Posts tagged DropBox
Dropbox is making a new push to win over business customers to its cloud-storage business. But its checkered history of security breaches may make it a tough sell in the enterprise.
Dropbox said Wednesday that it has added single sign-on (SSO) capabilities to its storage service, matching a capability that its chief rival, Box.net, has offered for some time. Dropbox also decided to rename its “Dropbox for Teams” business service “Dropbox for Business.” The added feature and a name change may not seem like much to hang the new marketing push on, but Dropbox claims it has high hopes.
Beginning next month, Dropbox users will be able to sign on to their corporate account using Active Directory, which, behind the scenes, will also log them into Dropbox. The company said it’s partnering with Ping Identity, Okta, OneLogin, Centrify, and Symplified; Ping Identity and Okta also provide SSO solutions to Box, which signed up with Ping Identity in 2011 to provide SSO capabilities via its PingFederate technology.
Dropbox doesn’t just compete with Box.net, but SugarSync, Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, and a host of smaller services. But it was Dropbox that Box CEO Aaron Levie skewered with an April Fool’s Day prank. Why? Because Levie can see Dropbox in the rear-view mirror.
Dropbox’s vast scale — it boasts 100 million users, with 600 million “work files” stored every work week, according to a spokeswoman — represents a threat. Dropbox counts users in 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to Kevin Egan, the vice president of sales that Dropbox hired away from Salesforce.
Someone’s Gotta Pay For All This
It’s not clear how many of those people actually use Dropbox for business purposes — though it might not matter. Egan said that Dropbox’s legacy in the consumer space — it has signed partnership agreements with both HTC and Samsung for free storage when customers buy the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One, plus deals with Yahoo Mail and its purchase of Mailbox — means that consumers turn into evangelists when they enter the workplace.
“Millions of people have signed up using their work email address at Fortune 500 companies,” Egan said. “And I think what we want to do is allow them to maintain the level of enthusiasm that they have, but embrace IT more, so they have 100 percent confidence that they have control and visibility.”
The opportunity, of course, is that consumers are hooked on free; businesses aren’t. Dropbox users can get up to 2 GB of storage for free, with up to 18 GB after various referrals and promotions. For Dropbox for Business/Teams, the price remains $125 per user, per year.
In 2012, however, co-founder Arash Ferdowsi told The Economist that only 4 percent of its users base were paying customers. That makes Dropbox look like the “we’ll make it up on volume” strategy writ large — eventually someone’s gotta pay, right? Attracting corporate customers helps make up for that.
Right now, Dropbox is asking what those corporate customers want. Tido Carriero, the lead engineer at Dropbox for Business, said future improvements could include things like making the Dropbox interface easier to use for large teams. “But for now, SSO is what they’re shouting in our ear,” he said.
Security Breaches Still Hurt
Unfortunately, what may be lurking in the back of some minds may be a pair of security lapses. In 2011, Dropbox accidentally pushed a code update that introduced a bug into the company’s authentication mechanism, allowing third parties to log into user accounts and access files. Last year, hacks at other Web sites allowed attackers to penetrate accounts used by Dropbox employees, including a document from which they may have been able to harvest email addresses. In August, those email addresses were apparently used to send Dropbox users spam.
Since then, Dropbox has added two-factor authentication, as well as a recent administration console that can require two-factor authentication and monitor employee use, including restricting shared folders and links within the company. But Dropbox has been hurt by the lingering effects on its reputation.
“We haven’t won deals — there have been deals that we have not won because of it,” Egan said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing — explaining our security protocols better, sometimes it’s a question of comfort with the business, and sometimes they’re a couple of years away from embracing us. It’s certainly hard to know what happened, but it’s certainly top of mind for a lot of IT admins.”
If Dropbox’s strategy works, then its next target is government. Carriero said that the company is not FIPS certified, and it’s probably unlikely that the Pentagon would agree to use a cloud storage solution like Dropbox. A smaller county or town might end up using the service, though.
Storage has become a commodity. Box.net is attempting, through partnerships, to allow as many companies as possible to do stuff with that data. That adds value. Dropbox’s purchase of Mailbox is headed in the right direction, but it still appears to be chasing Box, at least in the business space.
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Things have been going great for Mailbox, the sleek iOS email app that advertises its ability to “put email in its place.” Developed by Palo Alto-based startup Orchestra Inc., Mailbox has grown immensely since its February launch – its now delivering more than 60 million emails a day and has taken more than 1.3 million reservations in a unique system that staggers users’ access – and builds anticipation. And on Friday, Dropbox bought the company for an undisclosed amount.
Mailbox attempts to reduce the impending email overload down to nothing. It lifts the inbox above Gmail’s ‘All Mail’ folder and turns it into a productivity center where incoming items lie in wait to be organized. A swipe to the right archives or deletes the message, while a swipe to the left sets up a time-based reminder or adds the folder to a custom list. That way, everything can be addressed immediately (or at least in one session) and put where it needs to be. Through archiving, conversions deemed finished are still accessible via search. The “archive, search and never delete” email mindset is increasingly popular -Mailbox gives you a clean starting point.
“To be clear, Mailbox is not going away,” stressed the app team in a blog post this morning. “The product needs to grow fast, and we believe that joining Dropbox is the best way to make that happen.”
Though the acquisition sum is unavailable, it should be noted that Orchestra raised $5.3 million in a funding round led by Charles River Ventures in 2011. According to The Wall Street Journal, all 13 employees of Orchestra will join Dropbox. Currently Mailbox works only for iOS and Gmail accounts, but the team is looking to expand that in all directions.
