Unless you’ve been living in a cave far from civilization as I have for the past two years, you’re probably aware of this nifty tool. But I have been living in a cave, so Dropbox hit me like a ton of bricks. Literally. I was setting up a collaboration between an audio book producer, a Voice talent and myself. We needed a quick and dirty way to move large audio files back and forth. By large, I mean over eighty megabytes.

Then I got an email invitation to join in a Dropbox collaboration from the audio book producer. Wow. You get up to 2 gigabytes of data, absolutely free, file sharing, encryption, automatic backups (I mean really automatic – you don’t have to do anything) and all sorts of other really neat stuff. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was like someone turned on a light in a dark room.

Dropbox works like a separate hard drive on your computer. The contents of the hard drive can be shared with others so they can see and interact with the files you place on it. From their computers, anywhere. You can invite others to share access to your dropbox and kick someone off if you don’t like what they’re doing.

Anything you place into your dropbox is available to you anywhere in the world, either by installing the Dropbox app on the computer you’re working on or via the web-based interface. Goodbye USB flash drives.

I’m a writer – okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a novelist – so I spend my days and often my nights hiding from the world while I plot and plan and write. And rewrite, and think of nasty things to do to my editors, my neighbors, the electric company, my landlord and anyone else who has the temerity to bother me when I’m writing.

If you’re collaborating with others on a file – as I do nearly every day – any changes by one person are immediately available to the other collaborators, and just in case, older versions of your files are backed up automatically and are available for restoration.

I live in Orange Park, just south of Jacksonville, Florida. One of my editors lives in Ocala, and the other in Silver Springs. We’ve been transferring files back and forth using email, for the most part.  In comparison to Dropbox, email attachments are ancient history. So now I don’t have to do anything but drag and drop my files into my dropbox and then I can go right back to work. My editors have access to my files immediately (or when they get around to it, anyway).

Here’s a  list of features I snagged off the Dropbox web site:

File Sync

Dropbox allows you to sync your files online and across your computers automatically.

  • 2GB of online storage for free, with up to 100GB available to paying customers.
  • Sync files of any size or type.
  • Sync Windows, Mac and Linux computers.
  • Automatically syncs when new files or changes are detected.
  • Work on files in your Dropbox even if you’re offline. Your changes sync once your computer has an Internet connection again.
  • Dropbox transfers will correctly resume where they left off if the connection drops.
  • Efficient sync – only the pieces of a file that changed (not the whole file) are synced. This saves you time.
  • Doesn’t hog your Internet connection. You can manually set bandwidth limits.

File Sharing

Sharing files is simple and can be done with only a few clicks.

  • Shared folders allow several people to collaborate on a set of files.
  • You can see other people’s changes instantly.
  • A “Public” folder that lets you link directly to files in your Dropbox.
  • Control who is able to access shared folders (including ability to kick people out and remove the shared files from their computers).
  • Automatically create shareable online photo galleries from folders of photos in your Dropbox.

Online Backup

Dropbox backs up your files online without you having to think about it.

  • Automatic backup of your files.
  • Undelete files and folders.
  • Restore previous versions of your files.
  • 30 days of undo history, with unlimited undo available as a paid option.

Web Access

A copy of your files are stored on Dropbox’s secure servers. This lets you access them from any computer or mobile device.

  • Manipulate files as you would on your desktop – add, edit, delete, rename etc.
  • Search your entire Dropbox for files.
  • A “Recent Events” feed that shows you a summary of activity in your Dropbox.
  • Create shared folders and invite people to them.
  • Recover previous versions of any file or undelete deleted files.
  • View photo galleries created automatically from photos in your Dropbox.

Security & Privacy

Dropbox takes the security and privacy of your files very seriously.

  • Shared folders are viewable only by people you invite.
  • All transmission of file data and metadata occurs over an encrypted channel (SSL).
  • All files stored on Dropbox servers are encrypted (AES-256) and are inaccessible without your account password.
  • Dropbox website and client software have been hardened against attacks from hackers.
  • Dropbox employees are not able to view any user’s files.
  • Online access to your files requires your username and password.
  • Public files are only viewable by people who have a link to the file(s). Public folders are not browsable or searchable.

Mobile Device Access

The free Dropbox application for iPhone, iPad, and Android lets you:

  • Access your Dropbox on the go.
  • View files from within the application.
  • Download files for offline viewing.
  • Take photos and videos and sync them to your Dropbox.
  • Share links to files in your Dropbox.
  • Export your files to other applications.
  • Sync downloaded files so they’re up-to-date.

A mobile-optimized version of the website is also available for owners of Blackberry phones and other Internet-capable mobile devices.

I’ve read several reviews of Dropbox over the last few days. Most of them are very positive, some cautious and a few critical (those reviewers probably don’t like sunshine, small bunnies or carrot cake with cream cheese icing, either). On the whole, though, I’m far more concerned with my opinion of the software I use, and I like Dropbox. A lot.

Way back in the bad old days when I was working for living, I spent several years beavering away in the high-tech industry. I ran software testing labs for a few software houses. It’s a great job, and I loved it. The term VPN crossed my desk one day and out of curiosity I looked it up on the Microsoft web site. Virtual Private Network. That sounded really neat. VPN’s work over the internet and are set up in such a way that if you’re not part of the vpn you can’t even see it, much less what it contains. Dropbox seems to be built along those lines. As you can see in the Features list, they don’t stint on security or encryption.

I’ll be posting a wrap-up on Dropbox near the end of this week or early next week. But to end this introduction I want to say that if you need to share files with anyone, for any reason, you can’t go wrong with Dropbox.

Have a good week.

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If Life is what happens when you’re busy doing other things, writing is what you do when you really can’t be bothered doing anything else.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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