just dropping all his photos into a shared folder.  When we were done collaborating, Bill just unshared the folder and it disappeared from my Dropbox folder.

If I had a small company with a covey of sales guys on the road, this would be a life saver.  Put sales documents into Dropbox and you are done.  By using Dropbox shared folders, your team knows that they have the latest version of things like line-cards, brochures, and price sheets.  It all happens in the background and leaves people free to conduct business.  Put mobile devices into the mix and you really have a killer application.   It’s Free for 2GB!
On top of all of this, Dropbox is free for 2 gigabytes of space.  If you want more for free, use their “refer a friend” to grab a 250MB bounty for each new customer you send to them with very little effort.   Need even more space, you can upgrade to 50GB for $10/month, or 100GB for $20/month.  Use this link to sign up and I’ll be credited the bounty for finding you :).  Once you start using Dropbox the more you’ll be hooked.  So head on over and setup your free account.
How are you going to use Dropbox?

Want another perspective, check out Terry White’s review of Dropbox.

- Chris Claborne

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