Dropbox Online Storage Made Easy — For Free
Dropbox is an online storage service. In this crowded field, a service like Dropbox needs something to stand out. Dropbox’s hook is simple — simplicity.
Store 2 GB online free in your box
When it comes to online storage, there are dozens of players. Microsoft recently came on board with its SkyDrive offering as part of Windows Live, and there is rampant speculation that a Google online storage service is coming soon, no doubt as a 3-year beta offering, and dozens of other players offer for more than Dropbox’s 2 GB of free storage.
So, what does Dropbox have to offer users?
Dropbox has bet the farm on the fact that users don’t want to work with more and more software, and that they don’t want yet another utility that they have to setup, configure, manage, update, and keep running. And so, Dropbox offers the utmost in simplicity for its online storage service.
Install Dropbox and all you get is a little icon in your system tray. The little open blue box serves as your indicator that the Dropbox utility is running, but in reality, you never need interact with it, and frankly could just get rid of it if it started bothering you.
There is no need to launch a Dropbox utility or web interface to upload your files, so other than as assurance of connectivity, one wonders what value the icon provides.
Dropbox creates a My Dropbox folder inside of your My Documents folder. Instead of going to a website to upload files or launching a program, the user just drags the file they want to store online into the My Dropbox folder. Simple.
The program handles the rest in the background, uploading the file to the online storage space. Once the file has been stored online, the client monitors the file for changes and if any occur, copies only the changed part of the file via a block-level copy, which saves on overall bandwidth.
A different way to synchronize your data
Multiple computers can be linked to the same Dropbox. This provides a file synchronization service of sorts. Unlike Microsoft’s Live Sync which actually keeps files synchronized by copying changes to the local hard drive of all linked machines, Dropbox simply propagates the changes to your online storage.
The advantage is that unlike Live Sync, both computers do not have to be online at the same time in order for the synchronization to occur.
As an added bonus, Dropbox stores all historic variations of every file, rendering it as a version backup service as well. Accidentally made a bunch of changes and saved a file a dozen times since the beginning of the month version only to realize that they were all a mistake? No problem. Just go online to your Dropbox and retrieve the last version you knew to be good.
Sharing files with Dropbox
All the rage in online tools and services these days is sharing and collaboration.
Dropbox offers up a nice user controlled flavor of sharing by allowing users to share files within a folder to specific users. Some services offer only security via obscurity which means that you have to give out a link to find your files, but once someone has that link, whether legitimately, or via some sort of scanning bot, they are in.
Indeed, Dropbox offers a similar sharing service for sharing files with non-Dropbox users. Publically sharing files creates a link that people can use to access your files without logging in. Since such links and files can be deleted at will, it does provide a nice way to temporarily share large files or folders with other users.
Dropbox offers the ability to restrict sharing to specific users. Of course, to take advantage, those users must also have Dropbox accounts and the client installed, making the service best suited for established teams rather than ad hoc collaboration.
Unlike some online services where sharing one thing means sharing everything, members of a folder can add, edit, and delete files within that folder, but have no access to any of your other data stored online. Whenever a file is changed, the updates are propagated to every member of the folder.
You can access your own files without a client installed from any computer with an Internet connection via the Dropbox website. Just login and your files are at your fingertips.
Whenever you talk about storing your files online, you have to think about security. Dropbox transfers data over SSL and encrypts the files with AES-256 before storing them online. Theoretically, that means that no one, not even a Dropbox administrator with all possible access rights could access your files.
However, there is no way to guarantee what actually happens to your data once it leaves your PC, so at least a small amount of trust is required as with all online services.
Upgraded pay version of Dropbox
Like many other free online service providers Dropbox’s revenue model is based around a free product that allows for an upgrade to an improved or professional level product. The free Dropbox provides just 2 GB of storage space while the Pro version offers 50 GB of online storage.
However, Dropbox Pro comes with a steep $9.99/month or $99/year fee. With others offering space nearing the Pro level for free, Dropbox will soon find out whether or not its easy to use integration into the user’s computer system holds enough value to keep bringing customers in.
Referrals get you more free storage
Dropbox does offer a referral program in which users can get 3 GB for free versus the standard 2 GB by getting new users to sign up with the service or 6 GB free if the new user joins the paid Professional level program.
Teams looking to use the free Dropbox service should look into joining in sequence such that each user can take advantage of the referral upgrade.