Over the last few months, I have been experimenting with a web-based service called Dropbox, which you can use to store and share computer files.
It works by saving selected files from your computer onto Internet servers and allowing you to access them there, or copy them from there onto any other computer where you need them. The system keeps track of changes that you make to a file in one place and then applies these changes to copies of the file on the Internet and on any other computer you’ve copied them to.
The main reason you would use Dropbox is to quickly and easily back up your important files so that you would have access to them in the event that your computer was destroyed or stolen. It also makes it easy to work in different locations on the same set of files and ensure that you are always working with the latest versions.
Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage and paid options including 50 GB for $9.99 a month and 100 GB for $19.99 a month. Getting up and running is very easy and involves going to the Dropbox site (Dropbox.com) and downloading the version of Dropbox for your computer or device.
The software is available for PC, Apple and Linux desktop computers as well as Apple iPads and mobile phones and Android-powered mobile devices. There is apparently also a version on the way for Blackberry mobiles.
The software installation process takes you through signing on for an account and it creates a folder on your computer called My Dropbox. Any files placed in the folder are automatically copied into your storage area on the Dropbox website.
The Dropbox software running in the background on your computer will detect if any of the files in the My Dropbox folder is deleted or changed, and synchronise the changes with the files stored on the Internet.
You can access your files by logging on to the Dropbox website or by installing the software on another computer, and letting it copy the files from the Internet onto that machine. Files on the website can be kept totally private or made accessible to other users, and the system will generate albums to display shared photos.
Mistakes do happen, even in the best regulated families, and Dropbox has an undo feature which takes this into account. The free version allows you to restore deleted files or access previous versions of files for 30 days, while the paid options allow you a time-unlimited undo facility.
A wise man once said that a backup strategy requiring human intervention was a recipe for disaster because the human would eventually slip up and miss doing them. He said that the only safe method was one that was fully automatic, and Dropbox fits the bill admirably.
It is extremely painless to use and, once installed, the average user will probably never even see the program. It runs in the background and, providing you remember to save your files in the My Dropbox folder, you should have no problems at all.
The only slight negative I found with Dropbox is that it wants you to put your files into the My Dropbox folder before it’ll synchronise them. I would have preferred to leave my folders as they were and point out to Dropbox which ones I wanted to back up.
It seems that quite a number of users have the same requirement because, when I went to the Dropbox site to investigate, I found there was a page where users can vote for new features to be incorporated into the system.
Topping the list, with more than 54,000 votes, is a request that Dropbox be adapted to allow the backing-up of files from any folder.