Patterico's Pontifications


Recommendation: Dropbox

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:06 pm

I thought I would write up a post that shares my good experiences with a service called Dropbox.

Dropbox is a form of “cloud storage” in which you can store and transfer files from one computer to another without moving them to a thumb drive or external hard drive. You can hook up numerous computers and even mobile devices (like an iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.) to the Dropbox and access files in that manner. When you change a file on one computer, it will automatically be changed on any other computer that you choose to link to the Dropbox.

One benefit: you never have to use a thumb drive again. For example, when we were recently out of state, my brother-in-law did a slideshow for a funeral, and my wife wanted to transfer the photos of her grandmother to our home computer. There was no thumb drive transfer. We simply logged into my account at the Dropbox site, and uploaded the file to my Dropbox account. Not only did it automatically sync to our home computers, but I was instantly able to view the photos on my iPad, simply by accessing the Dropbox app on the iPad.

My wife came home and found the photos she wanted on our home computer, and uploaded a couple of them to her Facebook page. Easy.

Once you start using it, you’ll discover more and more uses, and (like me) you may get roped into shelling out the $99/year for the 50 GB of storage. The combination of greater storage space, together with the app functionality, dramatically expands the functional storage capacity of your mobile device. For example, if you have 50 GB of information in the Dropbox, you can access any of that information on your 16GB iPhone without cluttering up the iPhone’s storage.

To take another concrete example: like many lawyers, I collect case citations that are useful to my practice. Many people print out cases, or make card catalogs of relevant citations. I have tended to keep those citations in a folder on my computer. But with the Dropbox, I can access them from my phone. Having those handy in court is obviously a useful thing. When the judge says: “You can’t ask that question, Mr. Frey! That’s hearsay!” it is obviously a great benefit to be able to give the judge a case citation without making a sojourn back to the office.

I haven’t had occasion to test it yet, but apparently you can recover previous versions of word processing documents. If you accidentally deleted hours of work, but your file was in the Dropbox, you should be able to recover the previous version (but check their site for the details). [UPDATE: From the Dropbox web site: “Dropbox keeps snapshots of every saved change in your Dropbox folder over the last 30 days (or more with the Pack-Rat feature). So if your pet accidentally pressed the delete key and erased your memoirs or you simply saved a bad change, you can restore the file with a few clicks.” Man, this feature could have saved me hours of work on at least two occasions I can remember!]

I can’t say that I have priced out every data storage plan out there, but here is what I like about Dropbox. With some cloud storage services, you’re limited to one computer. Carbonite, for example, backs up portions of one hard drive for $55/year. But you can’t add files from a second computer without paying another $55. With Dropbox, there is one “box” and you can put files into it from any computer.

Dropbox is no substitute for a full backup of your computer’s hard drive with an external hard drive, which is cheaper than cloud storage for multiple computers and has far greater capacity (2 TB for around $125 in many cases). But I find new uses for it every day.

The coolest part is that they give you 2 GB for free — with no obligation to buy. Like I say, if you like it as much as I did, you may get roped into buying more, but if you don’t, just use the 2 GB.

Here is an even cooler deal: if you sign up for Dropbox using this link, and download their desktop app (which is the easiest way to use it), you will get an extra 250MB — for a total of 2.25 GB free. (I will get 500 MB of extra space for every person referred in this way.) As I understand it, the extra space is available even if you never pay them a cent, as long as you use the desktop app.

When you click the link, you can watch a quick video tour that I wish I could embed here. You can set up a free account with nothing more than a first and last name, an e-mail address, and a password.

So try it and let me know what you think.

UPDATE 10:42 p.m.: We already have three takers! Thanks!

Lee Stranahan mentions another way he uses it: a grocery list. You can add to it whenever, and so can your spouse — and then, when you’re in the grocery store, you can access it on your phone.

Your potential uses are limited only by your imagination. OK, enough with the update; now I feel compelled to give you the link again so you can try it for yourself.

