Monday, June 29, 2009

Dropbox

I’ve really been enjoying Dropbox lately. For the uninitiated, Dropbox is an online file synching and collaboration service. Binaries for Dropbox are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Dropbox works by installing a program that watches for added or modified files in a certain directory, defaulting with ~/Dropbox/ in Linux. Any added or changed files are updated online, and are synched up with any other computer that is linked to the same Dropbox account. In addition to synching the files between different computers, Dropbox also has some impressive collaborative and versioning features. These features can either be accessed via a contextual menu by right-clicking the respective files or folders, by clicking the Dropbox icon in the system tray on your desktop, or by accessing the Dropbox web interface. A tour is available for those that are interested.

The collaborative capabilities of this software are another way that Dropbox shines. You can create a shared folder with any number of other Dropbox users (or invite new users) to keep files and subfolders synched not only on your PC, but every PC or laptop that is invited to the shared folder. I found this feature incredibly convenient for my sysadmin work at a non-profit with a corporate office and 3 satellite locations, each of which has about 3-6 computers. They constantly struggled to share information between the sites, as well as keep the latest version of the files that they were trying to share. Implementing Dropbox across the entire corporation allows, for example, for “Person A” of one of the satellite locations to create (or modify) a document on a Mac in a local coffee house on a free Wi-Fi connection and instantly share this new (or updated) document with not only him/herself at the satellite office, but every other employee who was invited to the shared folder. Another employee (“Person B”, perhaps) could easily update this file on their computer from their Windows (or Linux) computer at a different location, so that the document is more accurate, or contains fewer spelling/grammatical errors. If “Person A” doesn’t like the changes that “Person B” made, “Person A” can access a previous version of the document, and use that one instead. Dropbox keeps track of who modified the file, when the file was modified, and also stores the previous versions of the file.

Another convenient feature is that items in the “Public” folder are automatically assigned a public web link, for the purposes of easily sharing with non Dropbox members. Just right-click the file, choose “Copy Public Link” and paste the resulting web address in a forum/blog/email/IRC chat to easily share your files without messing around with a file server or hosting service.

A variety of hacks, tricks, and tips are already starting to pop up, and I look forward to finding out more of them as time goes on!