Many of us remember when ZIP drives came out. 100MB of cheap, portable storage, and they were such an improvement over floppy disks. Click-of-death issues aside, the ZIP drives were wonderful for their time but you don’t see them much any more because of USB flash/jump/pen drives (choose one, everyone seems to call them something different). USB drives are exceptionally useful:
- They’re usually cheap unless you get insane sizes (hundreds of GB)
- Cross platform (Windows, Mac and Linux–depending on the file system)
- They work on pretty much any computer–those without a USB plug are pretty scarce anymore
- You can install an operating system and boot off the USB drive–helpful for recovery utilities
Despite all of those features, I rarely use my USB drives anymore, all because of DropBox. You may have heard all the talk of “in the cloud” over the last year or so (especially from me if you have attended any of my programs), and that’s what DropBox is, a way to store, transfer, share and backup files in the cloud, where you don’t need to worry about your hard drive crashing or the worst case scenario, destruction of your files due to fire.
I first started using DropBox because I needed a way to have access to documents from my home computer to my net book, and to make them accessible away from both devices (and to have access using my smartphone). I have placed all my genealogical information in DropBox and now have access to all documents and can sync my research in RootsMagic by placing the datafile in DropBox. DropBox shares many of the features of a USB drive and has only one requirement; you need an Internet connection to synchronize the files.
- It’s cheap–when you first sign up you get 2GB for free. You can increase your free space through referrals, games, and other methods. You can also go for a paid plan: 50GB for $10/month, 100GB for $20/month etc…
- When you install the desktop program (Mac, Windows, and Linux), it creates a folder that is synced with the service. Backing up a file is as easy as putting it in the folder.
- You can access your files with any web browser on any computer with an Internet connection.
- Your files are stored on backed-up servers and (even better) you can restore deleted files and even restore a file to a previous version of the file–this is AWESOME!
- You can share folders with friends–any changes to the files will be synced to each person.
- If you install the program on multiple computers, the DropBox folder on each automatically is synced whenever connected to the Internet.
- The Dropbox has a “public” folder where you can put images, documents, whatever. It gives you the public link to those documents that you can use anywhere.
- There are versions of the program for iOS (iPad, iPhone, etc…) and Android, plus 3rd party programs that work on other smart phones.
Going back to how I first started using DropBox, I made an account and then installed the program (using remote control software) on my computer at home. It created the DropBox folder, and I moved the documents I needed to transfer into the folder. Then on my net book I installed the DropBox program, entered in my username and password, and, since my home computer had already finished uploading the files, a few seconds later the files I wanted were there on my net book, like magic!
Currently I use it with a couple of shared folders: one is shared with my fellow family researchers and has certain genealogy documents I share with them. Another folder with photos is shared with family.
That’s how I use it. Here’s some ways I can imagine family history fans using it:
- A secure place to store your family tree files. If you delete a file, you can restore it. If you mess up and delete an entire family line or corrupt the file somehow you can restore the file to an earlier version.
- An easy way to share files. If you are working on a project with several other people, there’s no need to email documents back and forth, just share the DropBox with each of them. Every time a file is changed it will sync out to each computer. If Aunt Jane adds a new photo of Great Uncle, everyone gets the file.
- Easy access to your documents, from just about anywhere. If you are at a hotel, don’t have your computer, and discover you need to change something in a file, download a file, or do anything, you just need to open a web browser. Log in to the website and you can download, upload, delete, restore, and more.
Like I said earlier, the free accounts for DropBox start at 2GB. If you create an account through someone referring you, you both get an extra 256MB, so find a friend that has an account and you’ll both get extra space. You can refer other people and get more space, up to 16GB.
Overall, it’s a great service. You can go for just the free service or go for the 50GB or larger plans and store all your data in the secure cloud. Either way, it’s something I completely recommend!