Sharing files between computers used to be a nightmare. From the early days of floppy disks, technologies like the ZIP drive, burned CDs and USB jump drives have all had similar flaws.

Physical media (no matter the size or density) can get lost, go through the washing machine or simply stop working. They have limited space, and usually, limited lifespans. When was the last time you mounted a ZIP disk full of family photos?

Yeah, I thought so…

Sharing files across a network, while easy for moderate and advanced computer users, can be difficult for new users, and has the potential to open up security risks that most companies don’t really want to deal with.

Way back in 2000, Apple announced a suite of online tools named (rather simply) iTools. Free for all Mac users, iTools included access to state-of-the-art WSIWYG web site building named Homepage, the now-defunct iReview, which allowed users to rate websites on content and @mac.com IMAP-enabled webmail.

The most imporant feature, however, was named iDisk.

iDisk was pretty crazy for the day. Apple hailed it as an “online hard drive,” as it allowed users store data right on the Internet, giving them access to said files from any computer with a browser. A mind-blowing 20 MB was free, with 400 MB available for a little cash.

(iTools was renamed .Mac two years later and got a $99/year price tag, but that’s a different blog post.)

Now a part of MobileMe, iDisk gives users 20 GB of online storage. An entire iDisk can be synced with the Mac, allowing users offline access to their files.

Sadly, iDisk isn’t that awesome. While the amount of storage is nice, copying files within Finder is based on the WebDAV, meaning performance is rather abysmal. Likewise, iDisk syncing is slow, and often has issues. While iDisk files can be easily accessed online and with iOS devices, support for Windows is meager, and Android support is simply non-exsistent.

Of course, MobileMe’s history is a painful one. After a rough start, MobileMe’s reputation never really recovered, and with IMAP-enabled webmail, contact management and cloud-based calendar syncing offered by Google (all for free), many view the $99/year for MobileMe as more than a little steep.

In 2007, a small startup attempted to create a cloud-based storage system that would not match iDisk’s feature list, but surpass it. Enter Dropbox.

Dropbox really is great. The service allows for fast, reliable file syncing across almost any platform out there. Not only are Mac OS X and Windows supported, but Ubuntu, iOS, Android and even Blackberry can get in on the fun. Free accounts start at just 2 GB, but by referring others, that space can grow quickly. Paid accounts bring up to 100 GB in storage.

Dropbox’s feature set goes far beyond syncing files. The web app includes version control, allowing users to “roll back” to old versions of files if needed. File sharing is a breeze, letting users send a link instead of attaching a large file to emails. My favorite feature is called “Shared Folders.” Shared folders allow multiple Dropbox users to collaborate on a set of files easily. We use them within my department at work, saving not only time, but tons of email attachments back and forth between team members.

Dropbox stores files locally on each machine, allowing not only for offline access, but also access to backup services like Time Machine to ensure the data is safe and sound.

Today, the Dropbox desktop client reached version 1.0, which is hard to believe as well as the service works. New features include:

  • Performance Increases — App uses half the RAM as before
  • Better User Experience — A new setup wizard, fully Cocoa Mac app
  • Selective Sync — Choose which folders get downloaded to which computers
  • Extended Attribute Sync — Better support for Mac files with resources forks

If you aren’t using Dropbox, you really should be. Go sign up.

If you are already a member, you can download the new desktop client by visiting Dropbox’s website.

Article Via Engadget

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