Dropbox: a way to transfer or email large files

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Emailing large files can be a pain. There’s often a size limit on the file you can send out and another on the mailbox receiving the email. If the recipient has a limited size for the inbox, then sending a big file could fill up the account causing other emails to bounce. So how do you email a large attachment? One answer to this problem is Dropbox.

Dropbox is a simple idea, it’s an online copy of a folder on your hard drive. by itself that’s not very interesting. it’s the extra features that make Dropbox useful. The biggest attraction of Dropbox is that the software makes it easy to keep your hard drive and online drive in sync.

This is done by Dropbox making a special folder on your drive, usually called Dropbox. The software makes sure that the files in this folder are uploaded in the background. It means if you work out of your Dropbox folder your backups are handled automatically. Another hassle with online backups is that often you need to upload whole files. If it can, Dropbox will just upload the changes, making the process faster and easier on bandwidth. For this reason alone, it’s a useful tool for anyone working on a thesis. There are other advantages. You can share files on a Dropbox.

The easiest way is to place files in the Public subfolder. Once there it’s possible to right-click on a file and get a URL for the file from the context menu that pops up. Email that URL to anyone and they can download the file. It means you can send a link in an email rather than the whole attachment – and if you spot errors an updated file can sit at the same address after you send the email. This might not be exactly what you want. Anyone else with the URL can also access the file, it’s public. However, the Public folder isn’t browseable, so they’d have to know the exact file name.

Another way to share files is to set up shared folders. These are perfect for collaborative work as other users can upload and save updated versions of the files you’re working on. Access can be controlled to members of the team and the files aren’t publicly viewable. It seems easier than burning DVDs, sharing USB sticks etc. as the demo shows.

Dropbox Demo

My experience of Dropbox, on a Mac, is that the upload isn’t THAT fast and I have a fast broadband connection. On the university campus the uploads were much slower, possibly because of network administration there. This isn’t Dropbox’s fault but the program has to work in the real world. The background uploading is a help with this. Even if the upload is slow, it’s going on while you do something else so it’s not a huge problem. Of course this assumes you can install Dropbox to your computer and not all companies will allow this.

You can also use a web interface and that’s reasonably painless. It’ll allow you to upload and download material without having to install the software. There are also mobile apps for iPhone, Android and soon for Blackberry. If you want to move PDFs or images to your mobile phone it’s a simple way – though the download speed means that you’ll want to make them small PDF or images. It also hooks into other mobile apps, so you can use it to transfer your Quickoffice files.

If you’re working on something you cannot afford to lose, like a thesis then something like Dropbox, Box.net or IDrive is essential. PhD students have it drummed into them to take backups and many do. If you also store those backups somewhere conveniently close to the computer in case you need to use them then they’ll disappear in the same house fire that destroys your computer. There are still risks. Get a virus in your Dropbox and you’ll spread it round your network – but the same is true if you have an infected file on a USB key that you’re using. It’ll just be a bit slower.

If you’re interested in trying out Dropbox, then you can sign up by following this link. I’ll mention it’s an affiliate link, I get a 250MB bonus if you sign up – but you should get this bonus too. The 2GB account is free and is large enough for most of your vital files.

If you’re using an online back up system, which one did you choose and is it working well for you? Please leave a comment below.


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