Why Droppox is better than other (for consumer users)

What you read below is obviously under the heading “IMHO” In My Opinion Humlbe. Nothing that you read here is 100% valid for all, it’s about personal experience, but still is valid and supported by facts.

The motivation of this long post comes from various tests carried out recently, after turning iCloud on my Mac, after trying SugarSync, after installing Box.net on Android and receiving 50GB of free space, after the news that now Dropbox referarals value as double as before: 500 MB of free space to you and me if you don’t have Dropbox jet and you use this forme to subscribe. These and other considerations have prompted me to say that:

Dropbox is the best cloud storage solution for consumer users (those who don’t wants to pay).

In detail, here is why.

INTRO: WHAT IT IS

Meanwhile, what is Dropbox? Wikipedia tells us that

Dropbox is a Web-based file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc. that uses networked storage to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using file synchronization. It was founded in 2007 byMIT graduates Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi as a Y Combinator startup.

What does this mean? Dropbox is composed of two parts: one is the “web” or “cloud”, meaning the online server to upload data, and the other is the “desktop” (or mobile), or the client computer (or phone) that allows access the web side, without going through the internet browser. The combination of client and cloud not only allows you to load datas on the web cloud, but also to keep the offline files (the ones on your computer / smartphone) synchronized in real time with those online and to propagate the changes made both sides. If you edit / delete a file on your computer, it will be modified / deleted in the same way on the cloud. And vice versa. This allows not only to have backup copies, but also allows some creative uses.

MYTHSBUSTER

The first thing people say when they compare Dropbox with other cloud storage services is that: “yeh buddy, but drabbas gives only little storagefor free”. In fact, when people look at the “basic” account offered by other competitors, they see that each one gives 5 GB of free storage while Dropbox gives only 2 GB. What they all forget, however, is that Dropbox storage is expandible for free.

For example, I currently have 12.57 GB of free storage on my Dropbox acconut, and I also know I can get at least at 25 GB. How?

Currently, 4.5 GB of my 12.57 GB come from referrals: on Dropbox you can invite friends and acquaintances, without any need to share anything at all, simply through a link. Whenever a contact agrees to join Dropbox via the link that you provided, both you and the new user will earn 500 MB of free space. You can accumulate up to 16 GB of free space in more through referrals, for a total of 18 GB considering the initial 2GB, almost 4 times the storage offered by other services!

Furthemor, every so often during the year, the Dropbox team proposes “Dropquest”, quest in which the prizes are measured in GB. Last year the awards were:

50 GB (+ prints, sweatshirt, t-shirts) to the firts who complete the quest

10 GB (+ prints, sweatshirt, t-shirts) to the the first 10 seconds classified

5 GB (+ t-shirt) to the first 20 thirds classified

2 GB for the first 50 quarters classified

1 GB to all who participate and complete the Dropquest

If you are not good in treasure hunt, do not worry: just follow the instructions that someone will post to get 1GB for free. And we are up to 19 GB of storage, renewable.

Then you can simply get 250 MB by completing simple tasks after registration and 5*128 MB by connecting Dropbox to Facebook and Twitter: is nearly 1 GB (890 MB to be honest). 20 GB for you.

More GBs are from any other offers or special promotions. For example up to 5 GB may come from the use of the new beta version of the desktop client, available on the forum, after uploading 5 GB of photos / videos with the new camera upload function (you can remove them later). Total: 25 GB, 5 times the space offered by other competitors. And storage space is expected to grow every year, because there will be new Dropquest, new betas, and special offers, bonuses or renewals can be acquired from referrals. For example, at the beginning of Dropbox, you were able to earn “only” 3 GB from referrals, then they grow to 8 GB maximum, and now are up to 16 GB.

Further offers are available if you register with an address email “educational” recognized as valid. There is an official guide that explains how to earn more free storage.

Doing the math, I have 12.57 GB of storage  currently available. Can I still get at least 11.5 GB from referrals and 3.5 GB from the camera upload function. Total: 12.57 + 11.5 + 3.5 = 27.57 GB. I do not know where those 0.07 GB are from…

The other thing that comes out in Dropbox comparison, is that it misses the ability to synchronize folders outside of the “Dropbox” folder, that one automatically created by the desktop client, and that there is little control over folders to exclude from the sync. The short answer is: bullshit.

