I’ve heard of Dropbox, but how does it fit into my life?

About Dropbox

Let me get it out of the way first: I love my Dropbox.

The experience that drew Dropbox to me was the time when I brought my students’ examination scripts to Starbucks to mark. When I was all ready to start, I realised to my horror that I’ve left the answer key in the office. No sweat. I had previously put the answer key into Dropbox, and that allowed me to access the file via my iPhone. I then continued marking with the answers sitting in my phone. That was over a year ago when I only had my phone and my MacBook Pro as well as the free account.

Fast forward to today. I now have 4 machines running Dropbox: my iMac at home, a MacBook Air that I carry around which acts as my primary machine, an iPad and a iPhone. I’m also paying for the Pro account, which gives me 50 GB of data space and in it I put all my documents, with the exception of my music and videos. Even my photos are up there for me to view on my mobile devices, without taking up space in the latter. Needless to say, I now have all my assessments and worksheets on Dropbox as well.

So what happens is when I’m at work I’d be working on my Air and when I’m home, I just carry on working on the files without the need for emailing or transferring of data via the thumbdrive; Dropbox keeps everything in sync* for me. When I need something that is not on my Air (I do selective sync because it’s only 60 GB), I just access the web version and download the file. Just last week I was away from my Air but had my iPad with me, and we had to check the answer key to my examination script. I fired up Dropbox on my iPad and checked the file right there, without needing to go back to the office to access my laptop.

With most of my data in Dropbox, one might realise that I’m using it as a backup – indeed, it is a backup because I have a copy of the files in my machine and another on the server, with yet another in my Air (selected folders). Furthermore, because everything on my Air is in my Dropbox folder (I mean it), I can just format my Air anytime I want without worry of backup. I’d just erase the disk, install Dropbox and let it sync to get all my data back. In fact, I wanted it to be that way because previously when I wanted to reformat my MacBook Pro (which was my primary computer), I had to spend a lot of time doing backup and transferring of data after reformatting.

For more information, check out web.appstorm’s Ultimate Dropbox Toolkit and Guide, as well as a recent comparison between Dropbox and SpiderOak, another file syncing service that might interest you. Also, Dropbox and JotForm together has allowed one to create forms which is submitted directly to your Dropbox folder!

If you have the habit of saving stuff in your thumbdrive (and use it as your only copy – meaning there’s no backup) or emailing yourself, give Dropbox a spin (there is a free account) and see if it doesn’t simplify life for you.

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Dropbox and security

There’s been a recent hoo-ha about Dropbox:

Dropbox, a provider of cloud-based data storage services, is in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission over claims that it lied and intentionally deceived customers into believing that their data is more private and secure than it really is… PCWorld.

In short, people suddenly realised that Dropbox has access to their files.

Personally, I’m still using Dropbox because the files I’ve put in are not confidential, and I’m really not willing to give up on the convenience. If I’m really worried, what I’d do is to encrypt the data before putting it into Dropbox because then even if they (whoever) got access to the files, they’d have to hack it to view it.

Ben Brooks (and he mentioned encrypting your files before storing it in Dropbox) and Patrick Rhone posted their views on this and I highly recommend reading them. Let me give you a little primer here:

The point is really this: don’t assume the data you store in the cloud is ever only accessible to you, thus don’t store sensitive data in the cloud. Brooks.

The bottom line is that the moment you even have data it is at some level of risk. So the real question is how much risk are you comfortable with? Rhone.

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If you do plan to sign up for Dropbox and want to be nice to me, sign up using this referral link and you’d get 250 MB of space free, and me 500 MB. More info on referrals can be found here.

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*The beauty of Dropbox is that it installs a special folder in your computer which is automatically synced to the server after you’ve set it up (sign in actually – it’s really quite easy). This allows me to just drag and drop files into the folder, without going through the hassle of actually uploading something via clicks and more clicks.

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