Are you a Lazy academic? Try Dropbox

By David Hunter

Over on the Philosophy and Bioethics Blog I run a series called Academic Ease, posts aimed at making the life of academics easier/lazier. I thought today I might share one of those hints over here.

One of the curses of a modern academic is trying to ensure that the files on your various computers remain in sync, and inevitably you end up making a mistake and copying an older version of something on top of the new version (I still think chapter 6 of my thesis isn’t as good as the version I copied an older version over the top of, despite trying to restore the changes I had made).

There are a variety of different ways to achieve this, from emailing yourself copies, to putting files on a USB stick and carrying them everywhere you go. Inevitably though each of these solutions carries costs and risks, of having to remember which copy is which, of having large quantities of emails gumming up your computers, copying the wrong file on top of the right one, and leaving the darn USB stick at home.

Some time ago I found a handy program from Microsoft called Foldershare which seemed to solve this, but Microsoft being Microsoft, they have now withdrawn that product and replaced it with a new and improved version… That crashes on my main computer…

So I looked around for an alternative and eventually found Dropbox. Dropbox is a free service/program that automatically synchronizes the contents of selected folders on two machines that the program is running on via the internet.

I use this to keep the my documents folder on my home pc, my laptop and my office pc the same. Basically as soon as I save a document, it updates the other machines with the new version of it. This means no more messing about with emailing myself various works in progress, or mucking around with usb drives. It’s a huge time saver and I no longer suffer from the old copied over the top wrong version problem.

While Foldershare was handy it lacked two important features.

The first was that Foldershare required both computers to be on to make any transfers, so it only worked if you had your computer at home and at work on at the same time, not entirely environmentally friendly!

The second is that Foldershare copied the whole changed file rather than just the changes, so with large files this could take a long time.

<a href=””>Dropbox</a> in contrast stores a copy of your documents in the “cloud” so it doesn’t require both computers to be on, and it updates file incrementally rather than in entire file blocks.

To install the program go here: <a href=””>Dropbox</a>

And download it. Once you have installed it, make a new folder in your Dropbox and copy any files you want to keep in sync (you get 2 GB’s free which should be enough for any ones documents) into that folder. Then install Dropbox onto your other computers and voila, you have copies of the latest version of your documents wherever you go.

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