The long answer is: the desktop client allows you to choose which folders to exclude from synchronization.

Also, if you want to keep synchronized a folder outside of the “Dropbox” folders without wasting more space with duplicates on your hard disk, you can simply use symbolic links (“junctions” if you speak Windowish), that are like “alias” but much more powerful than simple shortcuts, and available natively on multiple operating systems. On Mac and Windows there are several free utilities for creating symlinks if the user doesn’t want to open the command window, just to make things even easier.

Result: you don’t have to move a single folder from where it is and you can synchronize any folder you want, exclude those not you don’t want to sync, and have everything up-to-date and synchronized across computers, smartphones and cloud. That’s it.

WHERE DROPBOX IS STRONG

The main strength of Dropbox is its desktop client. The fact that it is well integrated in the files browser of your computer, makes everything, from installation to sync, easy and transparent. Easy because you only have to install the client, log in and then drag the files you want to keep in sync, or use the symlink trick that’s even more convenient. Transparent because after that, you can also forget to have Dropbox installed. Each time you save a file it will automatically be synchronized without you having to do anything. Same thing for new creations or deletions. To control what happens you just open the folder and take a look, as you would with any other folder using the Finder or Explorer or Nautilus or whatever file browser of your choice. This also means that you do not need any online service to edit your files and see them synced to Dropbox. You can work offline on the airplane, save the file and just see it magically synced to your Dropbox account when you reach an internet connection.

Dropbox also has a few tricks up its sleeve: it keeps track of every deleted file for a month. Then, using the online interface you can choose to view and restore individual files that you’ve deleted by mistake. They also will be automatically restored on your computer, of course.

It has a system to solve and tracks conflicts, that is useful when more people are working on a file and it is saved at the same time, so to avoid trouble, Dropbox saves two copies of the same file with different prefix in the name, letting the user choose which file to keep and which one to delete.

Unlike the free version of Box.net, Dropbox allows you to upload files of any size through the desktop client, and files up to 300 MB through the web interface.

The web interface has recently been very improved, there are new functions such as uploading via drag & drop and context menus via right click: now it’s closer to of any basic desktop file browser.

Definitely, a very useful feature of the desktop client is the LAN sync. You know AirDrop on Mac? Bonjour? Samba? Forget about them, and let the biodiversity reigns supreme in your home or small office. You have three Macs, two Linux PCs, one PC with WinXP and one with Win7. You want to share files locally painless and without get mad? Just install Dropbox on multiple PCs with different accounts (share folders) or even the same: Dropbox will realize that other clients are on the very same local network so the shared files will be shared on the fly without waiting for upload to the remote server. Just to make management of hybrid local networks even easyer.

Other integrated functions relating to file sharing are the photo galleries shareable via “private” link, the presence of a Public folder to host files and make them accessible to anyone from the web, such as images for your blog, or even an entire web site . You can also share folders to other Dropbox users, using the integrated sharing option.

Also, Dropbox has been around for a long time and has a great diffusion. This also means that there are a bunch of third-party applications and services to extend and improve Dropbox functionalities. I use DropSync for Android, I can not live without it. It allows a real two-way synchronization, such as that provided by the Dropbox client desktop, syncing online datas directly on the SD card of your device. This means that you can specify one or more folders (or the whole account!) on your Dropbox account as many as on your Android device and link them together to get them it into synchronized. The folders can be anywhere on your smartphone, you can specify timing of synchronization, instant upload and put conditions on connection (WiFi only, WiFi or Mobile Data), and battery status to decide when the sync may or may not occur. This allows you to have your mobile user experience in every way similar to that seen with the desktop client, bypassing the shortcomings of the official client (it allows you only upload – download files, there is not automatic two-way sync). In this way the files will be accessible offline … think about what you can do with your iTunes library. Other mobile applications make use of Dropbox, like 1Password, ES file manager, QuickOffice etcetera etcetera etcetera.

There are also some online services, such as free DropboxAutomator, that allows you to create simple workflows associated with Dropbox account folders, or CloudHQ (free and paid plans available), that allows synchronization between Dropbox and Google Docs.

