Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Tools of the trade: Part 1

We like free things. A great many of the tools we use every day in our work are free. Many of these fall into the category of technical utilities, and some of them require a fair measure of expertise to use. On the other hand, some are pretty straightforward. There are a few products that we recommend to businesses and home users alike which are offered for free initially, with the option to upgrade if you like the product and want to get more out of it.

One of our favourites is Dropbox, a utility which allows you to synchronise a folder on your computer with the cloud. There are a few similar free products available, but what we like about dropbox is the ease with which it can be used, as well as the flexibility it offers.

In the first place it’s a simple way of making sure you are backing up important data offsite. There’s another trick up its sleeve though – it allows you to connect to the same cloud storage from different devices, be they Macs, PCs, iPhones or Android devices. This means you can easily share data between your devices, and whenever you make changes to a file on one device these changes are pushed out to your other devices.

Businesses can use it to share information both internally and externally – you can quickly create new folders and then send colleagues a link to that folder which allows you to create a collaborative workspace with the minimum effort.

Once you start using it in anger you may well want to upgrade from the free account, which has a 2Gb limit, to a paid-for account – it costs $99 for a 50Gb account and $199 for 100 Gb. This certainly isn’t the cheapest storage option, but when you consider the alternative of running a dedicated file server (as well as the responsibility of backing this up) it represents excellent value.

For home users a great tip is to use your Dropbox as your My Documents folder. In Windows Vista or 7 this is easy to setup. Simply right click on your My Documents folder then select the Location tab, click on Move... and select your Dropbox folder. When you hit OK it’ll ask if you want to move all your files and folders to the new location; click Yes and you’re done. 

Note: first check the size of your My Documents folder as music and photos will quickly push you over the 2Gb free storage limit.

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