Monday, November 1, 2010

Using Dropbox service to sync, backup, share and publish files

Nowadays most of us have more than one computing devices - desktop, laptop, netbook, smartphone, tablet (eg. iPad), etc.

It would be nice if we can seamlessly synchronize some of our commonly accessed data files across those computing devices, so that the file will store in each (or some) of them, and always be accessible to us regardly we are at home, at work, at other place, or even on the road.

If the file is updated by us in one of the computing devices, we would like the same file storing in our other computing devices to also be updated to the latest. Technically, we call this as "synchronize" or "sync".

Dropbox is among the services that can answer that need. It uses cloud computing technology to enable users to store and share files and folders across the Internet with synchronization.

Data transmission of Dropbox is encrypted with SSL, and data stored in Dropbox cloud service is encrypted with AES-256. Dropbox uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for storage, which is the same cloud backend storage used by Ubuntu One.

One of the advantage of Dropbox is it supports multiple platform, including Windows, Macintosh, Linux (Ubuntu, Fedora, etc.), Android devices, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, etc.

All files stored in Dropbox cloud storage are automatically backup. You have the option to undelete the files in your Dropbox folder. If you make changes to the files, you can also retrieve back earlier version of the files. For free account, Dropbox keeps 30 days of your files undo history. You can opt to have unlimited undo history by subscribing to their Pack-Rat service.

Beside synchronizing files and folders among your own computing devices, you can also share out one or more folders in your Dropbox with other Dropbox user(s). You control who to share the folder with by inviting them with a special link, and the invitee has to Accept your invitation to initiate the sharing.

There is no special ACL in Dropbox sharing. Everybody who is sharing the folder can make changes in that folder. Anyhow, all the changes will be versioned and kept in history, and can be undone if necessary. In the event 2 or more persons are editing the same file in the shared folder, Dropbox will save the file in different filename to avoid overwriting.

Once you installed Dropbox, you'll notice there are 2 default special folders automatically created - Public and Photos. Files and folders resided in the Public folder can be shared out even to non-Dropbox users. This is made possible as the file there is accessible with a unique special URL, which you can disclose in email, instant message conversations, blogs, etc. However, the files will not be searcheable by search engine like Google.

The sharing concept of the Photos folder is similar to Public. In addition to that, Photos sharing enables you to have an online gallery of your shared photos with unique special URL to each of the folders inside as individual Album.

Dropbox provides 3 account options. The Basic account is free, and started with 2GB online storage. The other 2 are paid Pro account with 50GB or 100GB online storage.

The Basic account storage is expandable for another 8GB up to a total of 10GB by:
  • Creating your account with a referal link (add 250MB once you installed your Dropbox client)
  • Inviting your friends to create their own Dropbox account (add 250MB each after they've installed their Dropbox client)
  • Becoming a Dropbox Guru (add 250MB, refer to the "Get Started" tab in your Dropbox web interface)
Microsoft has just released Windows Live Mesh 2011 (after long period of beta of Live Mesh, Windows Live Sync and Windows Live FolderShare) with similar function and providing 5GB free online storage in SkyDrive. However, Windows Live Mesh 2011 does not support Linux. Worse still, it also does not support Windows XP and earlier version of Windows. Currently, it also doesn't support any mobile devices.

Therefore, if you are upset with the limitation of Windows Live Mesh 2011, perhaps Dropbox is your alternative.

Click here to open your free Dropbox account with 2.250 GB free initial Cloud storage.

Click here for a list of interesting Dropbox Addons. For example, Dropbox Folder Sync can make your live easier to sync folders into Dropbox, and they can still reside in their original location. This is useful for you to sync your IE Favorites, Firefox Profiles, etc.


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