In times past, storing things in the cloud would have sounded like an expression for foolery. Now, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Dropbox is one of the big names in cloud storage at the moment. Like most other cloud storage options, it’s mainly for keeping your most important files synched across different devices and for ensuring their accessibility as long as you have an Internet connection (since copies of them are kept on remote servers, and thus downloadable to you on the Web). To some extent, it can be used as a backup file solution too.
Now Dropbox is just one of the many names in this space. Google has thrown in its own sally with Google Drive and Microsoft has done the same with OneDrive. There’s also the very simply named Box.
Some of the premium competitors actually offer more space at the free level than Dropbox. Both Google Drive and OneDrive give you 15GB, for example (although Google’s is spread across a number of its other services). Competition is tough for cloud storage services.
In spite of that, Dropbox remains one of the most widely used cloud storage options at the moment. Why is that and would it work for you? That’s what we’re going to try to see here.
You can install Dropbox on your Android smartphone, BlackBerry, iPhone, and Kindle portable devices. You can also install it on a Windows, Linux, or Mac computer. You can also skip installations of the app and just access your Dropbox account via your Web browser instead, but for various reasons, it’s generally better to do the installation.
Installing Dropbox gives you a Dropbox folder on your device. Data you put in this folder is uploaded to the cloud. That means it can be accessed from anywhere using the Internet, at least if you have your password and account details.
You can create new folders within your Dropbox folder and then share those folders with others. You do this using the invite option. From then on, you and the ones you invited can access the files in whatever folder you shared with them.
All changes to a folder are synchronized (unless you choose otherwise) with the company’s servers and the equivalent folders on your other devices.
For example, say you have “Folder A” in your Dropbox folder on your laptop. If you add a file named “File 1” to Folder A on your laptop and your laptop has an Internet connection, Dropbox will automatically synch all the Folders A on your devices to have that file.
So a file you upload to the Folder A on your computer will show up too on the Folder A on your smartphone. If you happen to be sharing Folder A with another person, it will be in their computer’s Dropbox folder and have File 1 too.
Dropbox also allows you to share files via creation of specific Web addresses for accessing them. This is done by putting a file in the “Public” folder within the Dropbox folder, selecting that file, then creating the link and thus putting that file up on the Web.
You can send that link to anyone, including users without Dropbox accounts. This is strictly for files that you do not want protected, by the way, like public videos.
Dropbox’s plans currently come in 3 tiers.
The free model gives you an expandable 2GB. (We’ll tell you later how to expand it.)
The Pro model comes at $9.99 a month and adds more sharing options and remote wiping capabilities.
Finally, the Business model goes for $15 a month for as much storage as you might need and offers even more sharing controls with priority support and unlimited file recovery.
1. 2-step verification available – It’s just as well this is an option since the service suffered an assault in 2012 that led to some customers’ emails being stolen. You can enable this for added security and choose how to get the codes: through the app or text message.
2. SSL and file encryption – More security is generally better when you’re storing stuff on the cloud.
3. Offers ways to gain more storage without pay – Think 2GB isn’t enough? You can actually expand your Dropbox account’s storage to as much as 16GB by going through some tasks and challenges. For example, you can install the app, take a tour of the service, and even just connect with its social media accounts to get a few hundred MB of extra space. Need even more? Do referrals. You’ll get 500MB of extra space per referral.
4. Conflicting file copy creation – If there are two of you with access to the same folder and you decide to open and modify a file at the same time, Dropbox doesn’t delete one of the files after saving. Instead, it keeps both of them and labels one as a conflicting copy. Then you can just merge the two by checking their contents.
5. High interoperability – It plays nice with a lot of operating systems. We like programs that don’t try to hog the playground.
6. No file size limits to uploads – As long as you’re using the apps, that is. If you do uploads via your browser by just logging into your account on the Web, you’ll be restricted to uploading files 10GB and lower per instance.
7. Good servers – It uses Amazon’s S3 servers, which are actually pretty reliable.
8. Action history logging – Another efficient feature for keeping track of shared folder activity.
9. 30-day grace period for deleted/altered files – Want to roll back a file to a previous version or just recover it after a deletion? As long as it hasn’t gone over 30 days from the time it was changed or deleted, you can.
10. Great OS integration – It’s not just that it plays nice with a lot of operating systems: it’s also that it integrates with them so well that it doesn’t make you feel like you’re using a dedicated program with its own dashboard/interface to manage. It simplifies matters, which is generally good.
11. Light on bandwidth consumption – It only uploads and downloads actual alterations to the files instead of deleting the old file on the server and replacing it with a completely new one. It also has LAN synching so you can use your local network for sharing and Selective Sync if you want to prevent it from downloading all your Dropbox files and folders on a particular device.
1. No FTP – Not really an issue for some, but it may be for a lot of the heavier users, like businesses with large file transfers.
2. Limited plan tiers – It’s a bit difficult to imagine people don’t want a middle option between 2GB and 1TB.
3. A little low on base storage space compared to some premium competitors – We already mentioned Google Drive’s and OneDrive’s starting storage earlier. That said, it should be mentioned that Dropbox’s free plan storage can be boosted to 16GB if you just put in some effort to meet the expansion challenges.
4. Still low in collaboration features for business usage – Google’s product leads the way here, with real-time collaborative synching and the ability to see what the other user is doing.
5. Customer support is slow – You may have to wait more than 24 hours to get an answer from Dropbox’s support staff, unless you’re on the Business plan. It’s because everything is managed by email and it takes them a while to wade through it.
There are a lot of good things about Dropbox, but some of its drawbacks do mean we’re not recommending it for everyone. Big organizations intending to use it for business in particular will take issue with its lack of FTP and robust collaboration features. The same for its customer support, although it does tend to get better at the Business level.
That said, it’s a nice service if you’re just using it for modest purposes. Personal use and small business cloud storage isn’t too bad, for example. It’s also one of the easiest to use of all the cloud storage solutions at the app/interface level. Dropbox’s simplicity and lightweight resource consumption give it a real fighting chance against Google’s and Microsoft’s heavy hitters, and a lot of casual users still prefer it to the more feature-rich options.