Dropbox or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud
During much of my career in education, I have found myself using multiple computers. For the last few years, I’ve had a Windows PC and a Macintosh on my desk at SCC, a tablet PC that I carry back and forth to classes, a Macintosh at home, a Windows netbook at home, an iPod Touch, and at various times a Windows or Mac on my desk at CSU, Fullerton. Sheesh! How the heck did that happen?
As I travel from location to location, I try to work on projects during whatever free time I have available. Five minutes between classes here, twenty minutes after class there, here an office hour, there an office hour, everywhere a . . . well, you get the idea.
I’ve used floppy disks, compact floppy disks, Zip disks, CDs, carrier pigeons, and of course a plethora of USB drives to transport my data from one location to another. More recently, I would upload my files to my H: drive on the RSCCD servers, and then access my work through the Internet.
Unfortunately, as I get older I more closely approximate the stereotypical absent-minded math professor. (Except for the hair. Einstein had that wild, outrageous hair. I, on the other hand, have an involuntarily sleek, aerodynamic pate.) I have lost floppies, CDs, and USB drives all over Southern California. I have frequently failed to upload the latest version of a document, or worse still, copied over a newly edited document with an older version. How many times does that have to happen before you’d want to return to the good old days of clay tablets and cuneiform?
Thank heavens it’s 2011! The Cloud has saved me!
The “cloud” (sometimes called “cloud storage” or “cloud computing” or “the Internet”) allows me to store my files in one location, and to access those files from any location that has access to the Internet. To access my files through in the cloud, I’ve been using the Dropbox service for about a year. (Thanks to my pal Darlene Diaz for introducing the service during an SCC Math department meeting.)
Dropbox is a Web-based file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc. (www.dropbox.com) that uses cloud storage to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using file synchronization. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
Here’s how it works.
First, you sign up for a free account. The service is available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and just about any other platform you’ve ever heard about. Your free account allows you to store up to 2 GB of files (any format), documents, photos, or videos.
Second, Dropbox will install a small program on your system. (This may require assistance in the form a system administrator’s password in a networked environment like RSCCD. Hey! I said system administrator. Don’t call Aracely and ask her to install this on your computer!)
Third, drag-and-drop any documents etc. that you wish to be able to access from your devices.
Fourth, well, there isn’t a fourth. Just use the documents in your dropbox folder like you would any other document.
Dropbox (actually, the little program I mentioned earlier) automatically handles all file synchronization between the devices that you wish to use. A copy of your files is kept on your hard drive, on each of your devices, and on the Dropbox servers. The real beauty of the service is that it automatically and quickly synchronizes the files between all of your devices.
In practice, I never even notice that Dropbox is active. I keep my files in their usual folders in the Dropbox folder. Regardless of my location or device, I can open my Dropbox folder, double click on the document I want, and presto! the application opens and I’m working away, looking totally young, cool and trendy as I sip my prune juice (which is cleverly disguised as a nonfat mocha cappuccino).
The picture below shows the Dropbox icon in the menu bar of one of my Macintosh computers. I’m sure there is something very similar on my Windows machines, but (i) they are at school and (ii) I am at home.
There are many other similar services: Amazon S3, Windows Azure Storage, Apple’s iCloud, Google Cloud Storage, OpenStack Swift, among others. (Again, thanks Wikipedia!) I can’t comment on any of these because I’ve never used any of them. (If I were running for President of these United States, I’d be able to comment on ALL of them, but that will have to wait until I can schedule a sabbatical.)
Is there any reason to be concerned about data security? Heck yes! NOTHING on the Internet is ever 100% secure. My buddy Wikipedia says “Security of stored data and data in transit may be a concern when storing sensitive data at a cloud storage provider” and “Dropbox has been criticized by independent security researcher Derek Newton, who has argued that Dropbox's authentication architecture is inherently insecure” and a number of other statements that I don’t fully understand but that sound somewhat scary. I would never place my social security number and credit card numbers (with expiration date and card code) on Dropbox, but I’m not too worried about my handouts and quizzes for Intermediate Algebra.
You can find much more information about the various cloud storage services on the Internet (a.k.a. Wikipedia) and specifically about Dropbox on their website www.dropbox.com.
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