36 Responses to “Recommendation: Dropbox”

  1. I might do that for reals someday soon so I am bookmarking but not today my feet hurt

    happyfeet (a3410c)

  2. Actually, Patterico, if you add a second computer to your Dropbox account, they not only do not charge you more but they add more storage to your free account.

    I’m still trying it out myself as a way to keep some office work easier to access from home.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  3. I’m too cheap.

    I paid 5 bucks for an 8 gig thumb drive, and I was bitching and moaning about that costing too much.

    Dave Surls (de16bb)

  4. What is a thumb drive and how do I know I don’t want one?

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  5. I wish I could afford to keep the iPad 2 I ordered…

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  6. How about a Yahoo email account set up solely to be used for that purpose?

    e.g. you and the other people that would be accessing the files would all have the ID & Password …

    bobby (b95bd5)

  7. Patterico – When did they start putting computers in clouds? I thought they did not like humidity? How do they keep them up there, anyway?

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  8. My feet hurt this evening too. I bookmarked.

    JD (318f81)

  9. “it is obviously a great benefit to be able to give the judge a case citation without making a sojourn back to the office.”

    All I ever have to say in court is “I plead guilty” and “I throw myself on the mercy of the court”, so I don’t really need too much storage room.

    Dave Surls (de16bb)

  10. I use Dropbox and have found it really handy. I haven’t upgraded, still use the free version, but that is sufficient for my use, especially after getting some more free storage from getting other people involved and adding computers. I have it on my home desktop, a notebook, and the station computer at my volunteer fire department, and it has made life much easier.

    It has also been handy for transferring files to others that were too big to email. You can easily give permission for others access some, but not all, folders in your Dropbox, and then pass files to them more or less intantly.

    Eric (920595)

  11. Used to use it (several year ago). Have since discovered other methods, including my own server available via SSH from anyplace with web access. then again, I am an IT professional…

    Rodney G. Graves (f12db5)

  12. “I am an IT professional…”

    I hate those guys. They fly out from corporate a couple of times a year, fiddle around with your gear, then, after they go back home, you have to change everything back to the way it was, AND you have to reload all your video games.

    Never could see the point, myself.

    Dave Surls (de16bb)

  13. Dropbox is awesome — I use it for personal and business. I have it on my PC in Texas, my Drioid, my wife’s Droid, my iPad and our laptops plus my son in California has access.

    When I have a draft of a video, I share it with Dropbox.

    And I use a simple .txt file as a grocery list. I can be at the store and my wife can update it at home.

    Lee Stranahan (708cc3)

  14. Eric:

    That is another excellent possible use. I will have to try that out. I sometimes have to transfer large interview files to transcription services, and I e-mail the files I can e-mail, and either mail or (if it’s time-intensive) have a messenger pick up a disc for the files that are too large to e-mail.

    I imagine that won’t be necessary any more.

    By the way, a notification just popped up on my computer that I have extra storage space. Looks like there was at least one taker! Thanks!

    Patterico (c218bd)

  15. Lee:

    What a great idea the grocery list is!

    There are so many ways to use it. You can pull up the list on the phone. Awesome.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  16. “All I ever have to say in court is “I plead guilty” and “I throw myself on the mercy of the court””

    Dave Surls – I almost had one of those in January. The cool thing was the judge did not understand the charge and asked the policeman what it was. He explained and she said she had never seen that. I felt very special. A few more words were exchanged. I looked appropriately contrite. She never asked me how I pleaded and then told me to go through the door to my left. I wasn’t sure what happened until I got my full cash bond back in the mail.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  17. Another taker! That’s another GB of memory total between the two! Thanks again!

    Patterico (c218bd)

  18. And another!

    Patterico (c218bd)

  19. Yes yes, very nice for you… Now use your powers to get my iPad 2 funded… 🙂

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  20. It’s also very nice for the people who signed up, Scott — they get the free 2 GB plus the 250 MB extra.

    As for your iPad — I’m still stuck with the lousy iPad 1! So, you know . . .


