I’m old enough to remember floppy disks. In fact, I remember storing data on cassette tapes (or, at least attempting to). Oh, the days of limited storage. I had a variety of cases to store my floppy disks, and then not-so-floppy disks, and then CDs…just don’t ask me to find a file quickly. Thumb (flash) drives were a miracle….well, until I bumped one with my knee while it was plugged into my PC and could only access all my graduate school work if I jiggled the thumb drive just right. After that, I had several thumb drives so that I could still transport documents (from school, work, the library, and between my laptop and PC). The trick was remembering that work documents were on the purple drive, while school documents were on the red drive, unless I forgot it at home, and then they were on the blue drive. Enter “the cloud.” With cloud storage, I could save my documents to someone else’s servers and access those servers via internet access. Granted, this was a bit touch and go when internet access wasn’t as widely available as it is today. But since wi-fi is widely available, if a student has a question about feedback I provided on his research paper, I can access my saved version with my mobile device while at Starbucks. Don’t be fooled. I don’t just use Dropbox to work more, but I also store my photos and other documents that I don’t want to lose if my hard-drive crashes.
Goal: Ditch digging in my purse/bookbag for thumb drives.
- I rarely get error messages with uploading to the cloud. Actually, only once, and that required me to uninstall and reinstall the desktop version. Once in the 5+ years I’ve relied on it daily isn’t bad.
- Easy to use, especially the desktop version. I just save my files to the folder already linked to my Dropbox account and it is automatically saved to the cloud (and available on my other devices). The desktop version also allows me to drag/drop files into folders.
- Access through multiple devices (e.g., PC, laptop, mobile device), along with web access on any device (e.g., a library computer). I like this for my photo portfolio, so that I don’t have to store my favorite photos on my phone, but can still show them off (when I have internet access).
- Versioning is available, so that if you need to return to an older version of a file, you can do so through Dropbox (up to 30 days). I haven’t had to use this feature before, so I can’t comment on how well it works, but it’s nice to know it’s available.
- Better security than what I had on my thumb drive (or floppy disks).
- If you’re sharing files, the other person doesn’t need an account. You just give them permission via email link to access the folder. It can get tricky if the person isn’t familiar with Dropbox or similar cloud storage sites (see Drawback below).
- Gives email alerts when you’re going to max out on available space, so you can either delete files or upgrade.
- I can upload photos from my iPhone to Dropbox (and even choose which folder they should go in).
- I don’t think it always plays well with Office 2016. Opening an Office file from a Dropbox folder generally results in the file changing its name to something generic (e.g., W000001.docx) so that I have to do a Save As to get it back to the original file. I keep hoping for a Microsoft update to resolve the problem.
- This isn’t Dropbox’s fault, but not everyone is familiar with this tool, so file sharing can be confusing to those who haven’t done it before. That said, there is a help center (and community), and it’s a popular enough tool that there are tutorials on YouTube and social media
Insider View: I would strongly recommend starting with the desktop version, which makes it easy to create folders and copy files into them. I use the web version (i.e., log into Dropbox.com) only when I’m using a computer that’s not my own. The web version isn’t inconvenient or confusing, but you are subject to the stability whims of whatever browser you’re using.
Final Thoughts: I was surprised to find that I had previously done a review of Dropbox since I’ve been using it for many years now. Perhaps I just assumed that was too utilitarian to review. Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my experiences. Their new marketing phrase is “reinventing teamwork,” which I suspect is a means to compete with Google Drive. I am a team of one most times, so I don’t typically rely on the sharing features. While there are other options, such as Google Drive and OneDrive (Microsoft), I still rely on Dropbox for no-nonsense file storage. The thumb drive is also still a viable option, especially if internet access isn’t an option. No matter what, as a student, teacher, and writer, I need to make sure I have access to my files whether I’m submitting an assignment or boring my students with a PowerPoint presentation.