Last week, we mentioned Dropbox as another file synchronization service. Thanks to my good friend Dan at UNEASYsilence, I got a beta invite a few days ago and I’ve been kicking the tires ever since. I like what I’m kicking.
Since I have multiple devices on multiple platforms, I’m gravitating towards file synch tools that work on both Windows and Mac. Dropbox fills the bill with support for Microsoft Windows XP / Vista as well as Mac OS X Tiger / Leopard. Additionally, there’s a web interface that I used in Firefox on Xubuntu; this doesn’t provide any sync capabilities, but it does offer the ability to get your files.
Once installed, Dropbox adds a folder that’s aptly named "Dropbox". Any files you place in your Dropbox are automatically uploaded to a server and then sent back down to the dropbox of any other computers you have linked to your account. The advantage I see here is that not only are the files in sync between your devices, but there’s a central copy on the Dropbox servers as well.
Granted, I wouldn’t store any confidential docs on the server, but for everyday files, this is a great benefit and the Dropbox folks take advantage of it with a revision history feature. Every time you change the contents of a file in your Dropbox, the changes are sent through the system. As a result, Dropbox keeps the revision history of every file and you can restore back any prior version at any time through the web client.
From a collaboration standpoint, it’s basic and simple. You create a shared folder in your Dropbox account and invite others to access it. The shared folder becomes a sub-folder of the Dropbox folder on your local machine, so you simply drop a file in and it synchs up as expected. The file is then pushed down to the machines of your friends where they can view or edit it. If they make a change and save their local copy, the changes go back up to the server and get pushed out to all again, ensuring that your local copy is always up to date. Below is a shared folder for our MobileTechRoundup podcast; I invited Matt and James to the folder and then threw a simple text file for show notes. Hmm… they have the most recent copy, but didn’t add any thoughts! The obvious downside from a collaboration standpoint is that you’re working the files in a serial fashion, meaning you can’t actively work on a file at the same time as someone else.
One particular aspect I like on my Mac is using Growl, a notification tool, with Dropbox. Any time a shared file is updated, I get a notification in the top right of my monitor explaining which file was just updated. This isn’t a feature of Dropbox per se, but I wanted to mention it for any Mac users that also use Growl.
I like how Dropbox integrates in to your machine. On the Mac, you’ll see your Dropbox in the Finder under your user account name. You’ll also see a little graphical Dropbox on your menubar; a right click on it will provide options to open your local Dropbox or web client and there’s an indicator of how much of your Dropbox server storage is in use. On the Windows side, you’ll see a Dropbox folder in the My Documents area and there’s a tray icon that offers the same features as the Dropbox for the Mac menubar. In fact, just like Growl, the tray icon pops up notifications when a file is updated so you’ll know someone made a change.
Dropbox is currently in a private beta, but you can sign up and wait for an invite. It looks like the file limit is 25 MB per file and total space is 5 GB for now. No word on any potential price when it goes live. When I set up the MoTR shared folder, I found a little trick that got Matt and James access to the service. Simply inviting them to the shared folder got them a Dropbox account. So… no promises because I don’t know how long it will work, but I just set up a jkOTR shared folder. I’ll send invites to the first 10 commenters to this post; you’ll need to fill in the e-mail address of our comment field because I’ll need that to invite you. Hopefully, this will work, but if not… well, I tried. I’ll also put a simple text file in there so if you get in, feel free to write a quick note to us. If all goes as planned, it will synch down to our machines where we can read and update. :)UPDATE in my comment below on invites.