Friday, May 10, 2013

Fun With DropBox

It started with the wife saying "hey, you should install DropBox." Why would I do that? I've been pushing files around on the Internet since the mid 1990s. There's all these great protocols: FTP, HTTP, NNTP and so forth.

However, after installing the software on my phone, tablet, laptop and desktoop, it turns out that "why use Dropbox?" has several good answers.



1. It's easy to use for non-technical people


Drag a file into one of your DropBox folders and it's immediately "pushed" out to everyone you share that folder with. They get an update telling them there's a new file there for them to look at. Any user familiar with basic computing concept like files will pick this up quickly. But of course, if you're such a Luddite that you don't even know what a file is, then DropBox won't be of much use to you.

2. It's easy to share files between different devices


Here's where I became a believer. There's lots of ways to move files around between all my devices. And most of my gadgets have some sort of removable media I can take out, copy files to and put back. If I need to move Gigabytes of data around, this is still the best method. But for a couple of files, or a family photo, it's a real drag.

For moving around those common, day to day files like a PDF document or family photo, DropBox makes it stupid simple. It can be a hassle to move files between different platforms like Windows and Android. For me, this takes all the pain out of moving files between my Windows laptop and Android phone, and I use it in this role daily. The device independence is my favorite part about the software.

3. It's Free


Some "free" software products claim to be free but just about the time it becomes indispensable, you find the catch, which usually involves you taking out your wallet. The best I can tell about DropBox, they want it to be so indispensable that you pay for more space.

They give you plenty of space to start with, and what they charge for space seems reasonable. But if you feed it the email addresses of your friends and family, they will give you more space as your friends join up. So, even though they charge for extra space, there's other ways of getting more for free. Personally, I think it's a pretty fair deal for free.

4. It Has Quests!


I'm a nerd. That's been established. One of the ways to get my attention (besides bacon or boobs) is to speak to me in the language of nerdy video games. So when I saw that DropBox offered "Quests" to get more space, it really got my attention, and I started completing them. This is really thinking outside the box.

Downsides?


As with any cloud service, there's more points of vulnerability to your privacy than if you were just exchanging files between friends and family directly. There's more risk to your files being intercepted by some third party. And there's definitely a risk that the company which holds your precious data could be hacked into or suffer a catastrophic failure, taking your important data with it. There's a lot that can go wrong.

Keeping all this in mind, most of the time the power and convenience of something like DropBox is going to be a fair compromise for the downsides. Basically, I just assume that anything I put in DropBox can be seen by the whole world, and if the company loses my files, well, I keep my own backups. So should you.

Windows Version


The Windows version consists of an icon on the Windows Tray portion of the task bar. It shows a little blue box, with a green check mark next to it if everything is in sync. When you click on the icon, the following window pops up.

DropBox for Windows - Main Window


Notice the little check mark that says "up to date" next to it, confirming that your files are synchronized. There's also a gear icon in the upper right hand corner for settings. Clicking on the settings icon gives you the following screen.

DropBox for Windows - Settings

Notice that it tells me how much of my space is used. It would be nice to see this on the main screen and not buried in the settings, but it's still a nice feature.

When a new file comes in from another device, or someone in your share group, you see the following notification balloon show up on your taskbar.

DropBox for Windows - Incoming Notification


What I did above was take a screen shot I want to use for this post on my Android tablet and moved it into my DropBox. A few seconds later, this notification popped up on my Windows laptop, which I'm writing this blog post on. DropBox is so awesome that I used to to help me write a post saying how awesome it is.

Android Version


Some popular applications make a half-assed attempt to provide for Android, as if Android support is an afterthought. That's not the case with DropBox. The Android version is every bit as good. It's fully integrated into the sharing mechanism of Android, meaning any tool bar that shows you icons for sharing your files will now show a little blue box icon.

DropBox for Android - DropBox Toolbar


The DropBox app itself is well thought out and very user friendly for Android. The main screen shows you the folders you have setup.

DropBox for Android - DropBox Folders


The settings are very user friendly as well. Maybe a little simplistic for my tastes, but this app is made for Grandma, too. All things considered, I like how they laid everything out.


DropBox for Android - Settings

DropBox for Android - Camera Settings

DropBox for Android - Favorites Settings


Conclusions


Occasionally the non-nerds in my life tell me about a new product or technology that makes me think "why wasn't I using this?" and this is one of those products. I realize there are other ones out there like GoogleDrive (which keeps changing identities), Microsoft's SkyDrive and a few others. I plan on checking those out, but I don't see how the whole process could be much smoother or more streamlined than this.

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