BitDepth#842 - July 10

Using Dropbox and other cloud based solutions to link mobile and traditional computer systems.
A personal cumulus
A Dropbox folder hierarchy on Android and MacOS.

Cloud computing gets a lot of buzz these days. There’s Azure, iCloud, Amazon S3 and essentially everything from Google. Dozens of vendors want you to put your data on their Internet connected servers and some even make it easy for you to do just that.

While many of these services include web-based software meant to replace traditional computer tools, the real lure of online products like Microsoft’s web apps and isn’t the expansive toolset that they offer, but the ability to work with data online and share it seamlessly.

For most users though, a mix of cloud and disk-based storage makes the most sense, and serious users of consumer-grade cloud based solutions create workflows that play to the strengths of both.
It should come as no surprise then, that the solutions that are most popular are the ones that come closest to making working with a cloud server as easy as saving a file to your computer’s desktop.

I’m currently running roughly 140 GB worth of free online storage from Dropbox, Box, iCloud and Microsoft Skydrive. I haven’t even bothered to fiddle around with Google’s drive yet.
How did this happen? Largely as a result of using the services. Dropbox sent me an e-mail last week informing me that as a “Guru” on their system, I’d be getting an extra 48GB free for a year.

Why? Because I’d managed to make use of every feature of their cloud service. Rival cloud service Box dropped 50GB on me because I logged into my account using their software for Android.
These online storage and transfer services are addictively useful and simple to use, but as I’ve found, getting the average user to try them takes some persuasion and advocacy.

I tend to be pretty aggressive about encouraging computer users to start by using Dropbox. Of all the services, it’s the one that has the deepest reach, with software for Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS and Android and it’s a model of unified simplicity.
The way it works on the computer desktop matches the mental model that we’re encouraged to form of the way files and folders are arranged in that virtual space.

Dropbox creates a folder on your system that’s your primary way of managing files. Create a folder within the Dropbox folder and put a file on it and it becomes available to you from any other device on the Internet as fast as it can be uploaded.
When I set up my first Samsung Android device, I bought special software to link it to my Mac. After installing Dropbox, I simply stopped using it, preferring the web service to do the heavy lifting of moving media files back and forth. I’m on my third device now and haven’t looked back.

Dropbox and Box provide real utility for computer users moving data files between their existing desktop systems and newly acquired smartphones and tablets and both services offer polished apps for Android and iOS.

Both Apple and Google offer quite capable and free systems to synchronise the other data you need to keep working on multiple devices. GMail users will find that a single sign-in on an Android device opens access to their address book as well as their mail on a new device.

Apple’s iCloud does the same for devices in its ecosystem, but in a rather draconian move, demands that users upgrade to the very latest versions of their desktop and mobile software, leaving older users who can’t upgrade yet out of this useful loop. Dropbox on iOS must also work a bit differently, since Apple’s mobile operating system has no file system visible to its user.

Many apps on the platform, however, make inventive use of Dropbox API’s to access files outside of Apple’s preferred iTunes/iCloud synchronisation system.
As more companies bless bring your own device (BYOD) use in the workplace and the need for business efficiency and mobility in many small and medium enterprises grows; it will find a multiplier factor in local mobile broadband rollout. These services, which expand access to commonly used and referenced files, will become indispensible in keeping information available on all the devices we use.

My 2010 roundup of personal cloud services is here.
Sign up for Dropbox from
this link.
blog comments powered by Disqus