By Dustin Sklavos
Dropbox is an online service allows you to share files online, sidestepping the file size limitations that e-mail, IM, and online document-sharing services put in place. Is Dropbox really the next-generation of FTP transfers, or just another Web 2.0 wannabe? We break it down in this review.
Drop gives 2GB of data-sharing for free; just create an account and download the client software. $9.99 a month gets you up to 50GB, $19.99 opens up a whopping 100GB of online storage space. But storage isn't the point of Dropbox; sharing is.
Put simply, Dropbox creates an Internet-accessible folder that syncs with your PC, making your files (of any size) accessible to anyone you grant access.
So how well does it work?
What makes Dropbox unique when compared to some of the other services I've seen and heard of -- like Rapidshare, or the very odd MojoPac I reviewed that never quite made it to market -- is that frankly, Dropbox is extremely easy to use.
To start, you visit their website, make an account, and download their client.
The installation process goes in four easy steps, and the installer gives you helpful, easy-to-understand tips along the way. Like the screen shown to the left, which explains how you can access your Dropbox from anywhere.
Once the client is installed -- and the download package is tiny at just 14MB -- Dropbox installs a tray icon and a folder which defaults to being located in your Documents. Dropbox's process, running in the background, consumes 57MB of memory. On my list of processes, that puts it pretty high up, but in general use it's not a huge deal and I've never seen it consume very much processor power. For the most part, Dropbox is very lightweight.
In its most rudimentary form, Dropbox creates a folder in your Documents, places a shortcut in your Favorites, and runs a tray icon, then keeps the service online updated depending on what you put in the Dropbox folder. (Dropbox also has Linux and Mac versions which install in similar locations.) Likewise, if you change anything by logging on to their website, your computer will automatically update with whatever was in it.
As a general rule I do hate programs that do exactly the three things Dropbox does on installation, but because of how lightweight the program is, how useful it is, and how little it actually affects the host system, it doesn't really bother me.
Now I've explained the basics, where the service basically keeps an online mirror of your data accessible from anywhere you have internet access, but did I not mention it as a file-sharing service?
When I was working on my last film, Dropbox made it easy for my composer -- way out in Wisconsin while I'm in California -- to update me with new material, as well as easy for me to send him clips to score. You can maintain a list of friends on Dropbox, and you can share a folder so that it mirrors the contents amongst every user who has access to that folder. For my film, Sleepless, it was me, my composer, and my production manager. Likewise, Dropbox also includes a default Public folder that anyone on the internet can access.
I can't stress how easy it is to actually use, because that's what won me over. Any one of us could alter the contents of our shared folder at any time and (internet bandwidth permitting) the files would automatically update between us. The service is a tremendous boon for creative types who need to share fairly substantial files between each other, let alone more basic consumers who just want to share family photos and videos. It's insanely easy to get working, and each folder has a tiny document file in it that explains exactly how to use it.
Even this basic aforementioned file-sharing is as simple as making a new folder in your Dropbox, right-clicking it, and clicking Share This Folder. It opens a dialog in your web browser that asks you to list who you want to share with. That's it. Done.
Finally, even the context menu in the system tray is simple enough, giving you information on how much space you're using, what's been updated recently, a direct shortcut to your Dropbox folder on your hard drive (which, by the way, can be configured at time of installation so you can put it wherever you like on your system instead of just defaulting to the Documents folder), and an Upgrade link if you decide you'd like a little more breathing room and are willing to pay for it.
The big win with Dropbox is that it's stupendously easy to use and has a tiny footprint. The software was smartly designed, devoid of unnecessary features and thus extremely good at what it's intended to do. It's the kind of streamlining we actually don't see too often in modern Windows applications. Even uTorrent, one of the smallest BitTorrent apps, is still pretty complex. Dropbox makes things easy and convenient.
I'm pretty madly in love with it after having used it to collaborate with my friends on my film. I appreciate the level of simplicity, and it's the kind of thing I can easy recommend to friends and family. If you need to share any files, big or small...Dropbox is the way to go.
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