Our next bit of Nifty Tech is a program called Dropbox. Dropbox is software and a service from a company of the same name. Dropbox allows you to sync and share files across computers and over the internet automatically. You can find them at http://www.dropbox.com. As of this writing, the Dropbox client software is version 0.7.97 for Windows and Mac OS X, which might put some folks off as a sign of an unfinished piece of software. But Dropbox is very usable and useful, and best of all, it is free! Versions are also available for several flavors of Linux. There is even an iPhone app.

When you install Dropbox on a computer, you designate a folder as your Dropbox folder, and allow it to connect to your Dropbox account. What the software actually does is create a background process that watches your Dropbox folder and the corresponding folder on Dropbox’s servers. If either folder is changed, the changes are immediately synced to the other folder. This is great for people with more than one computer, as it means that they can easily keep important files in sync between multiple computers just by putting them in the Dropbox folder. Once a file is in the Dropbox folder, the latest version will be synced to all computers on the account, and the file will be available from any computer by signing on to the Dropbox website with the account’s username and password. All communications are fully encrypted, to protect the confidentiality of your data.

So it syncs your files. So what? There are lots of file sync programs and services out there. What is so special about this one? Well, file syncing is only the tip of the iceberg for Dropbox. It makes an excellent collaboration tool. You can share any folder inside your Dropbox folder with any number of other Dropbox users. When you do this, the folder will show up inside their Dropbox folder and they will be able to see and edit the files in that folder. Any changes they make will be synced to everyone else. Dropbox also keeps track of previous versions of the file so you can always return to a previous good version. This makes Dropbox a great tool for working on collaborative projects. Everyone is always in sync, and your files are always recoverable! By default, Dropbox just keeps track of the last 30 days of changes, but they have a PackRat option that lets you keep unlimited changes.

But let’s say that you have some people you need to share files with that don’t want to create a Dropbox account. Or you have large files that you can’t e-mail that you need to get to a large number of people and you don’t know if they have a Dropbox or not, but they all need the file. Easy-peasy. By default, Dropbox gives you a special Public folder. When you put a file in the Public folder, you can right-click or control-click on the file and choose a menu item called Copy Public Link. This puts the URL of the file on Dropbox’s secure server into your clipboard. Now just e-mail that URL to the people you need to share the file with, and let them download it from the Dropbox servers. One drawback of the current version of Dropbox is that Public Links are only available for individual files, not for folders. If you need to share a folder, either you need to zip it up, or send links for each file in the folder.

Dropbox has another special folder. This one is called Photos, and as you’d expect, it is used for sharing Photos with other users. Create a folder in the Photos section, and put the images you want to share in that folder. Then go to http://www.dropbox.com/photos and select the folder. On the gallery page, there is a link that you can copy and send to anyone you want to share that gallery with. Dropbox even gives you a sample gallery so you can test it for yourself before putting any of your pictures online.

With the basic Dropbox account, you get 2 GB of storage space on the Dropbox servers. For most personal users, this is plenty. But if you need more space, you can purchase the Pro 50 account and get 50 GB of storage for $9.99 a month, or the Pro 100 account that nets you 100 GB of storage for $19.99 a month. Or, you can become a Dropbox Evangelist! For each friend that you invite to join Dropbox that actually joins, both you and your friend receive an additional 250 MB of storage on your Dropbox accounts, but only until you hit 3 GB. Dropbox even gives you tools that let you invite friends directly, or post a link on your web page for referrals. My referral link is https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTIwNzc1NDI5, if you’d like to check out Dropbox and give me some additional storage space.

But the really Nifty thing about Dropbox is the many, many ways you can use it. One friend had a problem with trying to put samples of music in her blog so that her readers can hear what she is working on. Dropbox Public Links. Using iWeb on multiple machines? Put the Domain file in the Dropbox folder and put a symbolic link to it on each of the machines with iWeb. It seems like every time I hear of someone having a problem involving multiple computers or the web, it seems like the solution that comes to mind always starts with Dropbox.

Dropbox is definitely a useful tool to have in your software toolbox if you’ve got multiple computers, need to distribute large files, or do collaborative work. And even if you don’t, it’s free, and it is Nifty Tech.

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