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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. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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