I feel I am due for a break from the GFC* and so will instead return to the subject of Web 2.0.

Whenever I come across a new Web 2.0 site/application/service I cannot help but sign up. A quick search for the phrase “welcome to” in my gmail archives throws up about 100 messages, representing only some of the debris of this obsession: sites I have signed up for, explored briefly and mostly never visited again.

home_logo_2x-vflh0bgUFAmong these, however, is a recent discovery that has quickly become an indispensable tool. Alongside gmail and google calendar, Dropbox is now one of my favourite examples of “cloud computing”. In a nutshell, it provides synchronised offsite storage in an extraordinarily seamless way. For a new service, still only in beta, it is very impressive.

Dropbox is by no means the only offsite storage system around. I have investigated many others, including XDrive [now no longer operating], Mozy, Carbonite, and Box.net. Until now, my favourite had been Jungle Disk, which essentially turns space on Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) into a virtual drive on your computer, but now I have come to rely on Dropbox.

Getting started with Dropbox is straightforward. It is free to sign up and download the software for PC, Mac OSX or Linux. When installed, the software creates a conveniently located Dropbox folder on your computer (e.g. under “My Documents” on a PC). Any files you create in or copy to this folder are automatically backed up to the Dropbox servers. The back-up is fast (depending, of course, on the speed of your internet connection) and unobtrusive. When browsing through your Dropbox folder, it is immediately clear when the backup is finished as a green tick appears on the folders or files. But it is when you work across multiple computers (e.g. home and office) that Dropbox comes into its own. Changes on each machine are automatically synchronised and, better still, if you accidentally delete or change a file, Dropbox gives you access to all the older versions of the file. If you are using a laptop that is not always online, you can work with the local copies of all of your files, which will then be synchronised next time you are online.

You can also access all of your Dropbox files through a web browser. Once you log into the Dropbox site, you can download the current or older versions of any of your files, create new folders and upload new files. The website also provides some additional features, such as sharing individual folders with other people which provides a straightforward approach to collaboration. Also, any images saved in a folder called “Photos” will automatically appear as photo albums which can also be shared with others.

The first 2GB of storage at Dropbox is free, but after that is costs US$10 per month for up to 50GB of storage. That does make the paid option more expensive than alternative services (I would not be surprised to see the price fall if Dropbox becomes successful). Amazon S3 costs US$0.15 per GB, so 50GB would cost $7.50, while Mozy costs only $4.75 per month for unlimited storage. Nevertheless, so far I am well within my 2GB limit and find Dropbox invaluable as a virtual briefcase, eliminating the need to email documents to myself or copy files to a USB drive. For now I will continue to use Jungle Disk for routine offsite backup as it is the most cost effective solution for data up to around 30GB, but the more I use Dropbox, the more tempted I will be to upgrade to the paid plan.

* Global Financial Crisis

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9 thoughts on “Dropbox

  1. Martin

    You might want to check out ElephantDrive – for me it is sort of a combination between DropBox and JungleDisk. They use S3 for overflow but offer fixed pricing. I started using it just for backup but found out they have a mapped drive available that goes directly to your account (not very well marketed on their site, which is strange because it is pretty sweet). The effect is that any box I’m running the map drive on is synched (though, sometimes I need to refresh manually to get the latest).

    It is nice having one service take care of both.

    Food for thought…

  2. BG

    Sean – couple of points that are worth thinking about:

    * The exposure of data to the laws of other countries. The data stored with many of these services is presumably in US data centres and is almost certainly subject to US access laws. But of course there is no reason why the data has to be stored in the US (other than the current comparably low cost of bandwidth). It could easily be stored in any country, or even multiple jurisdictions at the same time with the rise in grid computing. Indeed it is likely the user will not even know the country the data is stored in. Probably doesn’t matter for your photos, but this should be considered. Naturally this point holds for most ‘cloud’ services.

    * Isn’t it a shame that the co-location and other related services in Australia make it uneconomic for these types of business to operate out of AUS. It’s really holding back industry growth here.

    * Even Australian residential and many cases business Internet plans make it difficult to use some of these services because of the monthly data volume caps. Presumably unless these ISP plans change the providers of services like this are going to have to do deals with the ISPs to have data through the services excluded from the caps to gain significant numbers of regular users.

  3. Henrik Lerving

    >Amazon S3 costs US$0.15 per GB, so 50GB would cost $7.50.

    Thats a good observation but you forgot the bandwidth cost that you would also spent if you would sign up directly with S3. As far as I can see dropbox also use S3 but does not charge clients for bandwidth.


  4. stubbornmule Post author

    @Henrik: you make a very good point. Amazon S3 costs US$0.10 for transfer in and US$0.17 for transfer out, so on top of the $7.50 cost per month for 50GB on S3, it would cost you $5 to upload the data in the first place $8.50 to download everything again. As you say, there are no transfer charges for Dropbox. Of course, if you only used 25GB on S3, all of the costs would be halved while Dropbox would still cost $10 per month.

    Overall, these pricing differences are a reflection of the different nature of the two services: Jungle Disk notwithstanding, S3 is designed for commercial use by websites, while Dropbox is targetting individual users.

    I should also add that in the months since I originally wrote this post, I have been using Dropbox more and more (and Jungle Disk less and less!). It is an excellent service.

  5. John

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  6. Vincent

    Huge fan of Dropbox, very smooth performance and elegant design. Especially when you work across your desktop and iPad. Just wonder how come you did not mention anything about its marketing approach–it’s like virus, you can gain more free storage for every new user you’ve brought to their service. Personally, that’s how I got to know Dropbox, and I also sent out lots of invitations and recommendations. So from a view point of an average user, I say the virus is spreading fast!

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