Backing up your data online can be very useful, whether you do it for important documents, family photos or larger files such as music collections or videos. On one hand you won’t lose backed up data when your computer crashes or malfunctions, such is the case when performing local backups on your HDD. On the other hand your data will become highly portable as you’ll be able to access it from any other computer or device equipped with an Internet connection.
Dropbox is a web-based data backup service that uses cloud storage and offers a simple way to store your files, but also share them with others and synchronize them across computers and mobile devices. Dropbox storage plans come in different flavors to satisfy a wide range of customers: you’ll get 2 GB storage space for free, perfect for small files such as documents or just testing the app, 50 GB for 9.99$/month, 100 GB for a monthly fee of 19.99$ and last but not least, Dropbox for Teams offers multiple user licenses and extra storage space starting from 350 GB, bundled with administrative and group capabilities to suit businesses, organizations and groups.
Dropbox is easy to install but you will have to go through a series of setup windows to configure the product. To start with, the installer will ask if you have a Dropbox account and if you don’t the program will guide to create one. You will use this account to log on the Dropbox website and access your backed-up data from anywhere. Moving along, you will have to opt for the subscription plan that suits you (if you go for a paid storage plan there will be an additional window where you have to input billing information) and choose between the typical or advanced installation. That’s it….you’re done! A friendly welcome tour will open but you can choose to skip it and launch the program right away.
The system requirements for Dropbox are as follows: for computers you’ll need 512 MB of RAM, free space equal to your Dropbox storage plan and concerning operating systems the program works on 32 and 64-bit version of Windows 2003/XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) or higher, Ubuntu 7.10+ and Fedora Core 9+. Dropbox can also be used on several mobile phones and has versions for iPhone, Android and Blackberry platforms.
You can access the web-based Dropbox interface using any popular internet browser, including Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, Opera and others.
As funny as it may sound, on your computer or device the interface of Dropbox is a folder, namely the “My Dropbox” folder, configured during the install process. You can open the folder just like any other or from the desktop shortcut and all the files and folders you place there will be automatically uploaded to the servers. Still, the program runs in the system tray and with a right-click you can access a small menu that will present you with a few options such as opening the Dropbox folder, Dropbox website (the actual interface), recently changed files, pause synching, preferences and help.
The Dropbox website is what can really be called an interface. The layout is standard: in the upper-right corner you can access account-related information and upgrades. The main menu is divided into sections for getting started, files, events, sharing and help.
The Files option displays all your backed-up files and folders, along with related operations such as uploading files, creating new folders and sharing them with others, show/hide deleted files and a few others hidden under the More section.
The Events category is basically a log of all your actions, in other words every time you add, delete or change the contents of the “MyDropbox” folder it will be shown there. You can easily browse the recorded events using the page flipper from the bottom or the calendar at the top.
The Sharing feature allows you to make specific files and folders available to other users. In case you are wondering, it is possible for more than one user to work on the same file and Dropbox will save a separate version of the modified file for each user. Of course if there is only one person modifying a file, Dropbox will just update the already existing file instead of saving another version.
The Help tab is one of the most important assets of Dropbox. It is nicely organized as a sidebar menu with categories for each platform and most important aspects. The main area features a FAQ and links to a quick tour, the forums, ticket submission and Votebox, the place where users get to propose and vote for new features to be added in future versions of the program.
Between the many capabilities that Dropbox comprises, a valuable feature is the simple way of sharing photo galleries through links, thus making them accessible for everyone, not just Dropbox users. You might consider a downside the fact that in order to backup files you are forced to store them in the Dropbox folder. Fortunately Dropbox has a large number of extensions available to expand its functionality. Even more, the Wiki site offers specific instructions under the Tips and Tricks section on how to sync files that do not reside in the “My Dropbox” folder. In other words, there are add-ons for a number of platforms that will allow you backup any file or folder from your computer and avoid storing duplicates (especially useful for large files and applications).
- Small program mostly relying on the cloud-based storage.
- Both the web interface and the local menu are intuitive and very easy to use.
- Complete file and folder backup, synchronizing and sharing capabilities.
- 30 days of Undo history.
- Highly extendable functionality via add-ons.
- Great support, comprising a FAQ, Wiki, forum and ticket submission.
- The paid storage plans are pricey compared to what other similar applications offer.
- The ability to sync files stored outside the “My Dropbox” folder is only available through extensions when it should have been a default functionality.
The costly subscription plans provided by Dropbox could make you look for cheaper online data backup services. Based on this aspect we will be focusing our quick analysis on alternatives with more affordable pricings.
CrashPlan is a cross-platform backup service, that’s strongly competing against Dropbox thanks to its unique set of backup & restore functions and varied payment plans. CrashPlan offers single PC licenses with unlimited online storage for $49.99/year and subscriptions for 2-10 PCs at $119.99/year, which makes it great for backing up large amounts of data from multiple computers.
iDrive is another popular backup utility equipped with automated backups, powerful search and restore functions and last but not least, the free option comes with 5 GB of online storage and there are yearly subscriptions with 500 GB online storage space for a single PC priced at $49.50 and up to 5 computers priced at $149.50.
Dropbox is a simple and elegant solution for backing-up, synching and sharing your files and folders, and thanks to the myriad of available add-ons you can use it in so many ways. However, the expensive costs of extra online storage space make it more suitable for file sharing and synching rather than backups.