Many of us remember when ZIP drives came out. 100MB of cheap, portable storage, and they were such an improvement over floppy disks. Click-of-death issues aside, the ZIP drives were wonderful for their time but you don’t see them much any more because of USB flash/jump/pen drives (choose one, everyone seems to call them something different!). USB drives are exceptionally useful:
- They’re usually cheap unless you get insane sizes (hundreds of GB)
- Durable (mine have survived trips through the washing machine)
- Cross platform (Windows, Mac and Linux–depending on the file system)
- They work on pretty much any computer–those without a USB plug are pretty scarce anymore
- You can install an operating system and boot off the USB drive–helpful for recovery utilities
Despite all of those features, I rarely use my pile of USB drives anymore except when I need to use one to boot a broken computer–all because of DropBox. You may have heard all the talk of “in the cloud” over the last few years–and that’s what DropBox is, a way to store, transfer, share and backup files in the cloud, where you don’t need to worry about your drive crashing or house burning down.
I first started using DropBox because I needed a way to get documents from my home computer to my work computer and through a really restrictive firewall. I could remote control the computer using LogMeIn but since I was using the free version of LogMeIn there wasn’t a way to transfer the file. Then I discovered Dropbox. It shares many of the features of a USB drive and has only one requirement: you need an Internet connection to synchronize the files.
- It’s cheap–when you first sign up you get 2GB for free. You can increase your free space through referrals, games, and other methods. You can also go for a paid plan: 50GB for $10/month, 100GB for $20/month etc…
- When you install the desktop program (Mac, Windows, and Linux), it creates a folder that is synced with the service. Backing up a file is as easy as putting it in the folder.
- You can access your files with any web browser on any computer with an Internet connection.
- Your files are stored on backed-up servers and (even better) you can restore deleted files and even restore a file to a previous version of the file–this is AWESOME!
- You can share folders with friends–any changes to the files will be synced to each person.
- If you install the program on multiple computers, the DropBox folder on each automatically is synced whenever connected to the Internet.
- The Dropbox has a “public” folder where you can put images, documents, whatever. It gives you the public link to those documents that you can use anywhere. I often use it to host images for eBay auctions
- There are versions of the program for iOS (iPad, iPhone, etc…) and Android, plus 3rd party programs that work on other smart phones.
Going back to how I first started using DropBox, I made an account and then installed the program (using remote control software) on my computer at home. It created the DropBox folder, and I moved the documents I needed to transfer into the folder. Then on my work computer I installed the DropBox program, entered in my username and password, and, since my home computer had already finished uploading the files, a few seconds later the files I wanted were there on my work computer, like magic! =)
Currently I use it with a couple of shared folders: one is shared with my wife and has a bunch of documents, one is shared with my brother (he uses it to send me funny pictures), one with 5 of my co-workers for funny videos so we don’t have to email them. I also have a bunch of documents, random files, recipes, family photos, etc…
That’s how I use it. Here’s some ways I can imagine family history fans using it:
- A secure place to store your family tree files. If you delete a file, you can restore it. If you mess up and delete an entire family line or corrupt the file somehow you can restore the file to an earlier version. If your house gets washed away in a flood or burnt to the ground, all your files are safe and secure.
- An easy way to share files. If you are working on a project with several other people, there’s no need to email documents back and forth, just share the DropBox with each of them. Every time a file is changed it will sync out to each computer. If Aunt Jane adds a new photo of Great Uncle Rupert, everyone gets the file.
- Easy access to your documents, from just about anywhere. If you are at a hotel, don’t have your computer, and discover you need to change something in a file, download a file, or do anything, you just need to open a web browser. Log in to the website and you can download, upload, delete, restore, and more.
Like I said earlier, the free accounts for DropBox start at 2GB. If you create an account through someone referring you, you both get an extra 256MB, so find a friend that has an account and you’ll both get extra space. You can refer other people and get more space, up to 16GB.
The blog LifeHacker often has tips about cool ways to use DropBox and they also have articles on ways to get more space for free. First there’s the “Getting Started” tab. Next, get 768MB through web links. If you add a .edu email address to your account they double your free space. And if you follow the clues in their scavenger hunt you can get another 1025MB.
Overall, it’s a great service. You can go for just the free service or go for the 50GB or larger plans and store all your data in the secure cloud. Either way, it’s something I completely recommend!