Cloud

Dropbox: The smart person's guide

Dropbox has become the de facto standard for cloud storage for millions of people. This resource guide about Dropbox covers why it matters, its major competitors, how to use the service, and more.

dropboxhero.jpg
Image: Dropbox

Dropbox makes it easy and safe to store and sync files and folders in the cloud. This tool has revolutionized how we work, by making files accessible from anywhere.

This smart person's guide is an easy way to get up to speed on Dropbox. We'll update this "living" guide periodically when news and updates about Dropbox are released.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Dropbox? Dropbox is a cloud storage and synchronization software and service that enables users to access their data from anywhere and at any time.
  • Why does Dropbox matter? With over 500 million users worldwide, Dropbox goes a long way to making the daily grind less problematic for IT pros and users.
  • Who does Dropbox affect? Dropbox affects everyone, from consumers to enterprise executives.
  • When is Dropbox happening? Dropbox was conceived in 2007 and initially released in 2008. It has been evolving ever since.
  • How do I start using Dropbox? Create an account, download the software, log in, and you're good to go.

SEE: Cloud Data Storage Policy (Tech Pro Research)

What is Dropbox?

Dropbox is a cloud storage service that allows you—via a desktop, server, smartphone, or tablet—to sync and access files and folders from anywhere. Dropbox offers cloud storage, client sync software (available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android), personal cloud, and even extended features such as the integratable Dropbox Paper, which is a service that allows you to easily collaborate on documents.

When Dropbox began its quest to become the leader in cloud storage, it piggybacked off of AWS; however, over the course of two and a half years, Dropbox migrated away from AWS to its own internally designed servers running a software stack built completely in-house, with the help of a Python-infused Go language. The Dropbox developers even open sourced several of their Go libraries to aid other developers with such tasks as caching, error handling, and database interaction.

Here's how Dropbox works: You create an account and then install the desktop and/or mobile software. After installing the software and linking it to your account, a folder is created that allows you to interact with your cloud storage. You can save files to that folder, which will automatically be synchronized—and always remain in sync—to your account.

Dropbox offers various plans: Dropbox Basic (which is free for personal use), Dropbox Plus, and Dropbox Business. Dropbox Plus includes the same features as Dropbox Basic, and this premium option adds a few bonus features and gives you more storage space. The three levels of Dropbox Business—Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise—offer all the features that come with Dropbox Basic and Dropbox Plus, as well as these business-centric features and more:

  • Advanced sharing controls
  • Remote wipe
  • Extended Version History add-on
  • User management
  • Tiered admin roles
  • File recovery
  • Granular permissions
  • Active Directory connector
  • Unlimited API access

This is how much storage you get for each account:

  • Dropbox Basic: 1 GB
  • Dropbox Plus: 1 TB
  • Dropbox Business: Standard = 2 TB, Advanced = Unlimited, Enterprise = Unlimited

For a full feature and price comparison matrix, check out the Dropbox Business Plans page.

For those with an eye on security, Dropbox eases your paranoia by using multiple layers of protection across a distributed, reliable infrastructure. You should also enable two-factor authentication to better protect your data.

Additional resources:

Why does Dropbox matter?

We need access to our data at all times and from all locations; without Dropbox, that task would require the addition of VPN tunnelling and security measures that some businesses cannot afford. Dropbox offers the ability to access data cheaply and reliably, taking the onus of managing the cloud away from the business.

The advanced sharing tools in Dropbox Plus and Business editions make collaborating on documents significantly easier. Not only can you quickly share a document with anyone and not just Dropbox users, but you can also use Dropbox's team collaboration tools to help make teamwork easier.

Between file storage, syncing, and collaboration, Dropbox goes a long way to making your business and personal life significantly more efficient. And considering that, as of March 2016, Dropbox has 500 million users, the service certainly has the following to prove its worth.

Additional resources:

Who does Dropbox affect?

Dropbox affects consumers, business users, and enterprise-level executives. And considering that Gartner has declared that by 2020 the shift to the cloud will affect more than 1 trillion dollars in IT spending, it's clear how deep the ripple effect (which includes Dropbox) goes.

SEE: Power checklist: Managing and troubleshooting cloud storage (Tech Pro Research)

Since Dropbox has become an integral part of small and enterprise businesses, IT pros must also deal with the cloud storage giant. Company networks must be configured to not block Dropbox sync (if your company network is behind a proxy, this can cause problems); computers need to be able to install the client software; and mobile devices often require the app.

Dropbox is on its way to being as synonymous to cloud storage as Google is to searching.

Additional resources:

When is Dropbox happening?

Dropbox was dreamed up by cofounder Drew Houston in 2007 after repeatedly forgetting his USB flash drive while he was a student at MIT. Houston created Dropbox for his personal use, and quickly realized others would benefit from his creation. Dropbox's initial release was in 2008.

Since its humble beginnings, Dropbox has become a major player in the cloud storage/sync business and continues to see significant growth. Dropbox has become so significant that in 2012 it was announced that Bono and The Edge from the band U2 had become individual investors of the company. And with over 500 million worldwide users, it appears that Dropbox will continue its climb to the top of the cloud storage/sync mountain.

Additional resources:

Who are Dropbox's competitors?

Dropbox is not alone in the cloud storage/sync world; in fact, there are plenty of competitors in the market. This is a list of some of Dropbox's competitors:

All of these services/apps offer cloud storage and sync, but each one has its own unique take on the client-side app and some offerings (such as Google Drive and Tresorit) are more business-centric.

Additional resources:

How do I start using Dropbox?

The first step to using Dropbox is to create an account on the Dropbox site. After you complete that process, download and install either the desktop client, or the Android app, or the iOS app. With the app or desktop client installed, log in to your Dropbox account, and your data will automatically begin syncing. Anything you drop into that Dropbox folder will automatically sync to your cloud account. It's that easy.

Additional resources:

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox