I work on a file on my work computer. I want to work on that file at home that evening or over the weekend. In the past, I emailed the file to myself. At home, I downloaded the file, worked on it, and then emailed it to myself again so I could access or change the file at work. Obviously not the best solution.
Nowadays I instead store the file in the “cloud” (aka the Internet). This solution has the advantage of avoiding multiple versions of the same file in my Inbox; the cloud always has the latest version. Additionally, you only need Internet access, not email access as well. Still, if you just use FTP to save the file in the cloud, these advantages may not be all that meaningful.
However, there are more elegant solutions that mobile workers can use to keep their files in synch among multiple computers. A few of the leaders (in alphabetical order) are Box.net, DropBox, FolderShare, Live Mesh and SugarSync.
I use DropBox. It is a beta, but it seems very solid. It keeps a file in two places. One is on the web, on a DropBox server. The other is on each of your computers on which you’ve installed the client application. This has two advantages:
- You can access your files even if you are not connected to the Internet from any of your computers on which you’ve installed the client application. Thus, you can work on a file while you are offline, and connect to the Internet later.
- You can access your file from any computer that has Internet access. You just log in to the DropBox website and access your files through the web interface. You also can use the web interface to upload your changes. This is very convenient if you are working on a computer at work or school on which you can’t install the client application.
When you change a file on one computer, as soon as the computer is connected to the Internet, the changes are synched to the web server, and also to all of your other DropBox computers as soon as they are connected to the Internet. What if you made a change you regret? While there is no Undo option in life, with DropBox you can go back to the prior file version, since DropBox keeps revisions of the files you changed.
Oh, did I mention that DropBox is free? At least for now. Per the FAQ, after the beta period ends, the tentative plan is free accounts for a relatively small (say 1 to 5 GB) of space, and paid accounts, the dollar amount varying with the amount of space.
DropBox isn’t perfect of course. On your computer, the only folder that synchs is called (unsurprisingly) My Dropbox. I don’t usually work on files in that folder because otherwise I’d have a zillion revisions showing up. Instead, I copy the file elsewhere, work on it, and when done copy it back to My Dropbox. I’ve made copying back easier by adding the My DropBox folder to my Send To shortcut menu, which is simple to do in both XP and Vista.
The DropBox beta is by invitation. But hey, I got invited (credit to Kevin Tofel of jkOnTheRun), so obviously the DropBox beta isn’t very exclusive. I have a few invitations left. Just post a comment with your email address in AT and DOT format to defeat spam robots (e.g, jkent AT genghiskhent DOT com).