When I became a student again in August, I decided to upgrade my computing capabilities and bought an iMac and a MacBook Pro (I don’t play golf or tennis so I have rationalized that whatever I would spend on these sports would be more than I spent on new computers). I’ll have more to say about the Macs in another posting, but suffice it for now to say that they are incredibly easy to use than Windows PCs.
There is quite a bit here in patrickWeb about Cloud Computing, and the evolution away from the desktop to the cloud is well underway. One of the more clever and useful cloud applications that I have found is Dropbox. Dropbox provides file synchronization that simplifies many of the things I do. The initial motivation to get Dropbox was my use of Quicken. Quicken for the Mac is unfortunately inferior to Quicken for Windows, so I installed VMWare Fusion and Windows XP on the Mac. This allows me to run a Windows app side by side with Mac applications in a seamless way. VMWare calls this the Fusion view. Fusion solves the issue of being able to run Quicken for Windows on the Mac but it doesn’t solve the other issue which is the location of the Quicken data file.
The location of the file would not be an issue if I only used the iMac or only used the MacBook Pro, but when you use them both, depending on where you are, the location of the file becomes a major issue. Dropbox solves the problem. Here’s how it works. You install Dropbox on each of your computers. It takes a few minutes at most. The result is you now have a folder on your computer called My Dropbox. Anything you put in that folder is automatically uploaded to the Cloud (a server at Dropbox.com). The file is then automatically synchronized to any other computer you have that has Dropbox installed on it. The usage scenario is as follows. I run Quicken on the iMac using the local file which is in the Quicken folder in the My Dropbox folder on the iMac. After I finish using Quicken and close the program, the file is automatically uploaded to Dropbox.com and then downloaded to the MacBook Pro. No login is required and no actions need to be taken – it is all automatic. The next day I take a trip somewhere with the MacBook. I start Quicken and it automatically opens the latest version of the Quicken data file from the Quicken folder which is in the My Dropbox folder on the MacBook Pro. It may sound complicated but it is actually elegant and simple.
Drop box can be used for many other applications in addition to Quicken. Any application that has a data file and where you can specify the location of that data file can take advantage of the concept I described for Quicken. Another application that I have found quite useful is 1Password. 1Password maintains a secure database of logins and passwords for websites that I utilize. The database is stored in a folder in the My Dropbox folder. The 1Password application is installed on the iMac, MacBook Pro, iphone4, and the iPad. They all use the same file and are always in synch.
There are many applications that can take advantage of this concept. In fact, for $99 per year you can get 50 gigabytes of Dropbox storage. This has allowed me to put all of my data folders in the My Dropbox folder. This allows me to run any application on multiple computers and always have the same data. As a byproduct of this Dropbox becomes a backup repository for the data. The concept of desktop, portable, mobile, and handheld devices with synchronized data in the clouds is one that I expect to become pervasive.