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Summary:

Personal file storage, sharing and syncing is one of those categories of technology problems that, despite all efforts, no one ever seems to get right. But one service that comes pretty close is DropBox, which is available via a public beta today.

Personal file storage, sharing and syncing is one of those categories of technology problems that, despite all efforts, no one ever seems to get right. Most of the current offerings, even the better ones, leave something to be desired.

You’re always being asked to jump through one hoop or another: If you’re not constantly uploading and downloading files that you amend or need to amend, you’re being forced to use some special peer-to-peer software. But one service that comes pretty close to getting it all right is DropBox, which is available via a public beta today (of which there are 200 available for GigaOM readers using the code “om200.”)

Dropbox is basically an intelligent combination of Box.net, dot.mac and Microsoft’s FolderShare syncing service. It makes online storage and sharing of files dead simple — as simple as dragging files into specially market local folders.

The concept was cooked up by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, MIT dropouts and Y Combinator alumni who are running their three-person startup out of a studio apartment in San Francisco. For the past few months they’ve been working on polishing DropBox, the desktop software (client) and an online service.

The software, once downloaded, is simple to install (it works on both Windows and Mac) and integrates with the file browser. It runs quietly in the background. You create folders inside the DropBox folder and then just drag and drop them. And the files are constantly synced with your online storage locker — any time a file is changed, the changes are sent to the online folders, which can be accessed via a web browser even if your home machine is shut off. [Click here to watch the Screencast

What’s really cool is that the system keeps revised versions of the files as backup, just in case you accidentally erase or damage the “live” version of a document. You can click and share the “URLs” of every file with anyone by simply sending them an email (a feature that opens up viral growth opportunities for DropBox).

I met with Houston and Ferdowsi over the weekend and discussed their business plans. Once DropBox comes out of beta, they want to charge for storage — a refreshing thought amidst all the irrational chanting of “free.” The duo is looking to expand DropBox’s appeal to beyond the early adopters.

While it seems that everyone wants to develop a better syncing or storage or sharing technology, the population at large doesn’t seem to care, and is happy carrying (and losing) their files on their USB sticks or emailing them to themselves. When I noted that to the two young cofounders, they agreed. Their success, they said, lies in the ability to change mainstream behavior, and they are confident that the relative ease of use of their offering will win the masses over. To that we say good luck. DropBox is pretty good.

  1. Seems nifty. I’m going to give it a whirl. Thanks Om!

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  2. Hmm, how does this compare to AOL’s XDrive that allows you to “map” a drive in Windows directly to the online storage? Seems that’d be easier – what are your thoughts on that?

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  3. Looks simple and awesome! They maybe using Web-DAV behind the scenes.
    They are also being intelligent about only syncing changes to optimize bandwidth.

    Maybe these guys can become the network based “Time Machine”. I mean Apple does the same thing on the OS and Time machine backs data to an external hard drive.

    These guys can possibly do the same thing over to a network location, which quite frankly is much more reliable than Fry’s bought hard drive.

    What do you think OM?

    PS — Glad to see you back in action. Hopefully things are getting much better at your end.

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  4. I love what this looks like it can do, I’ll be trying it out but I won’t be sharing files with anyone! Isn’t that the point, you say? Sure but the license gives away ALL my rights, even if I only share with a select few. I guess they aren’t planning on using this in the enterprise!

    “While you own the content contained in Your Files, you hereby grant all other Dropbox users a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, perpetual and irrevocable right and license to use and exploit Your Files in your public folder.

    In addition, you hereby grant Dropbox users who have been given access to your shared folder a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, perpetual and irrevocable right and license to use and exploit Your Files in your shared folder.”

    Too scary, call off the lawyers boys!

    • Doug K.
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  5. Guys this a pretty awesome solution and far superior to X-Drive.

    Why? It is basically autosyncing the stuff, it is integrated into the file system on your local machine. and is constantly backing.

    they are using EC2 and S3 for their bakcend.

    @ Sheky, you are 100% right. They have the potential of being the network based time machine. I am guessing the cost of doing that is going to be prohibitive for now, but some telecom operator can license and offer it as a back-up solution.

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  6. Om,

    Yes cost is going to be an issue for ISPs. This may also get into the net neutrality debate. However I dont think after the first time (involving full backup), the subsequent updates utilize that much bandwidth. Especially if one is smart about updating only the changes. Frankly I would pay for such a service.

    Secondly they talk about enabling web based photo albums from the image files. It will be great if they did the same thing with my music and video data. So theoretically I can backup all my music/videos on dropbox and play it from other machines. This is somewhat like Lala but much better and no DRM hassles.

    Abhishek

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  7. There’s already a VERY good version of this available for free… Its called FolderShare and it works BEAUTIFULLY on both Mac and PC. I’ve been using it for over 2 years.

    http://www.foldershare.com

    Check it out!

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  8. @ Shekyboy, stay tuned for more interesting features with this service. along the lines of what you are dreaming of.

    @ SimonSays: this is an improvement on foldershare, which i am a fan of. Big difference is access from the web site to your files and ability to change, share and do more.

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  9. [...] including a code to get into the beta if you’re quick enough, hop over to our parent site GigaOm, where you can also see [...]

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  10. Isn’t this the same as Tubes, the company that Ray Ozzie had something to do with.. Whatever ever happened to them, they went from beta to nowhere?

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