Dropbox vs. MobileMe? Dropbox Rocks

I’m sure I’m not the first person to sing the praise of Dropbox. In fact, a passionate and loyal fan base is part of why Dropbox has the breakout success it does today. I guess I’d consider myself part of that loyal fan base, but only because I’ve used it and discovered just how much it has made my life easier.

In addition to a Mac desktop and laptop at home, I have laptop at work and my wife and I both have iPhones. It became increasingly apparent that I needed some kind of syncing solution. I began by trying MobileMe.

At first, it seemed to really address all of our needs. A 10Gb online disk for backups. Syncing of several important items: system preferences, calendars, dock items and bookmarks. It even picked up some settings from apps made to work with MobileMe (Transit, TextExpander, etc.). There were some additional features that were novel but I didn’t really need: webmail (already have Gmail), photo galleries (already have Flickr), Mac sharing (always seemed to complain about my router settings), Mac location service (useful, but rarely needed).

There were a few hiccups. The sync options were very confusing, and nonexistent for third party apps. I lost all of my client’s saved FTP logins because they were overwritten during an initial sync. (I don’t ever remember seeing options for Transmit.) I lost my bookmarks because I synced the wrong computer first.

But what really killed me was how slow file syncing was. I used about 7Gb of my iDisk, and it literally took all night. Understandable, but even incremental files being added after the initial sync took hours to show up on the other machines. Worse yet, I kept coming across files that existed on my iDisk but had no data—something got lost in translation.

At the recommendation of a friend, I tried Dropbox. Fortunately, I had already gone through all the work of organizing twenty years worth of computer documents when I moved things to iDisk, so after the quick and painless install, I was able to just drop the file structure into the local folder Dropbox created and it went to work.

I was amazed at how fast it synced files (I read somewhere that it has to do with Dropbox only uploads the modified chunks of a document, not the whole thing). I moved almost 40Gb of files to my Dropbox, and it was synced in just a few hours. I don’t have specific figures, so this is purely anecdotal; but individually dropped in files were up in seconds, not hours.

Also, Dropbox seems to make more sense visually, seems to be a more natural extension of your local file system: files within your local dropbox have a small icon overlay that identifies whether or not they’ve been synced remotely, so you know at any given time when a particular file is uploaded. MobileMe relies on a rather mysterious progress bar at the top of the folder which never seems to be accomplishing anything.

All of the sharing controls are built right into the context menu of Finder. You can get a public URL for a file simply by right-clicking a file. You can share a folder anywhere within your dropbox and the privacy mechanism for sharing it with only the people you want to have it is created. There’s even a public folder for quick and easy sharing with lots of people.

I can’t tell you how useful it is to have all of my resource files everywhere I need them. I keep all of my font libraries on my Dropbox and point my font manager at them so whenever I need them, I’ve got them. All of my custom shapes, styles and patterns for Photoshop are stored there. Stock photos and textures all get put there for easy access from any machine I’m using. Any active projects I’m working on get dumped into Dropbox. And I don’t have to worry too much about any losses because the file has been synced to all of my computers. (Dropbox also has some handy versioning tools.)

But what really made me happy was when I got the iPhone app—now I can literally carry around all 40Gb of my personal files in my pocket. You are limited to viewing only files the iPhone supports, but it’s still terribly useful. I can whip out my phone and pull up all my guitar chords, find a sermon I’ve preached, show off project progress to clients, even read PDF books I’ve got stored in my Dropbox. And if there are certain active files you want to have available on your iPhone even if you’re offline, just favorite it and you get a list of your favorite files, downloaded for instant access.

Dropbox is free if you use the 2Gb plan, but I felt like the 50Gb plan was worth $99 a year, especially since I was going to drop that on MobileMe. Granted, Dropbox does not sync bookmarks or preferences, it doesn’t provide galleries (per se) and it doesn’t come with webmail. But what it does it does extremely well and is what I needed most.

Oh, and I almost forgot… For every person your refer to Dropbox, you get 500 MB and your friend gets 250 MB of bonus space (up to 16 GB).

So if you try Dropbox today using this link, we’ll both get some Dropbox love. Give it a go and let me know what you think of it!

Freewrite #12