A year ago (yes, it’s been that long since the Dudes have been around) we posted our Top Ten Essential Productivity Apps for the iPad. Top of our list was – and still is – the tremendously useful Dropbox, a multi-platform file hosting service that provides file sharing, cloud storage, and free software.
Dropbox Inc. was invented by an MIT graduate, Drew Houston, who allegedly developed it due to his constantly forgetting to carry a USB drive around with him to allow file sharing. The basic concept is that files can be uploaded from a hard drive to a remote server, and those files are then stored indefinitely or can be shared with others.
Initially, Dropbox was designed to work as a standalone PC program but it has reached its currently level of popularity by extending its coverage to multiple platforms – a critical design feature for any successful piece of software. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems, along with mobile versions for Android, iOS, and Blackberry. There’s no news yet on how soon a Window 8 native version will be available but we predict it’ll be here by the end of this year. 
The first thing to do is sign up for an account at www.dropbox.com. It’s quick, painless, and provides you with 2GB of free space, which you can grow up to 18GB by referring your friends (you get 500MB per referral, which means, contrary to current belief, you can put a price on friendship!) If you need more space, you can get 50GB for $9.99 per month (or $99.00 for a year), and 100GB for $19.99 per month (or $199.00 for a year).
The first significant value of Dropbox kicks in when you have multiple devices. For example, I have a desktop computer at home, a laptop for work and travel, a Droid 3 mobile phone, a Samsung Galaxy Tab, an iPad, and a beta Windows 8 tablet. It’s impossible to share data between these using USB sticks and so the ony way to do it is by wireless means, which means WiFi and cellular data transfer.
Dropbox makes it possible for all these disparate devices to talk to each other by sharing files, whether that’s text, graphics, music, or video. If you forget to take a file to a venue and have it stored on the Dropbox server, you’re good to go. Because the Droid 3 has an HDMI output, if my laptop goes down at a conference, I can hook up my smartphone to a big screen TV or HMDI-accessible projector and show my powerpoints right from the phone.
The second big plus for Dropbox is the ability to share files with other people, whethter they have Dropbox or not. For those who have an account, you can set up jont folders and simply drop files into them. This is great for international projects when you can swap files with your colleagues all over the world without having to send them as attachments to emails. My daughter, who has a MacBook Air, has a folder that we share so I can help her when it comes to providing her with articles or checking her papers prior to her submitting them for evaluation. But whether it’s a daughter, a colleague, or a small group working on a special project, it’s easy to set up a shared folder with private access so you can swap files effortlessly.
When you have shared folders, a feature of Dropbox is that if anyone modifies the contents, everyone is informed. If you’re already hooked up to the internet, you get a real-time notification; if you’re offline when it happens, you see the notification as soon as you log on. It’s painless and happens in the background.
If you haven’t signed up for Dropbox yet, go ahead and grab an account, then download the various apps for your mobile technologies of choice. Happy swapping!
 Current Windows 8 beta software does have SkyDrive, Microsoft’s proprietary cloud-based storage and of course, Steve Ballmer would love to use that – along with setting up a Microsoft Live account. Nevertheless, there are still many folks who do not want to be tied into one OS and Dropbox is truly cross-platform, caring not whether you are a Mac, Win, or Linux person. There’s also the issue that some people won’t want to essential “start from scratch” and create a new file structure in SkyBox when all they want is a portal to their current Dropbox account. They can use their web browser but having a native app is always better.