Tools of the trade: Dropbox
Over the course of talking to computer users each day I'm consistently amazed at the varied ways we use the same tools. More often than not an exchange ensues where we share our favorite tools and tricks. Here I'll start an occasional series of posts on the tools I use that make the dozen hours a day I'm in front of a screen pass quicker. First up on that list is Dropbox.
At first glance Dropbox is an application that provides a network-syncronized file directory. The rich feature set doesn't disappoint. With everything from a solid web interface to an iPhone app the methods of accessing your directory. It's also possible to upload photos and videos from the iPhone as well as all kinds of files from the web interface.
While there are network file systems that are shared file systems Dropbox is a little different. It runs a small application that watches your local directory and synchronizes any changes to the network. All of this leads to several handy ways of using Dropbox.
- Upload the results of a morning's research at the library through the web and it's nearly instantly available on your home desktop and laptop alike.
- Putting my ssh configuration file in the directory and from the .ssh directory on each machine the config file becomes a symlink. This is really handy for hitting the road and not having to guess whether your server aliases are up to date.
- One of my most recent tricks is putting the "Sites" directory in my Dropbox directory. WIth this change I don't have to stop to think "did I update the dev copy on the laptop" before heading out the door. Instead I just make sure the laptop has been on the network long enough to sync any changes and head out.
- Other configuration and shared files like iBank's data file are prime targets for Dropbox. The ability to share subdirectories amongst other users makes this even easier to mix and match who gets to see which files. And because they are local copies even applications that don't work well with network file systems often do well with Dropbox.
Storing presentations in Dropbox makes it easy to be sure that the latest copy of your presentation makes it to your laptop before you head out the door.
One of the big benefits of Dropbox is it's ability to keep copies of your files. Just the other day we had an incident that resulted in the phrase "I think I just deleted the savings account" from iBank. Indeed the savings account was gone. A quick trip to the Dropbox web interface and the file was restored minutes later.
There is at least one thing to be aware of with Dropbox. If you place an alias on Dropbox the file or folder referenced is added to the directory, not just the alias. So if you accidentally copy the alias to the Applications folder from that install disk Dropbox will attempt to upload all of your applications to the network folder. Recovering from this sort of mistake can take a while as the web interface has a limit to how many files you can delete at once so it's more complex than just deleting the partially uploaded Applications folder.
Dropbox ranges from free for 3GB of storage to $19.00 a month for 100GB. The two paid plans offer discounts for paying a year at a time. SIgning up with invite links, like those in this post, get both the new user (250MB) and referring user (500MB) free additional storage up to a 6GB limit.