I use DropboxAutomator to automatically send a PDF list of comics to my brother, who hopefully will buy them while I’m out of Italy for work.

WHERE DROPBOX FAILS

Ok, so Dropbox can do this and that, there are additional free of charge (or not) services and apps to add some missing functionality, and overall it’s great and adorable for consumer users. Where Dropbox really fails is in sharing options. It lacks in control: you can share folders with another user, or more users, and once they have accepted, they may act in any way in the folder, and all the modifications they make, every elimination or new creation, will be propagated to all other users. This is good if what you want is a shared collaboration tool, but not if you only want to make available to your technologically-backward parents some vacation photos or whatever.

You risk losing data, or find yourself with unwanted changes that will invade each account of all the people involved in that sharing. The alternative is to send a private link, but in this case only individual files can be shared (via download, in a nutshell).

What is needed is the ability to share a folder by specifying the privileges for different users, such as read-only, and optionally defining a password for security matters. Box does this.

Also on sharing the side, it would be useful to have an online editor with better conflicts management, in short, a “collaborative editor” to work more easily with four hands on a file.

All this in fact is outside the main mission of Dropbox, which is mainly intended for synchronization between multiple devices and the cloud, and in which file sharing is just an optional.

CREATIVE USE OF DROPBOX

The creative uses of Dropbox are millions, billions, maybe more. I will limit myself to just give you some tips in case you have in your hands a Mac (or whatever) and a Dropbox account, without going into too much detail because there is a thing named Google, you can use it.

Synchronization of library, preferences, etc. ..

You have three Macs? (Or WinPC or LinPC) Well you just have to do some symlinks tricks and  use a little your immagination (or Google) to keep in sync Address Book contacts, iCal calendars, Firefox and Thunderbird profiles, Safari bookmarks, whatever you want. Just go to tilde/Library to discover a world of opportunities. Similarly, using symbolic links, you can distribute and synchronize your iTunes or iPhoto library (be careful, you can run out of storage…), natively and without wasting resources, or using utilities such as phoshare.

In a similar way you can also sync 1Password or KeePass database, both from Mac to other Macs or between Mac and Android / iPhone / Other / PC / Linux (valid for KeePass, 1Password is not available for Linux).

Hosting, streaming, whateveryouwantonweb-ing

You have to show your portfolio to an important client? Use Dropbox galleries. Is not enough? Views.fm is there for you: photos video and audio streaming.

And if you have just completed a website and want to test it, or show it to a customer, without the need (or opportunity) to publish it on a hosting service? Publish it in the Dropbox Public folder, copy the link of the index.html and you’re done. Some PHP inthere? You can do that too. You are a n00b and you do not want to waste time with host providers and HTML but you still want a permanent and easy solution to host your personal website? DropPages is what yoou need.

Open Google, write a some random words next to Dropbox and you will find some online service that best suits your (un)need. Not to mention DropboxAutomator or IFTTT.

Remote control, advanced scrips, automations, etc…

First, a simple thing simple, start a Torrent download on your home PC, wherever you are. In most popular torrent client like uTorrent and Transmission, you can specify a “watch folder” that is a folder where the client will look for torrent files to be added automatically. Specify a designated Dropbox folder as whatch folder, upload .torrent file inthere wherever you are and you’re done!

Regarding the use of advanced scripts and so on, there are potentially INFINITE things you can do with Dropbox, a command line or the clever use of “Folder Actions”, Automator and Launchd on Mac OS X. Your imagination is the limit. This is what I could do by myself:

  • Print documents remotely by uploading files in a folder. Ingredients: a Mac, a printer and a trivial Automator folder action.
  • Remotely execute AppleScript commands or Bash scripts when loaded in a folder. Ingredients: a Mac, and a trivial Automator folder action.
  • Get the public IP address of the Mac at home, refreshing it every hour. Ingredients: a Mac, a bash script, the use of launchd.

Other uses may include audio / video surveillance or in general anything that requires the periodic execution of scripts and should result in or receive as input a file.

If you liked this article, or even if you don’t, please sign up for Dropbox using this link: we both will earn 500 MB of free storage. If you are already a Dropbox user, comment with your creative uses, you never know I forgot something.

‘Nuff said