This article was first published on 2009-05-01. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
It’s pretty rare these days if you only use one computer and you don’t need to move files around at all. For those of us that do use many computers, syncing files between them is an ongoing problem that until recently has been too complicated to solve. And syncing files between Macs and PCs? That issue alone prompts many questions from MFM readers. Dropbox will solve that problem for you.
Me? I use 3 Macs I own and also multiple PCs in a classroom setting. Until recently, my solution has been to try to remember to have my USB thumb drive with me to make copies of my files to transfer to the computer I need at the time. The problem arises when making multiple copies and not having a master that is the most current with the latest changes. So my Macs have folders with scattered files which I never know if they are the latest or not. Until now.
I started using Dropbox some time ago but have only recently discovered it’s power. Sure it gives you online storage like many services, but it also syncs with your local storage much like MobileMe’s iDisk. In fact, you can think of it as a free iDisk service that also syncs with PCs.
It works like this: You install the service on any computer you want file syncing on. Dropbox then creates a dedicated folder called Dropbox in your User folder and gives you the option of having an special menu in your menu bar. You then move the files you want to sync into that folder and it will start syncing with your online storage. Here’s the great part, it will also start syncing with any other computers you have Dropbox installed on. Additionally, you can access your files from any computer with a web browser just like MobileMe.
For example, you work on a Office file during the day on your office PC and save it to your Dropbox folder. When you get home that night, it’s sitting in your MacBook’s Dropbox folder for more editing. You don’t have to do anything, it’s just there if your computer has been on! And any changes you save will be synced on both computers. The next day you go to your client’s office and download the file from a web browser and present it their on their computer. Nice!
The second great thing about Dropbox is that it has replaced YouSendIt for me in terms of sending large files to others. All you need to do is save your large file to your Public folder in Dropbox and then right-click it to Copy public link and then paste that link into your email message. Your client can just click on the link in their email and their web browser will begin downloading the file. That’s one click for you and one click for them. It’s what MobileMe promised to do last year and only recently delivered on.
Lastly, you can also set a folder to be shared and synced between multiple Dropbox users. For example, my friend wanted to share several hundred MBs of pictures with me. All he needed to do was designate me as someone sharing that folder in his Dropbox and now that folder appeared in my Dropbox too. Any changes either of us made were synced.
So as I’m writing this, I just moved a project folder I always seem to need from multiple computers into my Dropbox and copied an alias back to where it used to be. I’ll keep using it like always AND it will be synced to my laptop and available on the web. Nice!
Did I mention Dropbox is FREE. At least for 2GBs. I figure they try to make a buck once you realize you want more than 2GB. But for most users, that should be enough room.
How have you solved syncing? Let us know in the Comments section below!