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Dropbox: a simple way to sync files in the cloud

Posted on 16 Aug 2010 at 11:06

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

Dropbox doesn’t offer many choices here, although pressing Quit will stop any synchronisation. However, Dropbox is set to autorun by default, and you may not notice a big synchronisation taking place in the background.

Dropbox needs to become more network-aware – so for example, it should be possible for it to auto-pause on change of default gateway, then to prompt with a “Do you want to take Dropbox online again?” question that has to be answered before traffic resumes.

You should be careful about what you put into Dropbox shared space, because if you fall foul of the Data Protection Act you’ll be liable

My next worry is that your data is held in the cloud, presumably in the USA, so it may be open to Patriot Act inspection, and there are implications under the UK’s Data Protection Act too.

You should therefore be careful about what you put into Dropbox shared space, because if you fall foul of the Data Protection Act you’ll be liable. It would be nice if Dropbox offered a European-hosted data service, but there’s no sign of that at the moment.

Finally, there’s no way to control any encryption on the service. Dropbox says that all file transfers are over an encrypted SSL connection, that all files stored on its servers are encrypted with AES-256, that files are inaccessible without a username and password and that Dropbox employees are unable to view any files.

All of that is adequate, but I’d like to be able to insert my own certificate into the system for all my files, to ensure that everything is encrypted under my control. This would cause issues with shared folders, for example, but I’d be happier about holding data outside of the EU.

Great overall

Overall, this is a great service for data backup, recovery and sharing. It’s considerably more sophisticated than just a simple mounted drive using WebDAV. Clearly, it’s useless for disaster recovery, but as a means of ensuring you always have access to your stuff, there’s much to commend it.

As for myself, I’ve paid for the full 100GB solution with the Pack-Rat upgrade, and have added it to my suite of backup, archive and data transfer tools.

I now find it easier to get a friend to install the free Dropbox client and then join in a share than it is to push our files on to some other online shared space. For home and small-business users, this is a great solution.

For larger businesses its lack of management umbrella control and user-controlled encryption could be a worry, but give it a whirl and you might find it incredibly useful – I know I have.

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User comments

Really? Why?

"Clearly, it’s useless for disaster recovery..."

Sorry, did I miss something? Why can't I use DropBox as part of my disaster recovery plan in my small business?

I hold physical backups in case of drive failure, but the cloud option seems ideal in case of fire?

By ironbath on 18 Aug 2010

Cross-Platform Support

Dropbox also works well on Linux.

By emteec on 19 Aug 2010

Company not party to Safe Harbor scheme

The company haven't signed up to the US Government's Safe Harbor scheme to give customers the same right of data protection to them as the EU date protection laws. Be very careful if you choose to use them and are in the EU (as I would guess most PC Pro readers are).

By jbarnett on 19 Aug 2010

Binfer is a great option to send large files directly from computer to computer, without uploading to a server. You can send hundreds of files of any size with a simple drag and drop. Binfer will manage the transfers with auto resumes, encryption, notifications etc. Check it out: http://www.binfer.com

By dsf74 on 19 Aug 2010

I like DropBox

DropBox is a cool tool, and free!
http://bit.ly/DropBox_New_Account

By DBDude on 21 Aug 2010

Sharing favourite freeware utilities

I have a main machine and 3 laptops in use at home. I use a lot of freeware utilities so I use the free 2G dropbox account as the place where I save the latest copy of each installer (e.g. for VLC, Defraggler, CCleaner, Malwarebytes, WinPatrol, various browsers, etc.) - it doesn't matter which machine I happen to be on when I download the installer, in effect it's downloaded to all of them and I know that duplicates the waste of space but I find it a price worth paying. A shame schools are reluctant to use it to allow students to share documents (homework) between home and school instead of providing a cripplingly small email account.

By lemonstar61 on 23 Sep 2010

RE:Binfer

1GB/month free
$1.95/GB - too expensive when you consider the alternatives - I use Hamachi - free.

By lemonstar61 on 23 Sep 2010

RE:Binfer

1GB/month free
$1.95/GB - too expensive when you consider the alternatives - I use Hamachi - free.

By lemonstar61 on 23 Sep 2010

Yes

I just spent a few hours trying to view files I uploaded using Memeo Connect yesterday and failed. Realizing I was banging my head against a brick wall installed Dropbox on all of our machines and had it up and running in minutes. I bought packrat with 50Gb.

By revsorg on 19 Apr 2011

Sugarsync

Did you consider that at all? (Just out of interest).
I know it's all different strokes for different folks, but with the counter to Dropbox being Skydrive at the start of the article I thought you might through in its nearest competitor IMHO...

By gingerinc on 29 Apr 2011

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Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

Read more More by Jon Honeyball

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