Blog Post

FolderShare vs. Dropbox

Earlier this week Om wrote about Dropbox, which he liked so much that we at GigaOM are trying it out for our file-sharing and backup needs. Also this week, FolderShare, another remote file access program, launched its first version since being acquired by Microsoft two-and-half years ago. So I decided to try them out, too.

After playing around with both, I’m torn. The essential differences between the two stem from the fact that Dropbox is all about sending your data to the cloud and accessing it there, whereas FolderShare links two computers that are already online. So for remote access of your files, FolderShare is the clear winner, while Dropbox takes the cake for backup and collaborative work.

I used both programs to link my MacBook with my ancient Toshiba laptop, which runs Windows XP. I’m using Firefox as my browser, and it was nice to see that Microsoft’s FolderShare program respected that and didn’t seek to open in Explorer instead. Both took just a few minutes to install and were easy to get running. Dropbox didn’t install cleanly into the applications portion of my Mac’s hard drive, but I moved it over.

With the install over, it was time to play. I created a shared folder in Dropbox and had the option of either saving files into my Dropbox located on the desktop or going to the Dropbox web site and uploading them. This feature would be nice if I were working on some else’s computer and didn’t want to install the Dropbox client. Could you use this to upload proprietary corporate data even if it was protected from transfer to a USB drive?

To access a shared folder, you send out invites. With Dropbox currently in private beta, it’s a nice way to spread your Dropbox love to friends who might appreciate the site. Another fun things about Dropbox is that you can share your photos with non-Dropbox members via a URL, but that will show all the photos in your Dropbox photo file, so be careful who sees it.

Frankly, because I don’t collaborate with anyone using offline files like Word or Excel, and work from the same laptop all the time, I’m not sure how useful I find Dropbox. FolderShare, on the other hand, is appealing to me in the way it lets me access the random files I have stored on my personal laptop, such as contact data from Outlook and notes taken on my personal PC. I can also use it to grab photos and music fairly easily, although I do wish I could see thumbnails for my images in the display. That would require too much information to be stored on the Microsoft servers, though.

Another caveat is that for FolderShare to work, both computers have to be online. So hibernating computers need to be awakened from their slumber. Bottom line, you could use FolderShare for easy access to your files on various computers and Dropbox for backup and collaborative work. As a word of caution, both services were running pretty slowly while I was playing around with them.

34 Responses to “FolderShare vs. Dropbox”

  1. disgruntled

    Fast forward to 2011.

    Folder Share is now Windows Live Mesh 2011.

    It sucks, ‘cuz it does not work with Windows XP. How lame! So, if you wanted to sync your XP desktops with your newer windows 7, you are out of luck.

  2. Out of these two, I would have to say I favor FolderShare. FolderShare links two computers that are already online. So for remote access of your files, FolderShare is the clear winner. I am a fan of remote access so this works well for me.

  3. Hi Stacey. Full disclosure here: I work for, which offers small businesses (or nomadic professionals, as we like to call ourselves) an innovative way to share documents and work together on a “virtual fileserver.” I read your post on Dropbox and Foldershare with great interest and just wanted to add NomaDesk to the mix.
    Actually, NomaDesk comes with a feature set specifically geared toward the digital nomad, such as local encryption and “remote shredding” with TheftGuard. Of course, your files remain available off-line and we impose absolutely no limits on storage and bandwidth.
    The upcoming NomaDesk release 2.6 will display file states and indicate whether files are already in use by someone else. You will also be able to add and review notes (i.e. meta-data).

    I would appreciate your review.


  4. topcomputer

    What is up with the 10.000 files limit of the folder share ? If you exceed the limit you suppose to do what? Uninstall the software? Pay a certain amount of money? Do what? They don t explain why is a 10.000 file limit.
    To bad it looked lice a nice software rendered useless by Microsoft as usual.

  5. the 10.000 limit of FS is a real problem for workers far away from their syncronised (backup) system. Being 4000 km away from my home server I received the message about exceeding the maximum files. My laptop was removed and the advice was to remove some files and reconnect the laptop. Removed files and reconnect laptop. Surprise, surprise : from the home desktop FS start to syncronise and put all the deleted files on my laptop again with result : message again. wonderful example of a death lock

  6. lightyear

    I had used gbridge software that is based on google network and it is much faster! Checkout You only need a google user account, then you can do file sharing/synchronization between your machines and friends. In addition it has powerful browse functions that allow you to play slideshow or play music instantly before you decide to download/sync. There is no limit on file size (I have tried a 5GB file) and number of files.

    You can also share the desktop through builtin VNC or windows remote desktop share. It work behind NAT like a charm with zero configuration. I can see that it connects my machines directly (without relaying through 3rd party machine), so it is much faster than relaying through servers.

    The only pity is that it doesn’t support Mac.

  7. Allen

    Foldershare is great, but it doesn’t recognize files with Mac resource forks. That means no Freehand files, no Photoshop files with icons or previews saved (just change your Photoshop prefs), and unfortunately, no files that get previews added by Leopard’s Finder view options setting, which keeps defaulting back to checking “Show icon preview” no matter how many times I uncheck it.

    Given the clearly low priority for MS, I don’t see this being something they are likely to fix soon, since it is an esoteric issue on a platform they aren’t that fond of.

  8. Harvey

    I’ve used FolderShare for a couple of years now and it works rather well. I use it mainly as an immediate backup system. My MacBook Pro will backup wirelessly and automatically whenever I’m home. However, for work projects where files change often, I use FolderShare to sync my project directories to a work PC that is always on and connected. I’ve found that after saving changes to a file, the changes are on the PC within 1-2 minutes. This means if my laptop goes up in a ball of fire, I have a full backup at home and all of my current work projects are synced remotely within the last 1-5 minutes. FolderShare is really the network version of the old adage “remember to save your work periodically in case of a crash.”

    – I usually don’t have too many files per share (To.
    – Make sure you have an update-to-date sync on the backup machine before you work or you’ll cause confusion.

  9. I’ve been using Foldershare since before MS bought them out, and have been a huge fan, keeping about 4-5 PCs synced at home and work. It’s a bandwidth hog, though, with no way to throttle except by number of uploads/downloads at a time. No way to schedule it, and no file filters either, sadly — a tolerable limitation. It also is a CPU hog when scanning directories for changes, even on multicore Intel PCs.

    Just today, however, I hit a major burp: after adding a few new files to a library on one machine, the directory was dropped because there were more than 10,000 files contained within it.

    Problem is, it’s had well over 10,000 files in it for over 2 years, with no problems — and has not been dropped by the other machines. Methinks MS just put a file limit in, which is nowhere documented and not backward compatible.

    Serious problem, not good — time to look elsewhere, perhaps.

  10. I have been waiting these Cloud File System for ages, but till this date, none could come to the expectation. Microsoft always does evil and has done it with FolderShare share too by making a remote desktop access software instead. DropBox has not replied to me with invitation to join so I could not comment on it.
    Till date, my best bet has been the gSpace extension for Firefox. It maintain all the file in mail system and as you all know, the capacity is huge.
    Please send me invitation for DropBox!!! :-)

  11. Been using foldershare for almost two years now. It needs some improvement though.
    I use a Toshiba and a Mac. Sometimes I need to restart Foldershare several times before it’s active.
    There’s a limit on the amount of files I can sync. (unless of course you select another file)
    I never used Dropbox.

    But the way I see it is when I sync my Toshiba with my Mac …. it’s a back-up!

  12. Hi everyone,

    I’ve been working on a product called Syncplicity which should give you the best of both worlds — the benefits of data stored online as well as a rich, flexible client that allows selection of any directory but requires no configuration.

    We haven’t announced yet, but check it out at I think it’d solve the problems you’re having here and I’d love to hear your feedback!


  13. I wonder how well these services handle collaboration. Say you have a spreadsheet shared in Dropbox. You start it up, and work on it for an hour. A few minutes after you start, your partner also opens it on his computer, modifies it quickly, and saves it. Now you save it — what happens?

    If the latest version wins, then your partner’s changes are lost. If the file is locked, then collaboration is much harder. If you merge the changes, then you need good merge products for all kinds of files (spreadsheets, graphics, etc).

    How does Google docs handle multiple simultaneous edits?

    Of course, all these problems are addressed in Version Control Systems (cvs, subversion, darcs, git, mercurial, bazaar, etc) – but current systems are, well, oriented towards software development and not towards non-technical users.

    I plan on doing some testing with Dropbox.

  14. SugarSync can’t sync/backup folders on external drives on the mac yet, which means I can’t use it yet as all my data is on an external firewire drive. They say it is coming, though.

  15. Andrew Scott

    Hi, here’s how I suggest using these services:

    Foldershare – for fast, P2P syncing of your media files across multiple PCs. So I sync my photos, videos and music across my PCs/media centre at home. I don’t often need remote access to these.

    Dropbox/Sugarsync – for syncing, sharing, backup and online access anytime for your documents. These are all my working files, etc that I want to be able to access wherever/whenever.

    I’m using Dropbox at the moment because I find it fast and light. Note that Sugarsync has a nice mobile version of their site for accessing files.


  16. I’ve been using foldershare since it was an independent company. It has to be one of the most stable applications I’ve ever used. The down side to FS, as stated in your piece, is offline access to files. Computers have to be on to access them. Dropbox takes care of that issue, and adds versioning. I’d love to see what they (dropbox) will charge for their service.

    Another one to check out is SugarSync. This seems to combine the great aspects of both FS and Dropbox into one application. SS is also using Amazon’s s3 for storage, much like Dropbox. SS also gives you the ability to access files via a mobile client, which is useful if you want to email someone a document while on the move.

    All in all, I think that the cloud is becoming a viable place to store files efficiently and effectively.

  17. Chris B.

    I have been using FolderShare at least a year before they were acquired … this thing is ROCK SOLID!! This thing has never let me down, Honestly, you don’t see software built like this that often. I am syncing my files across four computers. I am not inclined to even try anything else.

  18. @John B: I encourage you to try out SugarSync if you’re interested in sync + backup, while working with your existing folder structure. We found early on in our product design that this is what users want, so we designed the product to accommodate this use-case. There’s also an optional mobile component that allows you to access your files while on the go.

    Mark Dixon
    Director, Products

  19. I’ve been playing with DropBox, and while it has a great albeit minimalistic interface, like FolderShare, it is /unsuitable/ as a backup tool. I’m unconvinced they are maintaining appropriate levels of security… Additionally, sites like and have been doing this for years, including the versioning mentioned above. ElephantDrive actually keeps versions in perpetuity for their subscribers, while other sites delete them after 30 days.

  20. I too installed both, intending to keep the folder where I keep most of my work synced between my MBP and my Sony Desktop, (yes, it’s kind of old).

    It turns out that Dropbox doesn’t support watching folders that already exist, (although they say it’s coming), which is what made me install FolderShare.

    However, after some reading it appears that Foldershare leaves *.p2p files all over the place in your shared folders, (one for every file that’s shared). Also, when I went to the web interface I could see my MBP’s whole filesystem. Faced with these realities of foldershare, and the unpleasant experience of trying to uninstall Office at some point years ago, I got rid of the Microsoft product ASAP.

    I’m not using DropBox that much yet, but am excited for the “Watch Any Folder” option when it comes out. When that happens, I’ll be using it constantly, albeit in the background.