If you’re in the next tech world, there is a very strong chance that you have heard of the Dropbox service, and a stronger chance that you’re already using it. This article, however, is for those who have either, (1) never heard of Dropbox, or (2) have heard of Dropbox, but decided that it is too techy for them, and veered away from it.

I am here to tell you, that you are making a mistake, and here’s why. let’s look at a couple of very simple scenarios:

  • You just downloaded a bunch of pictures from your camera, and want to share them with your spouse, cousin, mother (in another state/country). here are some of the current methods you do it
    • you upload the pictures to Facebook, low resolution, have to use the uploader and figure out whether it worked, or didn’t work, and set the privacy on the album, etc…
    • You email the pictures, but you have 60 of them? do you zip? now your aunt has to figure out how to unzip it, and chances are it’s a pretty big file.
    • You upload the pictures to another picture service (i:e.  Picasa, Flickr), same problem as number 1, where you need to set the privacy, tag them, and wait for the upload, verify and share.
  • Someone you work with needs this CAD file/PDF/Big photoshop file which is too big to send via email. You scramble around to figure out how to send it, FTP? web server? most aren’t too user friendly to send a simple file which happens to be too big for email.
  • You’re planning a vacation, and are working with multiple people on the project. You would:
    • Email the files back and forth, and lose track of which is the latest version of the file.
    • Use Google Docs for collaboration (actually not a bad idea in this case)
    • Move the file with a USB key. Same problem as the first point.

Before we jump into benefits of Dropbox, let me quickly define the service:  Essentially, Dropbox is a web service that hosts your files on a server somewhere on the internet (the cloud). By default, you get 2Gb of free storage completely free. Additional storage can be gotten either by referrals, (we’ll get to that), or purchased through the Dropbox website. I’ll tell you from now though, if used correctly, you would be just fine with the free storage for a long long time. I am in the tech industry, and yet, I never had the need to surpass the default storage that is provided for free.

The real beauty of this service however, is that it has a client that you can install on practically any platform. You have a PC? a Mac? an iPhone?  no problem, you can put a Dropbox client on there.

So what happens when you put the client there?

Well, as you install the Dropbox client, you will specify one folder on your computer that is designated to be the Dropbox folder. Now, this folder can be treated like any other folder, as long as you watch out for the space consumed (keep it within the limits of your storage). The difference, however, is that everything that is placed in this folder, is automatically, and seamlessly synced up to your storage up in the cloud. So, let’s say you place “Picture A” in the Dropbox folder, now “Picture A” is in that folder, as well as on the cloud. So far, you’re not doing anything special, except, perhaps, backing your file which is on your computer — an advantage that, alone, is worth talking about anyway. Before we continue, let me mention an additional benefit of having your file on Dropbox storage:

Let’s assume that you’re working on your picture (which is in your Dropbox folder)  in a picture editor, and you happen to crop the picture a little too much and save it on top of the original. Guess what, if you didn’t have Dropbox, or a copy of the original, you can say bye bye to that picture. However, if you realize that you cropped it too much while it’s in Dropbox, and you want to revert back to the original picture, you can login to your Dropbox portal, and revert back to an earlier revision of the picture. I have not seen a limit of revisions, as far as I could tell, I’ve seen limitless numbers of revisions of my documents. This is something that you cannot natively do on your computer without additional trickery.

Now that we have talked a little bit about the advantage of your folder being connected to Dropbox, let’s move on to how it would make your life easier when you roam around multiple computers.

Most of us nowadays have at least 2 devices if not more. (i.e: your home / family desktop , your laptop, your smart phone, your iPad, etc …). Sharing a folder on a multitude of devices on your home network, is possible, though requires a little bit of know-how. Sharing that same folder across to a device that is not on your network (i.e: your non-wifi enabled smartphone, your work computer, your cousin’s computer, etc ….) would require a bit more complex know-how, (i.e: VPN, etc…)

We will leave all those know-hows for different topics, and concentrate on how Dropbox can completely eliminate that learning curve while giving you the same advantages, if not better, that these other methods can provide.

You see, now that you already have your Dropbox account, and you have it linked to one computer, it is a snap to install it on 10 more computers and get up and running in less than 2 minutes. All you have to do in this case, is head over to http://dropbox.com and download the client. Once you start the installation, you will be asked if you want to create a new account, or use an existing account. Luckily for you, you don’t have to go through the account creation again, all you have to do is choose to login to an existing account. In Dropbox terminalogy, this is called “Linking”, which means Dropbox links that computer you’re logging in to, to your Dropbox account. As your Dropbox username and password are accepted, Dropbox automatically downloads everything on your Dropbox account (Documents, PDFs, Pictures, Music, etc …) to the local Dropbox folder on the computer you just installed the client on. Of course, the client allows you select the folders you want to sync up. For instance, if you have personal docs, as well as personal docs in your Dropbox, when you install the Dropbox client at your work computer and sign in with your account, you can opt to sync only your work documents there, while syncing a completely different set of documents to other computers: really neat feature!

You can do this process on 15 computers if you want, and the process will be the same. At this point, any file / folder you change within that Dropbox folder, on ANY of the “linked” computers will automatically get synced up, almost immediately, to all of the other linked computers. If you have Dropbox on your iPhone, the change you made will almost immediately sync there as well, for viewing on your mobile device.

That alone, if you ask me, is enough to be sold on the benefit of Dropbox. Fortunately for us, we barely just scratched the surface, because Dropbox, has so much more to offer.

Because this article can easily become a book if I start going into detail, I will try to summarize the rest of the features that I find incredibly useful with Dropbox. Perhaps, I can write some more specific articles later on to leverage the power of Dropbox  with these additional benefits.

  • Share a folder with a friend: You can choose a folder in your Dropbox that you could share with a friend/colleague/spouse. Basically anything added in that folder can be available to that person, and vice versa. Think of it as a shared desk that you both use. You drop a bill in there, and it’s for both of you, you drop a picture, and it’s for both of you. I’ll let your imagination work on that one to figure out the benefits. For this to work, of course, your partner would also need to have a Dropbox account, but that’s a one-time setup, and they will thank you for it anyway.
  • Share a File/Folder with anyone: That’s right. This means that if you have a business colleague, or even a less technically savvy friend that you want to send something to, Dropbox gives you the ability to share a file or a folder with that person, but merely pasting, or sending them the URL of that file or folder. The interface is very intuitive, and user friendly once the other person opens. In this case, what you share with a 3rd party will only be READ-ONLY for the 3rd part. but that’s hardly a problem for any case where you would need to use this solution.
  • 3rd part products: What if you want someone to send you a big file of some sort, which can’t be sent via email. (i.e: you’re at work, and there are limitations on attachments, or if you’re just mindful of you use the storage of your email box). In this case, you could request that a person send you that file, which will land directly in the folder of your choosing, simple by having them upload that file to a location that you give them. One of the sites that do this is: http://dropitto.me
  • Sharing is caring: the more you refer people to Dropbox, the more you get free space on your Dropbox. Anytime a person takes your reference, and installs Dropbox, both them, and you will receive an additional 250Mb for free. You can get up to 20Gb for free on Dropbox!

I hope that this article gave you some good pointers as to why Dropbox is a must for any person that uses a computer, and even better for anyone that uses more than one computer. Best part is that it’s cross-platform, if you’re using a Mac or a PC, you’re going to find a Dropbox client, and your files will be seamlessly shared across all.

So, now that you know all about it.. what are you waiting for? go ahead and Sign-Up

If you are interested in details about a specific topic within Dropbox mentioned in this article. Please leave that in the comments, and I can work on writing an article on that as well.

 

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