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Technology Untangled: Dropbox offers simple file storage and sharing

Stephen Bour
February 2, 2011
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Technology UntangledThese days many of us have a work desktop, a laptop, a home computer, a smartphone and a tablet computer. It is getting more difficult to keep track of which files are stored on which device. If you find that you are often having to e-mail files to yourself or are constantly transferring files via USB drive, then Dropbox online file storage and syncing may be for you.

Dropbox (dropbox.com) is software that links all of your devices together by providing a single shared repository for important files. It keeps all versions of your files synced across all your computers and it acts as a convenient backup drive for your critical data. Dropbox allows you to store up to 2GB of data for free. That is a substantial size for a free service. 2GB allows for hundreds of photos or several hours of video. A paid subscription is available for larger data storage needs.

Your Dropbox storage repository does more than act as a simple networked storage drive or a remote thumb drive. My first concern was: What happens if the Internet goes down when I need to access a file? Your files always remain stored on your own computer within your Dropbox folder, which acts just like any other folder on your hard drive. Meanwhile, identical copies of the files are uploaded to the online storage folder. So as you work on a document and save the changes, those changes are automatically uploaded to your online Dropbox.

Say you are working on a document and break for lunch. You can then access and review your work on your smartphone, as well as make additional edits during lunch. When you return from your break and re-open the document at work, those new edits will be seen in the freshly synchronized version of the document on your work computer. Dropbox also retains a copy of each previous version of a file every time you save. This allows you to revert to an older version of a document if necessary. These saved older versions do not count against your 2GB quota.

Dropbox also makes it easy to transfer and share files of large size with others. This allows you to bypass the send/receive attachment size restrictions of many e-mail systems. For large individual files, you can easily e-mail a Web link to a client that allows them to download the file from the Internet. For entire folders of data, you can invite other Dropbox users to share a folder online, either in a private fashion or a public manner. An example of a publicly shared folder might be the photo folder you share with the grandparents. An example of a private folder would be a set of legal documents for an individual client. For project collaboration within your team, a shared Dropbox folder can be created to keep all project items organized in one convenient, synchronized master folder.

I am finding Dropbox to be a very convenient method for transferring files and photos to my smartphone. There is no thumb drive port on it, and e-mailing attachments to the phone is tedious. I simply access the Dropbox folder on the phone and my transferred files appear. It is also useful for smoothly uploading and sharing photos and videos taken with the phone. You can take a new photo and send a copy to the Dropbox folder. Transferring files to/from an iPod or iPad is similarly easy.

How secure is Dropbox? Dropbox says that all files besides your public folders are very private and only accessible to you. All transmission of data occurs over an encrypted channel (SSL). All your files are encrypted and inaccessible without your password, so even Dropbox employees aren’t able to access them. No one can see your private files unless you deliberately invite them. My understanding is that your online folder is as secure as any Internet service that works with credit card and financial data.

Dropbox is reasonably fast, but not as instantaneous as writing to a local hard drive. When you update and save a file, the syncing process does have a few seconds of lag time. Uploading a new file takes noticeably longer. Internet files typically take longer to upload than to download. One clever way they use to reduce upload time is to upload only the changes that have been made to a file, and not re-upload the entire file at each revision. Dropbox does allow some ability to adjust the speeds of uploads and downloads, but the default settings are tuned to try not to interfere with your normal Internet activity.

In summary, try Dropbox and never e-mail yourself a file again, keep your files synced between computers, automatically backup important files, and share those files easily with others.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD, and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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