Thursday, January 1, 2009

Positivity and Dropbox for the New Year

My New Year's resolution is to try and describe positive experiences and happy events on my blog. Negativity is easy to get drawn into and occasionally it may be appropriate, but on the whole the positive and constructive thoughts are more important in life. I think they also endure longer.

Of course if you are one of those who thinks New Year's resolutions are a silly waste of time then I think you are STUPID and I WILL PERSONALLY BEAT YOU UP! Ha ha, only joking!! Please relax while I go on.

Today I'll make a small start by recommending to you the software "Dropbox". This is a file synchronisation software with a difference. For starters, it is open source, free software. (I would rarely recommend paid software, particularly the JUNK that M****soft has the cheek to CHARGE PEOPLE for, I really would like to BEAT THEM UP FOR IT... Ha ha, joking again, but you see how negativity just creeps up so spontaneously!. DON'T LAUGH AT ME, STUPID PEOPLE!!!. OK OK, I'll go on and you can relax again).

Now then. Dropbox was recommended to me by my colleague and collaborator Costis Papageorgakis at TIFR. It works by running a daemon on your machine and creating a directory called Dropbox in a location of your choice. Any files inside the Dropbox directory (you can have as many sub-directories as you like) will automatically be synchronised with your (free) account on the Dropbox server. Thus if you work on multiple computers (e.g. a desktop at work and another desktop at home) then you can work in office all day editing files - writing a paper, say - and come home to find the exact same configuration of files on your home computer so you can continue working there. If any of the computers is temporarily offline then it will synchronise itself as soon as it comes online.

The sync'ing is incremental in the sense that only files you changed will be sync'ed, and they use "block-level" or "delta" sync which means that if you edit a large file then only the changed part will be transferred. So it's not too heavy on internet usage.

I find this wonderfully convenient and have stopped carrying my laptop to office every day.

Another advantage is that if you travel, you can install Dropbox on any local computer anywhere and link it to your Dropbox account, then within minutes (or hours depending on how many files you have) the Dropbox folder there will acquire all your files. Or if you are on a system where they won't allow you to install software, you can login to the Dropbox website and download any or all files manually from there. This is great if, for example, you lose the presentation you painfully prepared the previous day because your pen drive got corrupted or your laptop crashed.

There is a perfectly reasonable limit of 2 GB storage for the free version of Dropbox. Oh and, did I mention, it's available for Linux, Windows and Mac, and file synchronisation will work across platforms e.g. if you run one operating system at work and a different one at home.

Dropbox also carries a side-benefit. The little Dropbox icon on your workspace carries a tick mark in one corner if your files are already synchronised with the server, and a rotating arrow if they are currently being sync'ed. But if your internet connection goes off for some reason then the icon shows neither of those symbols. So peeking at the icon will tell you if your link is active or not. I'm sure there are other softwares that are dedicated to do this, but here it's a collateral benefit.

Comments welcome.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

I just use rsync to synchronise relevant directories with my work machine when I'm at home... and rsync is fast and low-bandwidth too. If I do indeed need to sync a huge amount of stuff, I remember to do it in the office, or if I've forgotten, I VNC to the office machine from home (most days this works very nicely). If I wanted continuous syncing, I could perhaps set up rsync to run hourly (or every five minutes, even) on specified directories via a cronjob. What makes me uneasy about things like dropbox (and Google Docs) is a third party having access to my stuff: it's unlikely they would have any use for it, but even so, I'd like to avoid it.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Yes a lot of people worry about third parties having access to their stuff. But personally I would be more worried about the Google folks reading my mail at than the Dropbox people patiently studying my string theory papers!!

Ramanan said...

Doesnt really matter if Google or any other co has ur stuff... The positives are very high ... I remember using Google docs on a conference call once and I could see the file getting edited by a colleague, based on my input ...

Also Microsoft produces amazing software .. the finance industry runs on Excel ... Outlook beats other software hands down when it comes to having an email system for large organizations.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Ramanan: I believe Excel is indeed pretty good for those who need that sort of thing. (I've only dealt with very simple spreadsheets, which OpenOffice handles fine.)

I've never yet met anyone who liked Outlook, though. It was Outlook that invented the e-mail virus, via insecure uncontrolled scripting. And there are lots of reasons to hate Outlook even if you don't use it but only receive email from Outlook users... In recent times I know many people who switched from Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird.

And to be honest, I can't think of any other Microsoft-produced software that I would like to see on Linux. Most certainly not Microsoft Word...

Ramanan said...

Rahul: Lets not start another Linux vs MS debate .. in fact hating MS sounds so religious! I have received zero SPAM/Virus using Outlook whereas when I was a student using Linux, most of my emails were such. I dont see big companies shifting out of Outlook .. ever ...

OpenOffice may do most of your work but its not as powerful as Excel .. most imitations of Excel have failed to attract Excel users.

Word is not as good as TeX, but ... most word processing users need to type a letter blitz speed.

More generally, I dont see why software should be free .. if you pay for a movie ticket, why not software ?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Ramanan: if you didn't want another debate, why did you write such a long rebuttal? :)

Perhaps you follow good security practices with Outlook. Most people don't. And don't get me started on IE. (Though if you write a long comment praising IE, I will get started...)

Sunil Mukhi said...


Your analogy with movie tickets is not at all appropriate. I refer you to Richard Stallman's famous comment: "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of 'free' as in 'free speech', not as in 'free beer'".

For this and more on free software, I recommend the Wikipedia link on the subject.

I also disagree that "hating MS sounds so religious". Political, yes. Open to debate using rational arguments, yes. Religious, not at all.

And by the way I do hate MS!

Ramanan said...

Sunil: I understand "free" in this context. In fact I attended Stallman's lecture when I was a student in TIFR.

Again, the analogy is not too difficult for me to produce. When I buy something like a shirt or refrigerator, I cant modify anything so why demand the same from MS ?

I am not opposed to the idea of giving out the source code, but open and closed can coexist. One of my fav software is a code called MeGUI. Its 'free'.

The reason I used "Religious" was because when I was a student, I was told that Linux is so cool and its a Sin to use Microsoft. However, after coming to the corporate world, I realized how one can really improve efficiency with MS products.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Ramanan: maybe you can't modify a shirt or refrigerator but many people can, or you can get someone to do it for you. Another common analogy is, would you buy a car with the hood welded shut? If Ford told you that only they had the right to repair your car, and had physical measures in place to restrict access to the hood, and could sue you for circumventing those restrictions -- would you buy their car? Why accept a different standard for software?

I'd say these issues are, if anything, more important for corporations: they do have personnel to fix their software for them, which most desktop users can't do (but most desktop users have been trained by Microsoft to "backup data, reformat and reinstall", which you can equally well do on linux, though you almost never need to). At the server end, this is quite widely recognised. It is for desktops that there is inertia.

Arun said...

Many corporates use IBM Lotus Notes instead of Outlook. Its not at all true that Outlook holds a monopoly over corporate mail clients.

BTW, how much scalable is Outlook?

Ramanan said...

Arun: IBM Lotus Notes is a cheap alternative! Thats y! I dont know what you mean by how scalable but Outlook is used by a recently "bailed out" bank which employs 300,000 people!

Rahul: I understand your logic of choice etc but all I am trying to say is that both can coexist ... Finally its an optimisation of positives and negatives .. Also, if M$ starts adopting such a philosophy, it would find itself applying for Chapter XI!

Jonathan Shock said...

Great piece of software, I just started using it last week. Has really cleared up the mess between my various desktops!