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Dropbox Review

Dropbox is an online service that lets you store, sync and share files online. It works with Windows (XP and Vista), Mac OS and Linux. Previously available as invites only, Dropbox is now available to everyone. It is still in beta at the time of the review. The free registration has 2GB space allowance. Additional 50GB – which is the only option – is available for $99 a year (or $9.99 a month).

The free 2GB storage is handy as a USB drive replacement for shuttling files between work and home. Other great idea is as a home backup solution. This would reduce the hassle of getting external USB drive and plug it in to the computer at backup time.

The files on Dropbox system are stored in Amazon S3. Thus, Dropbox utilises most features and reliability of the S3. Dropbox works well behind the corporate firewall as long as port 80 or 443 (HTTP or HTTPS) are accessible.

Installation Process

To start using the service, client software needs to be installed. This would allow sync and upload process happens automatically in the background. One the installation is finished and if the Internet connection is available, a prompt to register or enter information of your existing Dropbox account appears. The information required is first name, last name, e-mail address, password and computer name. Complex password can be used (e.g. * or %).

At the end of the registration process, a Welcome screen with the link to feature tour would appear. In Windows XP, settings and other options are available by clicking on Dropbox the system tray icon.

On Windows XP SP3

By default, Dropbox creates a folder under C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents\My Dropbox. Inside My Dropbox folders, there are Photos, Public and a text document: This is your Dropbox.txt. From here, everything stored in My Dropbox folder is synchronised automatically to the online storage.

On Ubuntu 8.04

At the time of review, Dropbox is available for Fedora Core 9, Ubuntu 8.04, Ubuntu 7.1 and Ubuntu 8.10 (in both 32 bit and 64 bit version). A source code file for compilation to specific distro is also available. Once the installation is complete, Nautilius must be restarted. The Dropbox icon appears on the Panel Menubar. The default folder location is in the user’s folder.

On Mac OS 10.5 Leopard

The only extra step required after the installation process is to enter the root password. Additionally, Growl notification is supported. The Dropbox folder is located in /Users/yourusername/Dropbox by default.

Options and Preferences

Options and information are available by clicking on the Dropbox system tray icon (for the appropriate operating system). Amongst them are Open My Dropbox (quick access to Dropbox folder on local computer), Web Interface (shortcut to Dropbox online storage area), Recently Changed (files) and usage summary.

Transfer speed and proxy settings can be adjusted under the Network option in case Dropbox file transfers impact on other Internet activities. Adjustment might not always be necessary. According to the FAQ, Dropbox utilises 70% of the maximum available bandwidth to prevent slowdown in web browsing.

Uploading and Modifying Files

When files are placed in the Dropbox folder on the local computer, the synchronisation happens automatically for all linked computers. A green sync icon next to the files or folders indicates that they have been uploaded. The blue icon is for files and folders to be uploaded. Files operations (e.g. copy, delete and move) performed on local Dropbox folder are being reflected instantly on the online version. A notification appears on the local computer after files operation performed. Files can also be uploaded from Dropbox website.

A summary on files and computer recently added to the account is accessible by logging in to the Dropbox website. The My Dropbox section listed last 15 files recently added with sortable name, size and last modified time column. Revisions option is available by clicking on one of the file. Information such as time and who modified is available. Should a file being modified and the original is required, it is accessible from Dropbox online (with the version number).

For images to appear in the Photos section, they need to be copied to Photos folder in Dropbox of the local computer. Clicking on the photo would automatically generate navigation control and ability to save file in its original size. The resolution for the zoom version of the images is 640 x 800.

If a new file is added in the Dropbox folder on one of the computer, it is automatically added to the Dropbox online. The added file would also appear on other computers link to the account within seconds.

Shared Folder

All the options for Shared Folder are available by logging on to the Dropbox website. For non-secure sharing, files need to be placed in Public folder. The URL is available by clicking on the blue down arrow at the end of the row. Then, select Copy public URL which can be sent via e-mail or IM.

For secure sharing, click on the Share link at the top of the page. Then, enter the required information to send out an invite. When the recipient receives it, he or she will be asked to join Dropbox or enter an existing account details.

Conclusion

With free 2GB storage, simple installation process, and corporate firewall friendly, Dropbox provides great online backup solution. The larger storage capacity (50GB) still offers great value and peace of mind for less $10 a month.

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