Dropbox is still good

I’ve been using Dropbox for several months now, and I still like it. I have it installed on two computers, a desktop and a laptop. I recently wiped the desktop’s hard drive and installed an entirety new drive and system, then I installed Dropbox, and all my files (which were stored on Dropbox) mysteriously appeared on the new installation. Not really quickly but not a lot slower than if I had used some kind of backup system, and with zero effort.

Dropbox is an off-site backup and sync program. You install the app and link it to an account (which is free for smaller amounts, a reasonable cost for larger amounts). Your “Dropbox” is a folder in which you can have subfolders. In theory, you can put your entire personal set of folders inside your Dropbox folder. Anything that goes into that folder gets backed up on the web, and if you have a Dropbox on two computers or more, it gets synced across the computers.

I tend to download stuff onto my desktop, and when I make a new file (say, something I’m writing) I tend to put it on my desktop as well. Then, on a regular basis, I move those items into trash, a ‘scratch’ folder I maintain on my desktop (which means “Probably throw out”), or into the appropriate Dropbox folder. Then, it does not matter if I’m using the desktop or the laptop, everything is in the same exact place.

One has to decide if you want the Dropbox main folder to be on your desktop or in some other location in your home directory (or My Documents or wherever). I have no advice here. On my laptop, it is in my home folder on my desk top computer, it is on my desktop. Both work, both have advantages and disadvantages.

The folders and files that you have in Dropbox are also available from a web page, so you can access your files as long as you can access the web, and now there are a number of mobile apps for android and iWhatever that integrate with Dropbox as well, none of which I’ve used.


  1. #1 Richard
    September 14, 2010

    I’ve been using Dropbox for a couple of years, and I keep all my work stuff on it (i bought 50GB). It is nice to know that both my desktop and laptop could blow up and I would won’t loose any data. Its better than backup, because it is constantly updating the files.

    Also Dropbox is great for collaboration. My coauthors and I share folders and drop updated manuscripts etc in them.

    On the topic of great cloud apps – have you used evernote. Evernote completely rocks.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    September 14, 2010

    I love Dropbox.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    September 14, 2010

    Evernote does not appear to have a Linux client, therefore it is evile. Otherwise it looks great.

  4. #4 KBHC
    September 14, 2010

    I love dropbox too. It’s great for when my internet access isn’t consistent (coffeeshop, vacation, crappy wireless card on a very old laptop). I also use it on my Droid all the time as well, when I need to review documents (say, for a service committee meeting that I am, ahem, underprepared for).

  5. #5 Ralf Muschall
    September 14, 2010

    On https://www.dropbox.com/features in section “Security & Privacy”, they don’t explain where the encryption happens. If it is on the client’s PC, efficient synchronization should be impossible (a correctly implemented encryption flips on average 50% of all bits in the ciphertext if an arbitrary change happens in the plaintext or key); if it happens on the server, subpoenas and other attacks on the server pose a risk. The sentence “Dropbox employees are not …” might just mean that their boss doesn’t give them the AES key.

    Maybe they really invented an encryption that allows some rsync-like optimization but is still safe, but then they should say so (and become famous superheros in the crypto world).

    A simple (but probably foolish) way would be to keep the AES key fixed, split (at significant places like EOL etc. – splitting at addresses would destroy the syncability) the plaintext into tiny chunks, encrypt them separately, concatenate them and rsync the result – but I don’t believe this is safe. Then there is rsyncrypto, with heated discussions on /. I don’t know whether the a solution to this fundamental problem (i.e. secure offsite backups on untrusted servers) exists, and I believe that a proof of a NoGo-theorem is more probable than a solution.

    And finally: If both workplaces need internet connection to transfer the files, VPN works without a third party and allows rsync without security risks.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    September 14, 2010

    This is known and discussed on the DropBox forum, IIRC, though I have not looked lately.

    It is, as I’ve said, NOT an efficient sync. This is not a good way to transfer files between computers when you have a lot of files and need it done quickly. When I first re-animated my desktop, the 25 gigabytes or so of data ended up on the desktop in something like ten times the rate at which a direct transfer would have managed. Efficient transfer/sync is not the objective. Effective sync is. That it does pretty well.

