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Dropbox is the mayor of Sync Town, working like iDisk but more reliably. And since anyone can have a 2GB account for free, there’s no reason not to try it out. Paid accounts are $50 a year for 50GB of storage and $100 a year for 100GB, so you might decide not to back up your entire hard drive. But the sync and sharing services are the whole point.
Installing the Dropbox client puts a new folder called Dropbox into your user folder, and any files you put in that folder are synced to Dropbox’s servers. You can access those files through a browser by logging in to GetDropbox.com. You can also install Dropbox on your other computers (even Windows and Linux machines), associate them with your existing Dropbox account, and access your files from there. It’s meant to replace clunkier methods, such as emailing files to yourself or carting them around on USB flash drives.
Your Dropbox lives in your User folder and acts like any other folder in your Finder. We added ours to our sidebar for extra convenience.
Dropbox syncs your files instantaneously—we stuck five JPEGs in ~/Dropbox/Photos, and they appeared in our list of synced files on GetDropbox.com within 10 seconds. Your Dropbox folder contains folders called Public and Photos by default. You can share files in the Public folder with friends (even if they don’t use Dropbox) by emailing them a public URL. To get it, just view your Public folder at GetDropbox.com, click the file you want to share, and choose Copy Public URL from the contextual menu. You can email the link or paste it into an IM chat, and your recipient can view or download the file in their browser.
Drag some photos into the Photos folder within Dropbox, and Dropbox creates an online gallery. It’s not as attractive as MobileMe’s online galleries, but it’s an easy way to share photos online—just email friends the link to the gallery or right-click any photo and choose Copy Link Location to get links to specific pictures.
You can also set up Shared folders from which other Dropbox users can upload and download files. You invite friends by email address, and they’re required to sign up for Dropbox accounts. And if they don’t want to install the Dropbox client on their computers, they can stick to the Web interface only. Referring friends to Dropbox gets you each 250MB of extra free storage; grab your referral link from GetDropbox.com > Account > Referral Status. You can earn up to 3GB of free space from referrals. Joining other people’s Shared folders does affect your quota, since the files in that folder now show up in your Dropbox as well.
Any photos you add to Dropbox's Photos folder also appear in an online gallery.
In our tests, Dropbox was smooth and stable. And it’s convenient: We added the Dropbox folder to our Finder window’s sidebar, plus put an alias on our Desktop. Status updates appear as Growl notifications, or you can see them by clicking the menubar icon.
We especially liked how Dropbox deals with conflicts. If two users are working on the same file, whoever uploads it last “wins,” but the “losing” file is synced to Dropbox and time-stamped with the name of the computer that did the edit, so you can figure out which version you want. And we loved browsing our files on our iPhone: Head to m.getdropbox.com on your device, and log in to view recent Dropbox activity, browse your files, and view images and documents right in Mobile Safari.
This review is part of a larger feature which compares five different online backup services.
Dropbox is incredibly convenient and useful, especially if you have multiple computers and are constantly shuffling files between them. The robust forums (forums.getdropbox.com) and wiki (wiki.getdropbox.com) are great resources for help and tips.