    Patterico (c218bd)

  21. Ipad’s cause job loss just ask Jessie Jackwagon.

    DohBiden (15aa57)

  22. See, my desire for an iPad 2 is in keeping with my theory that if a politician from Chicago thinks it, it must be wrong…

    Scott Jacobs (d027b8)

  23. Dropbox is not necessarily safe for work. Some companies have fairly dim views of hosting company files elsewhere, or even of opening firewall ports to allow personal info being synched onto work computers.

    Kevin M (298030)

  24. Kevin M,

    True enough. It is encrypted, but different companies will have their own policies. I assume anyone reading this is able to assess their own situation.

    Hey, one person signed up but didn’t download the desktop application. Gotta do that to get the extra space!

    Patterico (c218bd)

  25. One of the downsides, of course, is that the government is basically taking the position that “the cloud” is a 4th amendment free zone.

    Brett Bellmore (6652c2)

  26. 12,

    The only PC’s I touch are the ones I use to connect to servers. Your gripe is with Deskside.

    Rodney G. Graves (f12db5)

  27. Thanks to the extra takers. I hope y’all come back and tell me if you found this useful.

    Patterico (c218bd)

  28. I’ve been using Dropbox for about 6 months, and I heartedly second the recommendation!

    Kman (5576bf)

  29. my wife wanted..roped into

    Ah. Ah. Ah Patterico..

    After a couple of divorces, or is that divorci, I’ve learned never to say, use or type the words my wife wanted with the words roped into in describing anything, anytime, anywhere.


    P.S. Oh and thanks for the tip and link..

    JP (c4988c)

  30. Another tip … zaggmate w/ Bluetooth keyboard.

    JD (318f81)

  31. Fourth amendment rights in the cloud? Your data is on somebody else’s box, exactly where you know not…

    Bigfoot (8096f2)

  32. I like it, but my workplace has it on its *banned* sites.

    Matt Harris (fe23ac)

  33. Just practice safe computing…

    Nice idea, needs some work on security. Be careful what you use it for until it matures.

    Dan S (b5ccb6)

  34. I’ve already got dropbox and love it. I would also recommend zumo drive. It works the same way and can also be reached through your phone. Together you have 4 free gigs of storage. Add Amazon’s free 5 gigs that they put up recently and you have a lot of memory.

    dr T (411873)

  35. I use dropbox but in a totally different way

    I have massive data storage needs (and most importantly the bandwidth to handle large cloud based storage

    The way I use this at the moment is I have a Google Cloud Storage Account which has a storage limit of 16TB of file space ,I also have other accounts that are without storage limits as to total file space and they just charge a flat rate per month for capacity used and fixed charges per GB of uploaded or downloaded data.

    The Google Account for example provides bulk storage and I have folders there for various projects both active and past.

    When a project is active those files are kept also on dropbox to act like a cache working set that gets shared and synched across all the project participants. Once the project is completed the one owner of the Google Account moves it all to past projects folders and then clears the data off of dropbox.

    nano (ea6549)

  36. I’ve used DropBox for about a year and a half now, and can’t imagine doing without it. There’s 3 big selling points for me.

    1. With the driver installed on my computer (works with Mac or PC, no problems), it works just like a local folder on my computer… it actually IS a local folder on my hard drive.

    2. Because the files are stored both locally and in the cloud, access to the files is as fast as access to my hard drive.

    3. Because the files are stored both locally and in the cloud, I still have access to my data even if my computer is destroyed, AND even if DropBox were to go belly up and drop dead without notice.

    Plus, you can install the driver on more than one computer, and it stores local copies of the files on every computer, automatically syncing in the background every time each of those computers is connected to the ‘net. Thus, I can have really awesome back-up protection. I could lose my laptop AND have DropBox go belly-up, and I would still have the copy on my desktop.

    Dan S is correct, though, the security flaw recently discovered is significant. I imagine they’re working on a patch feverishly.

    PatHMV (320b24)

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