If you use more than one computer regularly, then you understand the need for an easy way to access some of the same files from each of your computers.

I want to add Dropbox to the programs you consider to accomplish that. At the moment, it combines simplicity and exactly the right features – and the basic version is free.

The idea is simple: after installing one of these programs, you have a magic folder on your office computer and your home computer or your laptop. Anything you drop in the folder at one end automatically appears at the other end almost instantly. Edit an office document on your laptop on the road and the edited version is waiting for you at the office. Behind the scenes, the program is copying your files in the magic folder to online storage, then syncing them with the other computers, automatically and continuously.

I was an early believer in Microsoft Live Mesh and I still hope for the best, but it’s been in “beta testing,” unchanged, for quite some time. It has bugs and quirks (unintuitive setup, remote access features that are underbaked and inadequate), and I’ve become pessimistic about its future. I don’t suggest it for anyone not currently using it.

If you use JungleDisk for online backups, you can take advantage of its features for syncing files. They’re not strong enough to be the sole reason to use JungleDisk and there is no provision for sharing files, but file syncing works beautifully for a single user on multiple computers.

Dropbox has been a favorite of many people since it appeared in September 2008. It is focused on file syncing and sharing – no backup, no remote access, no other extraneous features. The basic version is free, permitting up to 2Gb of synced files; more storage is available for a monthly fee. Files are stored using Amazon’s S3 storage, also used by JungleDisk.

Dropbox has two features that are quite nice:

  • VERSION HISTORY  The service retains different versions of files that are changed. By default, all versions of a file are retained for thirty days; another monthly fee buys unlimited storage of different versions of files.
  • SHARING Folders can be shared with anyone that has the Dropbox software installed – and individual files can be shared with anyone, just by sending a link, whether they are a Dropbox user or not.
  • WEB ACCESS  As with the other services, Dropbox has a web interface for access to your files from public computers.

This is an elegant way to move your files from place to place. Make sure you’ve got good backups (better safe than sorry), and then give it a try!

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