Cloud Files

internetcloudI 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

21 Responses to “Cloud Files”


  • Hi jkent, Could you please invite me to the DropBox beta? My email address is bminer1 at gmail dot com. It sounds like a great solution to a problem I’ve been having keeping the latest version of some documents available when I’m at work, home and traveling. Thanks -Bob

  • Bob, an invite has been sent your way. Please let me know (email or post) if you get it (or don’t) as it is the first invite I’ve sent. My email is at the end of my post.

  • Yeah, I’m also using a beta service called SMEStorage (www.smestorage.com) – also allows me to keep my files in the cloud and also allows me to back up my emails which I can access on the move from my iPhone – I think this services are getting better and better !

  • Thanks Kevin. I’ve not heard of SMEStorage before. But it looks interesting. Like DropBox, it uses Amazon S3 for storage. I can’t easily find an FAQ to determine if SMEStorage enables offline use like DropBox, how automatic the synching is, or whether there is versioning. It does appear that SMEStorage supports more devices than DropBox, and has better integration with gadgets for web browsers for uploading and the like. I absolutely agree that these services are getting better by the day!

  • Hi, Genghis. Could you give me an invitation for the DropBox if it is left? It is really hot in Japan. I read that a blog post generated hundreds of emails for just five invitations! My email address is okaway AT yahoo DOT co DOT jp. Thanks a lot!

  • Yoki, your invite is on its way across the Pacific 🙂 Please let me know (email or post) if you get it (or don’t). My email is at the end of my post.

  • Sugar sync will let you sync individual folders
    [Moved by admin from BlackBerry Thunder thread]

  • I did get it! Wow I am so excited. You helped me spreading Dropbox in Japan. Thank you very much!!

  • wayne, I agree the ability to specify folders to sync is a feature of SugarSync that still is on the wish list for DropBox, where right now you are limited to the My Dropbox folder. Having this additional flexibility would be positive. However, in DropBox, you can create subfolders under the My Dropbox folder, so at least you can organize your synch’d files in that manner.

  • Yoki, that’s great! Please feel free to comment here on your experience with DropBox after you’ve had a chance to play with it!

  • Part of me is really interested in these services, but lately I find myself more wary of storing my files on servers whose physical and electronic security are unknown. Granted, in the olden days I used a bunch of these services, but these days I want to know how my data is being protected. Needless to say, I won’t even consider putting my company’s data on them.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Geoffrey

  • Geoffrey, these are legitimate concerns. The following is from the DropBox FAQ:

    ===

    How secure is Dropbox?
    We take utmost care to ensure Dropbox is secure. All transport of file data and file metadata occurs over SSL. Files are encrypted with AES-256 before being stored on our backend.

    Can I specify my own private key?
    We plan to eventually allow users to provide their own privates key but for usability reasons (e.g. being able to view files from the web) we haven’t done this yet. Some users have mounted truecrypt volumes in their dropboxes to handle this concern.

    ===

    I have not tried the truecrypt suggestion. I hope they implement the private key alternative soon.

  • Thanks for posting that information. I hadn’t even thought about the TrueCrypt option. I will have to keep an eye on DropBox.

  • Geoffrey, I would be interested in your experience with SugarSync.

  • I’m not using SugarSync, or any other similar solution. At the moment I am using SyncToy to keep my work laptop synced with my company’s network storage, and Mozy for backing up my home desktop. My personal laptop is left out of the loop, which is why I’m considering a sync program for personal use. SugarSync only uses 128-bit encryption, which is probably adequate for personal needs, but does seem weak in this day and age. When I get some time this week or weekend, I’ll do more research on those you’ve listed, and maybe try one out.

  • SyncToy is another useful (and free) PowerToy. Does it have versioning though? To me this is important as solutions such as FolderShare sometimes synched in an order I did not intend when I inadvertently had local copies of the file open on multiple computers.

    Backup is a related (though somewhat different) issue that I probably should blog about soon. I use Super Flexible File Synchronizer (you gotta love that name) though there are a number of respectable alternatives. Again, more on backup soon.

  • I only use SyncToy to transfer updated and new files to my network storage, so don’t have to worry about versioning. I could really use a backup program for this task, but find SyncToy very easy to use. I may give it a shot with my personal desktop and laptop to see how that works out.

  • For backup, I don’t really sync. Instead, I mirror. So for me, I look for slightly different functionality for a backup program than I do for a sync program. Hence, I use a different program for sync than I do for backup.

  • I know this topic is a little old, but I just had to say this:

    I typically do my Computer Science homework on one of several computers (work, home, laptop, etc). One really cool thing about dropbox is that I can create the project in my dropbox folder, work on it as if it’s a regular project, and if I want move over to another computer and continue working seamlessly. This really comes in handy!

  • Hi HDW. I agree. That is convenient.

    While this post is getting old, the topic is timely and developing. I’m planning to do a part 2 soon.

  • Well, to bring an old topic back yet again, I saw this on digg today:

    http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/15_things_you_have_know_about_dropbox

    Pretty cool, I’m guessing the part of using it to unify your FF bookmarks/settings may be especially helpful to you.

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