Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Shawn Blanc recently put out a Twitter request on how people are using Dropbox and wrote a great article on it. I replied to his request with about 5 tweets and read his article, and while it was good, Shawn's coming in as a new user and I've been using it for over a year. So, I though there were some things missing and rather than just email, I'm going to write a blog about it.

What is Dropbox?
Dropbox was started by Drew Houston in early 2007 with capital provided by Y Combinator, which is basically a firm of investors that provides seed funding for startups. In fact, you could learn everything you needed to know about Dropbox by reading it's Y Combinator funding application.

In Drew's own words,

Dropbox is kind of like taking the best elements of subversion, trac and rsync and making them "just work" for the average individual or team. Hackers have access to these tools, but normal people don't.
And that's basically what it is. Dropbox takes a folder on your computer and syncs it with the Dropbox service and any other computers you install the application on. And, well, yeah there's an App for it too. (iTunes Link)

So what is it good for?
Obviously, you can use Dropbox to sync your files across several machines, but this is only the most basic use case. But let's think about that for a moment. Files aren't just your spreadsheets and reports. You can sync any file that resides on your hard drive.

The basic plan has a maximum of 2GB of storage, but you can upgrade 50GB for $9.99/month or $99/year or 100GB for $19.99/month or $199/year.

With that much storage, you can sync your entire iTunes directory and have your media sync seamlessly across machines. You can even start using it as an offsite backup.

They also added the ability to share folders publicly or between Dropbox users, which is great for collaboration. Although, the contents of the shared folder apply to all the participants quotas.

Beyond that, you can also email temporary public links to any of the items in your Dropbox.

So what am I using it for?
Personally, I like the free plan and prefer the simplicity of having a limit. My motto is if it doesn't fit in the limit, then it doesn't need to be synced. But, full disclosure, I actually have 3.5GB due to referrals. They now have a 3GB limit on extra space gained from referrals.

One of the ways I use used to use it is to sync my notes. I use the crap out of Notational Velocity, and I saved the notes as flat text files saved in a Dropbox folder (instructions here). Recently, Notational Velocity added the capability to use SimpleNote syncing, and I'm now using that. Just don't use both at the same time.

Besides that I sync:
  • my .vimrc file synced between my laptop and all my linux servers
  • all my work documents
  • a copy of MacDrivec in case I need to use my Mac OS formatted external on a Windows box
  • my Hazel rules
  • whatever eBooks I'm reading
  • shared folders with different departments within the company
That last one is especially useful. If I've got a project that I need to pass off to another engineer, I can just drop all my documentation into the shared folder for that department. Or I can collaborate on projects with other people within the company and share documents with the added bonus that all of the work is available online if I need to access it outside of the office.

The iPhone App even saved my ass once. I was leaving for vacation, and work called about a file that they needed from me. So, I used the airport WiFi to email them a public link to the file through the Dropbox App. In addition, I saved the PDF files of my flight confirmation forms in Dropbox so I used it check-in shortly thereafter.

I also use the App to take pictures on my phone that I need immediate access to on my laptop. Take the picture within the App, and it shows up in the folder on my laptop. You can imagine the number of steps that saves.

Game changer
These words get bandied about quite often, but they are incredibly apt in this case. My workflow has changed significantly, and I'm still figuring out new ways to use it. I can't remember what I did without it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Facebook Chat now using Jabber (XMPP)

Facebook is now using the Jabber (XMPP) open messaging protocol for it's chat services. This is great news since desktop clients have had to use workarounds to get Facebook chat working.

Most clients will probably roll out support in an update, but until then there are instructions on how to set it up as a regular Jabber account on the Facebook chat page.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dell Mini 5

I just came across news of a "tablet" prototype released in early Janurary: the Mini 5.

Gizmodo has a short video of the device as well.

The funny thing is, I see this aimed at at iPhone users rather than iPad users.

Regardless, it looks like a pretty cool device.

HTML5 Video Player - SubLimeVideo

This video player is all HTML5, and it looks amazing.

This bullet point under "Features We Plan to Add" is telling:

  • IE support by falling back to Flash

Internet Explorer is tacked on as an afterthought. Nice.