I wrote about DropBox a few weeks ago, ostensibly to introduce it to my readers. My hidden agenda behind that post was to get some of you to sign up using my link so that I get more space. I was certain that all I had to do was to write about it and everyone of you would want to sign up. Imagine my surprise when only two signed up, one of whom turned out to be a friend of mine. So I must have done it wrong. I probably didn’t bring out all the advantages clearly enough. Either that or not many people actually lug their data around in their thumbdrives. So here I go again (with the same, no-so-hidden agenda). Before we go any further, let me tell you clearly that DropBox is a free service. You pay nothing for 2GB of online storage. If you want to go beyond that limit, you do pay some fee.
Most people carry their thumbies around so that they can access their files from any computer they happen to find themselves in front of. If these computers are not your habitual computers (ie, your wife’s notebook, kids’ pc, office computer etc.), the virtual DropBox may not totally obviate the necessity of a real thumbdrive. For random computers, virtual just doesn’t cut it. But if you are a person of habits and shuttle from one regular computer to another, DropBox is actually a lot better than a real USB drive. All you have to do is to install DropBox on all those machines, which don’t even have to be of the same kind — they can be Macs, PCs, Linux boxes etc. (In fact, DropBox can be installed on your mobile devices as well, although how you will use it is far from clear.) Once you install DropBox, you will have a special folder (or directory) where you can save stuff. This special folder/directory is, in reality, nothing but a regular one. Just that there is a background program monitoring it and syncing it magically with a server (which is on a cloud), and with all other computers where you have DropBox installed under your credentials. Better yet, if your computers share a local network, DropBox uses it to sync among them in practically no time.
Here is video I found on YouTube on what DropBox can do for you:
In addition to this file synchronization, DropBox is an offline mirror of your synced files. So if you keep your important files in the DropBox folder, they will survive for ever. This is an advantage that no physical, real thumbdrive can offer you. With real thumbdrives, I personally have lost files (despite the fact that I am fairly religious about regular copies and mirrors) due to USB drives dying on me. With DropBox, it will never happen. You have local copies on all the computers where you have DropBox running and a remote copy on a cloud server.
But you might say, “Ha, that is the problem — how can I put my personal files on some remote location where anybody can look at them?” Well, DropBox says that they use industry-standard encryption that they themselves cannot unlock without your password. I chose to trust them. After all, even if they could decrypt it, how can they troll terabytes of data in random formats in the hope of finding your account number or whatever? Besides, if you are really worried about the security, you can always create a TrueCrypt volume in DropBox.
Another use you can put DropBox to is in keeping your application data synced between computers. This works best with Macs and symbolic links. For instance, if you have a MacBook and an iMac, you can put your address book in your DropBox directory, create a symbolic link from the normal location (in ~/Library/ApplicationData/Mail.app) and expect to see the same address book in both the computers. Similar trick will work with other applications as well. I have tried it with my offline blogging software (ecto) and my development environment (NetBeans).
Want more reasons to sign up? Well, you can also share files with other users. Suppose your spouse has a DropBox of her own, and you want to share some photos with her. This can be easily arranged. And I believe the photos folder in DropBox behaves like a gallery, although I haven’t tested it.
So, if you find these reasons to have a virtual thumbdrive in addition to (or instead of) a real physical one, do sign up for DropBox via any of the million links on this page. Did I tell you that if your friends signed up using your link, you would get 250MB extra for each referral?