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Dropbox: File synchronization and sharing couldn't be easier

DropBox makes online file synchronization smooth and virtually instantaneous

By Rich Ericson
September 16, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Are you looking to share files online, back up your own data or transfer files between Windows, Mac and Linux systems? Take a look at Dropbox. A terrific online service that just came out of beta mode, Dropbox combines file and folder mirroring/synchronization with an easy-to-use online interface that's efficient and well designed. You can set up the service on any of your systems (it supports Windows, Mac and Linux).

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Dropbox's main screen.
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Installation is simple; you download a 14MB executable that sets up the synchronization software that runs in the background (it launches automatically when you boot up and puts an icon in your Windows System Tray). During installation you specify the location of your Dropbox folder; by default, the subfolder is added to your My Documents folder, but it's easily changed -- for example, I created it in my root directory.

Once you've created the folder on your hard drive, you can drag files or folders into it and Dropbox immediately and automatically starts to copy them using Amazon's S3 storage. In Windows, a green check box in the System Tray icon indicates all transfers are complete. Changes will be automatically and quickly synced to Dropboxs storage. With any Dropbox account, the first 2GB of storage is free. Dropbox has yet to add a paid storage service offering more capacity.

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How Dropbox lists files.
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Synchronization is smooth and virtually instantaneous. For example, adding 10MB worth of data across five files took less than 15 seconds; a 300MB video file took about a minute to appear on the service (your speed will, of course, depend on how you're connected to the Internet). After the initial upload, changes to the file occur even faster because Dropbox updates just the changed bytes using block-level transfers -- and because it offers incremental backups so you can go back to any point in time to retrieve data.

Other file activity besides a save will trigger synchronization. For example, if you rename a file in your hard drive's Dropbox folder, the file is renamed on the service automatically (and vice versa). Likewise, if you delete a file from your hard drive and it will be hidden from view -- though not permanently deleted from the service, in case you need to restore the file later. (You use the "purge" command to permanently delete a file from the Dropbox server.) Use the "delete" command on a file on the Dropbox server shown in the file list of the Web interface and it's automatically erased from your hard drive.

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