Rarely does a program come along that is so simple yet so powerful that it changes the way that you use your computer. Dropbox is such an application.
You probably have heard of Dropbox and have read about its many, many, many uses. It’s a fantastic automatic sync utility that keeps a copy of whatever you put in the Dropbox on the Internet cloud. You can then log into your account on any number of machines — OS X, Windows, and Linux are all supported — and have access to those files, pictures, documents, etc.
I’m not going to give you some magical tip that hasn’t been covered somewhere else, but I have found a great use of the service and wanted to share it.
My wife and I each have a child from our respective previous marriages. The ex-spouses both live within 10 minutes of our house, so the kids spend a great deal of time at each of their homes. Now, ours is a tech-savvy Mac OS X house while the others are reluctant computer owners with Windows PCs.
Being the tech guy of the bunch, I’m charged with keeping the data accessible and usable. We use a small collection of tools to accomplish this task, and I’ve made it my goal to find free or open source apps to keep happy those that want to spend as little as possible on technology. Dropbox fits the bill perfectly.
When the kids write papers for school, want to share pictures or short movies, or brag about a high score on Plants vs. Zombies, they just dump the DOC, JPG, MOV, or screenshot in the local Dropbox folder. The next time they go to the other houses, they open that local Dropbox folder and the data is magically there.
Dropbox also has a Web interface to the accounts, so they can get to the files without installing an app of any kind. This makes it great to access all of that same information at a friend’s house, the library, or even at school. The syncing isn’t automatic this way, of course, but you can easily download the desired file or use the Web browser’s ability to view certain data like pictures, audio and movie files, and PDFs. There’s even an iPhone app to get to these things.
As ours kids’ needs grow, so undoubtedly will their uses of Dropbox. For example, I use my account to store my MacJournal and 1Password data files so that they are automatically synced over the three Macs I use. Also, when I want to share sensitive information — maybe a QuickBooks file with my accountant — I can place that file in a private section of Dropbox and send the link.
The basic Dropbox account is free and allows up to 2 GB of storage. 2 GB may not sound like a lot when you’re talking about online backup services, but we’ve found it more than sufficient for syncing data between homes. If you do find the space to be cramped, you can buy more space, or you can earn 250 MB for every account that you refer.
Sure, there are other services out there that may accomplish the same goal, but Dropbox is drop-dead simple. The kids I’ve been talking about are eight and nine years old, and they have no problems using their accounts. Dropbox and similar tools really have changed the way we use our computers… for the better.
Hey! So, there’s this guy, a real friendly type, who knows a bunch about computers. He grew up infatuated with them and did everything he could to use them more and more. Eventually, after working on PCs for several years, he started his own computer store and repair place in his hometown in Iowa. It’s been open since 1998 and the guy has been teaching at the community college and writing for a few websites, including Obsessable, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, and TechVi. You should meet him; his name is Kevin Harter.