An elegant file synchronization tool

By Jeevendra Bandara Ranasinghe

Thinking about online file synchronization? Sure enough there are hundreds of sync tools available. But Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) is the new kid on the block. Having been on the web for only two years, it has improved a lot since its inception. Though it requires you to download and install software to assist in syncing, there is almost no interface, but creates a folder in ‘My Documents’ called ‘My Dropbox’ (that’s if you don’t move it elsewhere or rename it) and a tiny system tray icon.

The Dropbox has some great features which makes it the number one syncing software at the moment and has earned some excellent reviews on the PC magazine and at PC World.

There are three plans available. The Pro 50 plan gives you an awesome 50 GB space for US$9.95 per month or US$99.95 for a year and the Pro 100 plan offers a crazy 100 GB for $19.99 per month/ $199.00 a year. The basic plan, which is free, offers its users free space of 2GB. For those who would like to increase there space capacity without paying for it need only invite a friend. For every friend that joins, 250 MB of bonus space is given up to a limit of 8 GB.

The site is very tidy and easy to use. And the nifty tool works fine with Windows, Mac & Linux. To use Dropbox, users need to start by downloading and installing the client software. The executable file is only 12 MB. It checks whether you’ve an account and if not asks you to register.

During installation it creates a folder in ‘My Documents folder’, where all the syncing takes place. For the moment users will not be able to connect multiple folders which is a bit of a disappointment. You have to move the required files in to the linked folder.

Once the main folder is created, two subfolders called Public and the Photos are automatically created. The files you store in the Public folder can be shared with anyone, provided that they are invited to view the contents of the public folder or they have the permanent link to the said file. For the people who don’t want to install the Dropbox client can still browse the files and folders as long as they have the links to the files and folders.

But as soon as someone installs the client program, the shared folder will be downloaded to that computer. The shared files can be deleted, edited and manipulated according to the user requirements and the site will keep tabs on revisions as well as on the deleted files up to 30 days. When you’re on the move and working on multiple computers Dropbox is something you should have. If you’re working on public computers, there is no need to install it.

By having the links to the relevant files & folders, they are at your fingertips to be accessed. But if you’re working with office files at home or vice versa, the files will be downloaded to your linked PCs.

You can sync the files of any size, any type among multiple platforms of Windows, Mac & Linux. The client will update the files as soon as it detects any changes. If the connection drops during the sync, it’ll start from the point where it stopped. And the efficient syncing method will not sync the whole file, only the part which was subjected to change.

Any files that are added to the sync folder while you’re offline will be synced as soon as you’re connected. And the good thing is that the bandwidth will not be hogged while syncing takes place. Dropbox allows you to kick out, once invited people and wipeout your shared folder and files on their hard drives as well.

For those who use to do use their mobile phones, a mobile optimised version of the website is available. But for the iPhone users more options are available with the ‘Dropbox iPhone App’. Though Sri Lankans have not laid their hands on Andriod phones yet, a ‘Dropbox Android’ version is said to be on its way too.

In terms of security of your files, up-to-date there have been no records of security breaches on Dropbox. Shared folders are viewable only by the invitees and all communication with Dropbox servers occurs on encrypted channels (SSL) and stored, fully encrypted with AES-256 cipher. And the company confirms that the employees are unable to view stored files. And though the files are stored online, they are not searchable through search engines (whew!!!)

All in all ‘Dropbox’ can be what we have all been looking for. With the paid plans, this can be a versatile tool for corporate users. Even for individual use, this nifty interface works fine. I’ve been using Dropbox for couple of months and I found no flows. It even makes up for times when I forget my pen drive at home (provided that the files are in the sync folder).

As of March 2010, the user rate had reached 4 million and its said to increase even.

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