Dropbox: Online File Storage

Many of us have more than one computer in our lives. Between desktops and laptops and smartphones or home and work and school, we often need to use different computers to access the same set of files.

Faced with this problem, most of us resort to flash drives or email. Sure, we can copy the files we need to a flash drive that we carry around with us, but that leaves the files vulnerable to accidental destruction, theft, or just being forgotten somewhere. Yes, we can email files to ourselves, but that requires mailing a file and then mailing it back if modifications were made. And if the files in question are large, forget about it; email is slow and cumbersome in that case if it works at all. And all of this assumes that you have the foresight and memory to know that you'll need the files before you leave.

If you've ever faced any of these situations, then you need Dropbox.

Dropbox is an online file storage repository. Your files are uploaded to Dropbox and then those files are available on any computer that has Internet access. Simple.

The are two ways to get files to/from Dropbox. The simplest method is to use a web browser to upload and download files individually or as a group. The more flexible method is to install a small client program that monitors changes to files and then synchronizes them between the online storage and specific folders on your target computers. This means that if you change a file on one computer, that changed file gets transferred to the online storage, and then any other computers with the client installed will download that changed file. This way, all the attached computers stay synchronized automatically with little or no intervention on your part.

There are a few advantages to using Dropbox over the email/flash drive methods mentioned above. First, files are automatically synchronized between computers, so there's no wondering about whether any computer has the latest file. Second, there's automatic redundancy/backup in the synchronization process. That means that even if your computer or hard drive gets stolen or damaged, your files are still safe online. And finally, there are options for sharing and distributing files so that large files don't have to be sent via email where they can clog up inboxes or be rejected entirely due to size constraints.

A free Dropbox account provides two GB of storage, larger more than most commonly used flash drives and easily more than email inboxes will allow. Paid upgrades to 50 or 100 GB cost $10 or $20 per month, respectively. Currently there are automated clients for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, with apps available on iOS, Android, and Blackberry.

There are competitors that have some advantages, but Dropbox beats most of them with reliability and ease-of-use.  If you've ever faced challenges from working with files on multiple computers or lost files when your hard drive died or your flash drive was lost/damaged, then signing up for a Dropbox account should be an easy decision.

PS -- Signing up with the referral links in this article will mean a 250 MB storage bonus each of us if you complete a few steps after signup. Please use them if you're feeling generous! :-)

Pros:

  • Files can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer
  • Automatic backup and synchronization of files across computers
  • Generate links to allow others to download/access files even if they are not Dropbox users
  • Share folders and files with other Dropbox users
  • Good cross-platform support for both PCs and mobile devices
  • Simple and extremely easy to use

Cons:

  • Competing services sometimes offer more storage at lower/similar price points
  • Only one "Dropbox" folder can be synchronized with options to enable/disable synchronization of individual subfolders. Folders in disparate locations cannot be synchronized.
  • Dropbox has ability to access users' files though they will only do it under court order.
  • No way to exclude particular files or file types (e.g. .BAK or .TMP files)
  • Versioning and undelete only available on paid accounts for extra $4 per month
  • Shared folders take up space in everyone's account, not just the originator's