Actually this post should really be titled “Productivity Tools: Dropbox” to go along with the previous posts on collaboration tools.
But in this case, I really do love Dropbox, because it is one of those rare things that just works seamlessly and completely removes what used to be a major source of friction in my working habits. And to top things off it’s free!
The problem it solves is the old problem of having the same file, say a TeX file you are working with, stored on multiple computers. After editing it on my desktop at work, I would then have to transfer the file when I started revising it at home on my laptop and then transfer it back the next day.
With Dropbox, I simply nominate a specific directory on each of my machines and Dropbox ensures that the contents of that directory are kept in sync with a central copy stored on their servers. I edit the file at work and Dropbox silently uploads the new file to the central server, and then when I open my laptop in the evening, the changes are automatically downloaded to the corresponding directory on the laptop and so I can just keep working on the file. If the kids want to use the laptop with games on, then I can just hand it over, pick up my new one and again the changes are reflected there almost before I’ve had time to fire up TeXShop.
It also provides me with one other invaluable feature – automatic safe backup of my most important files. In fact, I’ve just put my entire “papers” directory, where I have all the articles, talks and lectures that I’m working on into the Dropbox directory so that even if I somehow lose all my laptops simultaneously and the disk crashes on my desktop, the TeX files will still be safe.
I haven’t tested what happens when I do strange things like working offline on several computers to see how it deals with potentially incompatible updates, nor have I tried using different operating systems (all my machines run Mac OS) but so far I’ve been pretty impressed.
Disclaimer: If you check out Dropbox, like it and sign up through this link, then I will get some extra free space. However I didn’t write this post to solicit free space so if you’d prefer to, please just use the link earlier in the post which is free of any referral codes.