Dropbox, a Great Cloud Service

ND – Dark, Blue

Since mid-Summer I’ve been dealing with a local printing company for various projects and one of the problems I had to deal with was in getting image files to them.

They are local so I can walk there, but it’s still not always convenient for me to pop in with a USB stick. I decided to look into online webstorage systems that allowed me to store files online, and share some of them with specific people.

I had some criteria too. First and foremost, I don’t like JPG’s. Even at 100% quality setting, I don’t trust their lossy format and if I have spent some time trying to post-process an image to be something I am proud to print out fairly large then I wasn’t going to let it down at that last hurdle.

TIFF files are my weapon of choice here, but the ones I’ve been producing tended to arrive at 130MB to 140MB, so I needed an online service that could cope.

Secondly, I’m a cheapskate. I have spent money on others things over the years, but I’m still of a generation that wants a physical album in a sleeve when I buy music, I can tolerate CD’s, so the idea of paying for virtual stuff is something I currently find awkward. Don’t worry though, I won’t hold the world back, there’s a generation entering their teens who have never known a world without the Internet, and who will not be hampered by such baggage.

To be blunt then, I wasn’t going to pay for this storage. I was demanding it for free.

Fast forwarding, I looked into a number of such services and settled on two that seemed to cover me, but in different ways.

For dealing with the printers, I’m now an avid
Skydrive user. The web interface is sluggish and a little tedious at times, but the service gives me 25GB of free storage out of the box, but with one slightly annoying, and almost paralysing caveat; there is a maximum size for any file uploaded of 50MB. Ouch!

Thankfully, the wonderfully ubiquitous ZIP compression algorithm came to my rescue and converted my files, so far, into more manageable 35MB-45MB chunks.

I can set up email based permissions to folders, I have a folder per print job, and I can send an email directly from within Skydrive to the printers including a link to the latest work.

One of its foibles though is that, just as the file upload size is limited, so too is the web mail size. A polite “Hey guys, here’s the latest stuff” is about all I can manage, and I usually have to send a second email from a normal client to give them the specifics of the job.

The other thing that is sent to slow your day down is its transfer protocol. It uses the ancient FTP system behind the scenes which was designed decades ago to send a few Kilobytes of text rather than tens of Megabytes of pictures. FTP doesn’t scale well and is notoriously slow. So you hit the upload button and wait, and wait, and wait.

All that aside, it’s been useful this year, though I’m dreading producing larger files from medium format film.

However, whilst all of that…
…was going on, I also discovered Dropbox. Dropbox is a very different service. Whereas Skydrive let’s me secretly share files with others, Dropbox let’s me, even more secretly, share files with myself!


Don’t be, it couldn’t be simpler 🙂

In running a Flickr site as well as this Blog, I have developed a need to be able to access small text and image files wherever and whenever I am in order to nibble away at working on them in odd moments of free time.

Simply carrying around a USB stick to use on my iMac at home, or my PC at work during lunch breaks is not the solution as sometimes when I have spare time the only device I had with me was an iPhone. More recently I’ve also become an iPad owner and this has really shown me the merits of Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere computing.

After all, I’m writing this article on my iPad.

But then I discovered Dropbox and have never looked back.

I registered a free Dropbox account on my office PC and downloaded their small thin client. This creates a folder which I placed on my Desktop for easy access and set up a folder structure in it to organize the various types of activities I would use it for.

Unlike Microsoft’s Skydrive the free storage limit was only 2GB, though there were paid options that went much higher, but unlike Skydrive there was no limit to the size of an individual file so long as there was enough free space left on your account to upload it to.

As an incentive for you to spread the word, Dropbox offers a free upgrade of 250MB to your account for each and every recommendation you make, via email, to other people who then successfully install Dropbox as well. I’ve done this twice already and have bumped up my free capacity to 2.5GB now. They have set a max limit on this so that you can’t expand beyond 8GB, but for my current usage I’m going to run out of willing friends, or just friends of any description, before I feel compelled to pay any real money.

Here’s the clever thing though; whatever changes you make to the local Dropbox folder on your computer, are then made, invisibly, behind the scenes to a mirror of that folder on the Dropbox server.

The only indication you get is a little green tick or blue cross icon attached to each and every file or folder in your Dropbox to indicate whether it has sync’d yet. If you shut the computer off before synchronizing has finished, no problem, it will continue again the next time you boot up. The system appears to be bullet proof.

Unlike Skydrive it’s fast too, doesn’t use FTP, and goes as fast as your network connection will allow, silently in the background.

The Dropbox iPhone App is quick and easy. Download from the App store, log in once (which it remembers) and your iPhone silently updates in the background.

I can create a text file in the Dropbox folder on my office laptop at lunchtime, start to write a piece, save it and forget it for a day. The following day I’m out but have 10 minutes to spare, I open the Dropbox App on my iPhone and the file is “just there”. I touch it to open, re-read what I’ve already done and update it further, then save it when my time is up and forget it again. A couple of days later, I’ve got time at lunch again, open the file from Dropbox on my office laptop and the latest version is there with my iPhone updates and I can carry on.

Now here’s the great thing. I’m also running Dropbox on my new iPad, a far superior tool for typing than the iPhone. So whether I’m in the office on my laptop PC, at home in my study with my iMac, or on the sofa with my iPad, or in the park with my iPhone, the latest file is always there with me, waiting to be updated.

The same goes for images. I usually prepare them on the iMac and put them into Dropbox when they’re ready. Then when I have time, whichever device I have with me allows me to upload a few of them to either Flickr or this blog.

I would like to see…
…some extra features though. Whilst the desktop (PC or Mac) client is pretty fully featured and works with any files, the iOS App is somewhat more limited. On iPhone or iPad you can’t create new files, like text files, but can open, edit and re-save text files that you’ve already placed there from a traditional computer.

The mobile App has a “camera” icon button that allows you to select photos and images from your device to copy into Dropbox. However, you can only select images from your “Saved” folder, so any other images on your device (most of them in my case) are inaccessible. Also, the interface only allows you to browse and select a single image at a time to be copied from your Saved folder to Dropbox, you are not able to select multiple files or a folder containing files, so it’s a slow and awkward process if you want to copy multiple images across. These are all easily implemented missing features that I hope will be incorporated in a future update.

Overall though, Dropbox has proved to be an invaluable tool and has started to sell me on (ironically free) cloud services.

Give it a go if you haven’t already 🙂

Share & Propogate,

Digg! Delicious Follow Nakedigit on Twitter
(c) Nakedigit 2010


About nakedigit

I have legs and a camera. I also occasionally use a passport. The camera with my brightest lenses can almost (almost) see in the dark. So the only thing stopping me from putting it all together regardless of where and when i am is, well, me really! However, when i don't completely muck it up the results may end up here on this blog and also my Flickr page. I now Twitter and a website is coming... ND August 2010
This entry was posted in Apple, iMac, iPad, iPhone, Nakedigit, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s