Using Dropbox to Sync Files With the Cloud

by Trevor Ferhman on August 23, 2011

There are a lot of good file-hosting services out there, but Dropbox leads the pack for one simple reason: It’s the best.

Dropbox is essentially a free, web-based file-hosting service that lets you store and share files with other people via a folder on your computer that’s synced to the cloud. When you make changes to any file in that folder, Dropbox updates that file on the other devices connected to your account. Installation is painless, and using the service is seamless and intuitive. Dropbox also offers free iPhone, iPad, and Android apps that are straightforward to set up and use.

Dropbox can make itself useful in many day-to-day business scenarios. Let’s say you’re going out of town on business and you need to finish writing a proposal. You get most of it done at the office, and then edit your work at home. On your way to the airport, you realize that you overlooked an important point, so you access the file from your smartphone and make a few notes. On the airplane, you work on it some more offline, on your laptop or tablet computer. When you arrive at your hotel and connect to its Wi-Fi network, all of the edits you made automatically sync to your other devices via the cloud, creating a backup.

Or, let’s say you’re collaborating with team members on a file — a spreadsheet, a slide show, etc. Everyone can log into the same account from different locations, see the changes made by others, and add their own. Each person could also access the account from the office, home, or the road — using a computer or any device with an internet connection. What’s more, Dropbox keeps track of recent changes. All versions of files uploaded in the past 30 days are saved, so if you decide that you don’t like those edits you or your colleague made, you can simply open your browser, select the desired version from your account page on the Dropbox website, and reinstate the old copy.

What separates Dropbox from other services of its kind, such as Google Docs, is that Dropbox isn’t purely cloud-based; it’s a hybrid. Instead of storing your files solely on remote servers, you keep a copy on your hard drive, too. This means that, if your internet connection suddenly goes on the fritz, or if the host company is updating its servers or even vanishes tomorrow, you still have access to all of your files. This feature addresses a major pitfall in many other cloud services.

Of course, as with any remote service, security is a concern. Anyone who knows your password can get access to all of the files in your Dropbox folder. If you work on documents that contain sensitive information (e.g., customers’ billing information, etc.) you’ll need to weigh the risk of protecting that data against the convenience of having access to it wherever you are. (And indeed: Dropbox was recently — and embarrassingly — hacked.)

Security concerns notwithstanding, however, Dropbox is one of those rare services that’s so useful that, after you begin using it, you won’t believe you ever got along without it.

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