Dropbox – online storage

dropbox logo

Dropbox is a brilliant and extremely useful online storage service. Online storage services aren’t anything new and what makes Dropbox special is it’s ease of use, speed and how it seamlessly integrates with your host operating system.

Basic account registration is free and you get an instant 2GB storage. Invite your friends and every friend that joins earns you (and your friend) an extra 250MB up to a maximum of 3GB in addition to your initial 2GB.

Pro 50 account provides 50GB storage and costs $9.99 per month or $99 annually. Pro 100 account provides 100GB storage at a cost of $19.99 monthly or $199 annually.

The service can be used as a simple online storage tool via a web browser, to upload files from one computer and then access those files via a browser from another computer. But Dropbox is much more than that – it can be used to share files/folders with other people, keep your data synchronised between multiple computers and easily create online photo albums.

The best way to use it is to install it on your computer, where it seamlessly integrates with Finder/Explorer. Once installed, it can be used just like a regular folder and you can add sub-folders and files to it. When a file is added, it instantly starts to synchronise with the online service, freeing the user to carry on working on other tasks. This is a brilliant tool for users with multiple computers, who want to keep certain data files synched. Store such files in your Dropbox folder and you don’t have to concern yourself with uploading files from one computer and then downloading to another. It all happens automatically without any user intervention.

Files added to the special Public sub-folder can be shared with others – just right-click on the file, copy the public URL and send the link to whoever you want to share the file with.

If you’re working on a project, create a shared folder for storing documents and invite collaborators to share this folder. Uploaded changes are instantly visible to other project members. As soon as one collaborator modifies the contents of the shared folder, the changes are automatically pushed to other collaborators’ Dropbox folders instantly, brilliant! Accidentally deleted files can be easily recovered.

Another really nice feature is that any images added to the special Photos folder are automatically created in to simple photo albums, with public URLs available for sending to friends and families.

Have a look at the tour for full details and explanation of the service. There is also a screencast available which clearly shows all the major features.

OpenDNS

One site that I always recommend to friends and family is OpenDNS. With a few simple changes to your router or computer you can move from using your ISP’s DNS server to the service provided by OpenDNS which I’ve found to be fast and reliable, certainly more so than the ISP’s I’ve used recently. So what is DNS and what does OpenDNS do?

DNS requests are made every day from your home connection. E-mails, web surfing, online gaming etc all make use of DNS. DNS turns real addresses (http://www.apple.com) into an IP address for the physical computer you want to connect to. It makes it easier to surf and also means an address can stay fixed while the computer changes in the background (to a different IP address). Usually you make use of your own ISP’s DNS server which in general works OK but from time to time can have issues. Speed, lack of redundancy and update issues are ones I’ve seen over the years.

OpenDNS provides a free DNS service that promises to resolve addresses quickly and also a few unique services that I certainly don’t get from my current ISP. Firstly there are anti-phishing features in place so that you will be warned and the phishing site intercepted should you be lead to one. There’s also spelling correction where OpenDNS will look at the URL you’ve typed and if it detects a typo it will redirect you to the correct site. Finally if you look up a site that cannot be resolved OpenDNS will display a page with alternatives.

ghhoogleopendns

What’s great about OpenDNS is that it’s simple to set-up and has helpful configuration page’s for a wide range of routers and computers. These take you through each step of logging in to the router, making the changes required and then checking that OpenDNS is set-up for your internet connection. There’s also other features like shortcut’s which you can take advantage off. Enter a shortcut name and the page that should be looked up if typed. For example, type blog to visit your blog without typing in the address, news to visit BBC News – the possibilities are endless. The nice thing about shortcuts is they apply across all your network so aren’t set up on a per machine basis.

The OpenNDS website also provides some stats about the number of requests, top domains and gives you the ability to block domains if you want finer control of the content that can be accessed on your network.

Although better performance can’t be guaranteed and in some cases will be very small I’ve always made a point of checking every few months to make sure that OpenDNS is a better option than my current ISP. With both O2 and Virgin Media, swapping to OpenDNS made quite a difference and in the case of my neighbours just over a week ago the difference to their OneTel connection was remarkable. Give it a try – nothing to lose and possibly a nice speed bump with enhanced security to gain.