    My understanding is that DropBox uses rsync + amazon cloud space.

  7. #7 Ralf Muschall
    September 14, 2010

    I looked into the forums ( http://forums.dropbox.com/topic.php?id=16971 and http://forums.dropbox.com/topic.php?id=15860 ), it encrypts after deduplication and before storage on the server (i.e. if you “upload” a very popular file, it takes zero time because they recognize it as being already in the cache). IOW secure enough for granny’s birthday pictures or pidgin-installer-2.7.3.exe (and really good for the latter), but I’d not upload relevant personal or professional data.

  8. #8 Cromercrox
    September 14, 2010

    I can haz Dropbox on my iPad. I email files to it using a utility called ‘GetHabilis’. Is nice. We have sexy time.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    September 14, 2010

    Ralf, there is no system on the planet that is secure and at the same time able to share files as Dropbox does. If you want a file to be truly secure, there are two levels of security you can follow, one suggested in the links you point to, the other much rarer but, in fact, the method used by the CIA in the US.

    Method 1) Encrypt the files. That’s very simple. You encrypt the files on your computer, and only the encrypted versions are shared. Anything you don’t want anyone to see should be encrypted, even if it is not shared on some network or drop-box like thing, because people can get into your computer physically if they want to.

    Method 2) Don’t connect to anything, ever. Only move files, in encrypted form, on movable media.

  10. #10 John Moeller
    September 14, 2010

    I love DropBox. I put an SVN checkout of my work in my DropBox to work out of. Then if I have a draft that I want to commit, but I forget to do it at home, I can still do it on my workstation because it got synced.

  11. #11 GrayGaffer
    September 15, 2010

    I too have been using DropBox since it came out. I have it on several computers, iPhone, and iPad. GoodReader and Evernote are great companions, and Evernote and DropBox are also accessible via web pages. GoodReader is the best general file type reader I have, and can also edit text files.

    Of particular interest here: DropBox maintains past versions of your files, like svn (and probably uses svn too). And one con – it does not play very nicely through corporate proxy firewalls.

  12. #12 Stevo
    September 15, 2010

    The feature I use most with DropBox is the public folder. On the mac (and I would assume on windows and Linux too) you can copy a public link to the file with a right-click. From there you can post them in an email instead of sending the file itself. I find this is much much better than sending attachments (especially if they’re large). Even better, if you find you have to make a change to the file after you’ve sent the email, you’re still ok as long as you save the file with the same name to the public folder.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    September 15, 2010

    GG: Yes, I forgot to mention that: DropBox=TimeMachine +/-

  14. #14 Icarrik
    September 15, 2010

    i love dropbox, i have my main pc sync with the cluod and I can access al my files from the blackberry..
    if you want more space, join with this link and recive 250mb extra! http://tinyurl.com/2cx4444

  15. #15 Richard
    September 15, 2010

    Yes, there is no evernote linux client which is a shame. You can run evernote 3.1 in wine pretty well, but 3.5 won’t run.

    I actually really like the web interface in google chrome. You can drag files from your linux folders right into the folders (notebooks) in evernote in the web browser. Its all very slick.

    I store all sorts of info such as web page clippings, notes, and pdfs in evernote.

  16. #16 Drivebyposter
    September 18, 2010

    Thanks you for mentioning this. I just got it and I love it. I have an old computer that I install annoying programs that are required for college courses on (so my not crapped up computer stays that way) but the USB ports are shot to hell. Now I can transfer the information easily! Thank you!

  17. #17 WWW
    November 13, 2010

    Dropbox is the best online sync and storage (up to 18.25GB) tool until now. If you want to get 250MB(or 500MB if you are using a university email account) bonus, you can register my link below

  18. #18 GrayGaffer
    December 8, 2010

    Corporate proxy update: rtfm me! it is there in the DropBox configuration and it does work.

    So zero cons.