Monday, October 3, 2011

Thumb Drives No More - Enter Dropbox

(This is a guest post written by Sean McPherson)

Tablet PCs and smartphones have dramatically changed the way we consume and share information. It is not uncommon to see users arranging their PC, tablet, and smartphone in a similar fashion. After all, it is now possible to run the same operating system on all these devices.

However, the user faces one problem – it is cumbersome to transfer files between these devices. Usually we rely on Bluetooth, a thumb drive, or a data cable, but you will need to be near to the device hosting the files you want to transfer.

A few might say to just email the files and download them. Every time you do this a computer science major loses their funding. No, not really.  This is a good option, but it doesn't help if you need to update the file on whatever device you currently have. Even online data storage (such as FTP access to web servers) would be of little help. Imagine uploading the file every minute and then you downloading the file every other minute.

No Worries
A convenient solution exists in the form of Dropbox. Based on the concept of cloud computing, this web based file hosting service enables users to transmit files from one place to other in real time. If the data changes constantly, Dropbox ensures that the updated files are adapted in real time and available to all the users of a particular account. So in essence, when you add a file to drop box on your phone, for example, that file will show up in the Dropbox folder on your PC, and anywhere else you are logged in. You can even log into your account through a web browser on any device.  Dropbox can work on any PC, tablet, or smartphone. Do not worry if you have windows, a BlackBerry, or an Apple iPad.

Pretty Simple
Getting started is really quite simple. First you need to create an account. Be ready to enter your name, email and a password. Dropbox will rate your password's strength in case you want to choose something more secure. Once created you will be promted to download and install the Dropbox client to your computer. During the installation process a default Dropbox folder will be added to your computer. This is the folder that will be synced. Anything you add to this folder will be synced across the devices on your account, and anything synced on another device will show up here.

Getting Started
I highly recommend going through the "get started" quests available online. When you log onto your account select the first tab in the navigation bar and you will have everything you need to become a Dropbox guru.

The Tasks Include:
    •    Taking a video tour
    •    Installing the client on your computer
    •    Adding Files to the Default Folder
    •    Installing Dropbox on a separate computer or mobile device
    •    Sharing a folder with a friend
    •    Inviting some friends

Installing Dropbox on your Computer
Dropbox couldn't be easier to use. Simply move or save a file to your default Dropbox folder. Alternatively you can just drag a file and drop it on the Dropbox icon on your desktop.  Once a file is added to your default file you will notice a little blue circle with two arrows, indicating that file has yet to be synced. Once it has finished the icon will turn to a green checkmark and that file is now accessible through any Dropbox client.

2GB Initial Storage

The free version of Dropbox gives you 2GB of storage, but if you complete 5 of the Getting Started quests you will receive an additional 250 MB. Now, because of the limited free storage space, the free account is best suited for people who want to transfer and share smaller doc files. It's easy to fill up 2GB with hi res pictures.
If you refer one of your friends to use Dropbox and he signs up, your storage capacity is bumped up to 8 GB. Users who want higher storage capacities, can simply go for paid memberships wherein you can store up to 350 GBs of data.

Actually Using Dropbox

I use Dropbox on a daily basis, between my Dell laptop, iPad 2 and iPhone, and it's great. If I run into someone on the go who needs a copy of a spreadsheet, I can pull out my phone and email them a link to the file. If I need to reference a PDF I found online in a meeting, I save it on my computer but pull it up on my iPad.

My only complaint with Dropbox is that with the iPad app you are unable to edit the files in the app itself. I have to first export the file to an app that can edit it (DocsToGo, Evernote or iA Writer in my case) to be able to work on them. Then I have to sync back to the Dropbox app from the editor, which occasionally  means I end up with 2 versions of the same file and I have to come up with labels I append to the files like, "iPad local" or "the latest version." Still, given how much I use the service and how hard it would be to do the same without it, Dropbox is still one of my favorite apps.

Sean @ | @SeanTR

Written by Sean McPherson


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