Not unlike giving a toddler access to your computer keyboard and files.
Last year at the beginning of the Winter term, I went to check my lecture notes the night before the 1st day of the term. You can imagine my surprise when I was not able to locate them on my hard drive, and also had some files re-name in my folders. I later found out that my toddler son’s curiosity in conjunction with me inadvertently giving open access to the computer led to this situation. What saved my bacon was the use of a file hosting service (Dropbox) which allowed me to fully restore the changed and missing files (and my sanity) back to a usable state in short order. There are quite a few services out there, with one of the big ones being Dropbox. Google just entered this field with their rollout of Google drive. I would like to talk about what each of these represent to me and how they may be a valuable addition to your workflow.
Dropbox works as a file service that is primarily interfaced to any computer you install their application on. Once you install the Dropbox app on your Windows or Mac computer, Dropbox creates a folder on that computer’s hard drive. Anything placed in that folder exists on that hardrive, but also gets copied to your account online in the background. No explicit actions are needed to upload files to the Dropbox servers. If you have the Dropbox app installed on another computer at any other location, be it at home or in your office, all files placed in your Dropbox folder gets replicated/downloaded to each location. This is one of the features that make this service so powerful. If your hard drive crashes on one workstation, your files are still available on your other computers. If you only have one computer, your files can be restored as soon as you install the Dropbox application on another computer or individually accessed online at the Dropbox website. Dropbox has a free service, offering 2 gigabytes of online storage. In this age of 8 GB flash drives being commonplace, you can easily burn through that allotment if you are not careful. Beyond 2 GB, you can either convert referrals for additional storage or pay for service starting at $99/year.
When my files disappeared, I was able to log on to the Dropbox site and search through my deleted files. The Dropbox gives you 30 days of “undelete” service with any account as a default. As soon as I discovered this feature, I made sure to add the “packrat” option to my subscription to enable unlimited deleted file to be recovered.
There are some concerns about Dropbox and security, and I am not really able to speak to their security structure. What I do to protect my sensitive data, is to keep valuables frombeing placed in my Dropbox folder (no copies of important documents, no tax returns.)
Since I have started using Dropbox, my commonly used files get placed into my dropbox folder so that I can access them easily and have the peace of mind that they will be available when I need them. This has not done away with my regular backup strategies. I still save to my Time Machine volume daily (on an automatic basis) and bi-monthly do a SuperDuper backup of my entire startup drive. I know that this seems very paranoid, but I am allergic to downtime, and I find that if I am unable to access materials when I need them, I experience a host of unpleasant symptoms.
As much as I am a fan of Dropbox, Google Docs has also become a big part of my arsenal of tools. I find myself using it frequently to collaborate with colleagues, do collaborative exercises with my students and additionally have replaced my use of other office suites about 95% of the time.
Recently, Google announced their Drive application. This is also a file hosting service with free and paid options and is poised to become the biggest competitor of Dropbox. Once you download and install their application to your Windows or Mac computers, Google Drive contacts the server and downloads all the documents and files in your Google account to a Google Drive folder on your computer (sound familiar?). Any files added to your Google Drive folder get synced with the Google server as well as any other computer you have also installed the Drive application on. The main difference is price: Google gives you 5 GB free to Dropbox’s 2 GB. Additional storage on Google starts at $2.49/month for 25 GB and goes up while scaling down the price. Dropbox needs to consider this if they are going to stay competitive.
I haven’t gone very far into sharing (both services support it) or iOS/Mobile support (good for Dropbox, getting better for Google Drive). If your time is valuable to you then you should investigate how these storage options can help save you time and aggravation. In future iterations, I will focus on backing up course information at the end of the term (you have been doing that, right?). I will also talk about backing up Macs to local (hard disk) storage instead of cloud based storage.