Over the years, I’ve tried syncing my computers any number of ways, from trusting my entire life to a flash drive to uploading everything to Google Docs. Very few options have been idiot-proof enough to make up for my abilities to misplace things, forget to update file versions and generally fail to double check that my computers are all in sync.
I need a forgiving synchronization method — something that doesn’t require me to initiate back ups or juggle versions. Dropbox seems to be that method. I’ve actually been using it for over a month now and have encountered an impressive lack of problems.
I use a wiki (TiddlyWiki, to be precise) to handle a lot of my projects in progress. No matter what system I use to keep files in sync across computers, I have to have reliable access to my wiki. I’ve considered using one of the many sites willing to host a wiki for me, but I’ve had some questions about the security of such sites that have yet to be answered.
Dropbox has handled my wiki with no problems. Considering that TiddlyWiki creates a new file every time you save your changes, that can be impressive. Checking up on the file on the Dropbox website in preparation for this post, I discovered that my wiki was not only up to date — about 100 other files were also up to date if I wanted to double check old saved versions. Dropbox simply saved each one of them, without my having to click boxes or mess with the file.
We all have those friends and relatives whose approaches to the internet require absolute simplicity. Anything much beyond ‘click this link’ just doesn’t fly. It can make sharing files, from photos to documents, interesting at best. But Dropbox also allows users to establish a shared folder. Within that shared folder, you can put any kind of file, and get a link that you can provide dear old Mom directly to that file.
Admittedly, there are plenty of other sites for sharing photos. But I’ve had to get everything form Powerpoint presentations to PDFs to my mom and I’d rather not explain a new site every time, or have to fuss with something different each time either.
Dropbox has also worked quite well for projects where I’ve needed to share files with group members. A few services have more bells and whistles, but for files other than the standard .doc, Dropbox has been ideal. It’s also much easier to stop sharing a file with Dropbox than with other services — I just drag it out of my public folder.
Dropbox has a great web interface. But the real use lies in the Dropbox application. You install it just like any other piece of software and it launches a Finder window or an Explorer window — there isn’t an Linux version yet, but Dropbox is working on an alpha version. Dropbox works just like any other folder: you can drag and drop files, which are then automatically synced across any computers you’ve activated and installed the software on, as well as the web interface. There are no problems sharing files between Macs and PCs, either — as long as you’ve got the appropriate software to open a file already installed.
I’ve had no problem working on files while offline, either. Dropbox just updates my files whenever I have internet access. This actually came in handy over the weekend when Amazon’s S3 service went down. Dropbox relies on S3, so there was no synchronization during the outage. But I was still able to edit my files in the meanwhile and, as soon as S3 was back up, Dropbox matched up all my files. According to forum members on the Dropbox site, the application was even able to pick up right where it had left off in the middle of partially uploaded files. Having that sort of outage is a heck of a test for a web application, but Dropbox seems to have managed quite well.
Dropbox is still in private beta, although they seem to be fairly nice about handing out invites to those that request them. I’ve got five invites, according to my account, though, and I’m more than happy to send them off to LifeHack readers. I’ll email the invites to the first five commenters on this post.
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