Dropbox: a simple way to sync files in the cloud

Dropbox

If you're looking for a simple way to synchronise files in the cloud and don't like the look of Microsoft SkyDrive, Jon Honeyball may just have the answer

A few months ago, I was looking around for a way to sync files between various computers.

I looked at SkyDrive from Microsoft and found its user interface to be almost unbelievably incomplete and nasty, requiring third-party tools to achieve any sort of usable integration with the desktop.

I found Microsoft SkyDrive's user interface to be almost unbelievably incomplete and nasty

Perhaps Microsoft is going to sort this out, given that SkyDrive is the cornerstone of its current Office 2010 online document-handling solution? You’d think that it might have decided to sort it out before the release of Office, but it seems not.

Around the same time I started looking at Dropbox, which you can download here. After a month or so of kicking this around and moving many tens of gigabytes of data into and out of the service, I’ve come to some conclusions.

What is Dropbox?

First, a description of what it is: Dropbox is an online service that stores files. The server side of it is essentially transparent to you during normal operations. You specify a point in your file directory tree that you want to be your dropbox, and any directories beneath that point, including all files they contain, are automatically included.

It’s important to note that your files stay on your own disk, too, just where you left them; what you’ve done is tell Dropbox to monitor that specific area of your hard disk and to send any changes up into the cloud, so if you’re using a laptop and you lose network connectivity, everything is still there on your hard disk.

Whenever you perform certain file actions (create, modify, delete and so on) within the Dropbox-monitored space, the changes are synchronised up to the online store.

You get the first 2GB of space for free, and if you want more you can rent it for $9.99/month (around £6.50) for 50GB, or $19.99/month (around £13) for 100GB. If you refer other people and they start using Dropbox, you’ll get a small free space increment as a gratuity or introduction fee: at 250MB per referral, this is a useful amount to add to your 2GB of free space.

Multiple computers

To make Dropbox work across multiple computers that you own, just install the software on each device and log into your account: each newly added machine automatically gets a download of the current server contents into the place that you’ve nominated on each machine to be Dropbox space.

Clearly, it wouldn’t be a good idea if all the machines on your local network had to send and receive via your office internet connection or home ADSL line, so any synchronisation takes place directly, machine-to-machine over the local network if it can see the other machines on the LAN.

This makes local synch very fast indeed, and saves on internet bandwidth. If you want to get to your files when you’re away from your computer, then there’s a full web interface into the remote store. Just log into the service and browse around your storage space.