Dropbox, currently valued at $4 billion by investors, plans to use Mailbox to expand the reach of its services, which already cater to 100 million users, directly into the email optimization sector. But unlike Google’s acquisition of email app Sparrow last summer that ended up killing the the app as it acqui-hired the team, Dropbox seems actually interested in the product as well as the team. “We felt we could help Mailbox reach a much different audience much faster,” Dropbox CEO Drew Houston told the Journal. Houston emphasized that Mailbox wil stay a stand alone app, but Dropbox will also work to integrate it features, such as email attachments.
Is It Worth The Wait? Absolutely
The beauty of Mailbox, which I’ve let run rampant on my multiple email accounts this morning, is the idea of “Inbox zero” – a repository for only the things that must be addressed immediately, with an end goal of wiping it to nothing every time you open it. By clearing out that pile of mail – too often used as a To Do list – either to a folder governed by time-based priority reminders or to one’s All Mail folder through archiving and labeling, users can optimize their email organization and breathe a much-needed sigh of relief.
At least that’s how theory goes. And after my morning tests, I’m starting to believe it could actually work. Mailbox could be one of the very few email optimizers to deliver on the promise of actually making your life easier.
Upending email long been a Holy Grail for both productivity and user interface gurus. Email philosophy has fluctuated constantly since the messaging platform became the mainstream Web-based communication method decades ago. But Mailbox, in only a matter of minutes, begins to fundamentally change how you view your inbox. For me, it immediately started to change my haphazard navigation through all the junk towards a semblance of organization.
Works For Me
I found Mailbox a refreshing upgrade from relying on Gmail’s Label feature and my own rather arbitrary system of what needed to stay in front of my eyes at all times. Personally, I spend too much time throwing things in folders and applying labels, cutting my Inbox down but never quite achieving a regimented system where I truly felt in control and capable of easily finding anything at any time. With Mailbox, the difficult decisions are made for you. You just hand yourself over and stop trying so hard.
It may be premature to consider Mailbox the best thing that ever happened to email, but I did manage to clear my inbox of hundreds of messages in just a few hours. After waiting for nearly three weeks to get access to the app, I was thrilled to achieve my ”first zero.”
Though it matters less than core functionality and purpose, the app’s design is also exemplary. A clean and simple look matched with an easy-to-use interface make Mailbox a pleasure to use, and its multi-purpose swiping conjures up the aesthetic experience of using the well-received Mac app Clear, which lets you set up prioritized lists and then swipe them away when completed.
Reviewers seem to agree on Mailbox’s promise, as do the long list of potential users still waiting to gain access.
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As the business world increasingly turns to mobile devices and cloud-based file-sharing services to store or collaborate on important documents, the amount of information that’s falling into the wrong hands keeps climbing.
The numbers tell the tale: 90% of organizations had a leak of sensitive or confidential information over the past year. That’s one of the take-aways from a new study from security analysts at the Ponemon Insitute.
Dropbox Is Useful – And That’s The Problem
Services like Dropbox, Bitcasa YouSendIt and others are useful and efficient ways to get documents and files from one worker to another, especially in this age of mobile devices and distributed workforces. Plus, they’re cheap (or free) and easy for individual workers or small departments to set up.
But increasing use of these tools in the workplace, even for legitimate business reasons such as collaboration, puts a lot of private information at risk. And companies are starting to notice.
How bad is the situation? According to the Ponemon study, 60% of organizations have employees who frequently or very frequently put confidential files on services like Dropbox without permission. And just about that same percentage (59%) reported that what controls they do have in place were inefffective at managing who has access to sensitive files.
Not Inherently Insecure, But…
The problem is that mobile and remote workers want to have access to their files where and when they need them. But the idea of just having critical company information out in a public cloud makes a lot of companies nervous. Risks of data loss and falling out of compliance are too high to ignore.
“Consumer file-sharing services are effective, for consumers, but they lack the security, reliability and granular permission settings that business requires,” said Andrew Dixon, Sr., Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Igloo Software, a cloud-based business collaboration company. “And that means they can quickly become just another way for information to fall into silos or slip into the wrong hands.”
IBM Bans Dropbox And Its Ilk
Some companies are already reacting with strong policies regulating use of such file-sharing services. IBM, for instance, has banned employee access to services like Dropbox and iCloud. Even the iPhone’s Siri is turned off for fear that sensitive information could be discovered from search query data stored at Apple.
This might be going too far for many companies. Especially if they don’t provide some sort of alternative. IBM has its own custom-built solution for file sharing, but many smaller operations can’t afford such measures.
A Business-to-Business Opportunity
Not surprisingly, new ventures are stepping to try and fill the void. The solution is use a collaborative platform with secure file sharing capabilities, according to Yorgen Edholm, CEO of Accellion, which markest just such a product.
“Organizations need to give their employees a secure way of sharing files or every mobile device will continue to be a potential sieve for confidential data,” Edholm wrote in a recent article on Forbes, “Before deploying a file-sharing solution, organizations should educate themselves about the risks of various file-sharing technologies and the requirements for enterprise-class mobile security.”
In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. By implementing a broader solution for collaboration that has easy-to-use and secure file sharing features, IT managers can reduce workers’ temptation to venture out on a consumer service.
Make a collaborative platform safe, make it easy and your sensitive documents might just stay where they belong.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.
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After enduring launch rumors for over six years, the Google Drive has finally launched! Sundar Pichai, the Senior Vice-President of Chrome and Apps, made the long-awaited announcement on Google’s blog: “Drive is built to work seamlessly with your overall Google experience. You can attach photos from Drive to posts in Google+, and soon you’ll be [...]
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Dropbox Automator has gotten a major update this week, adding a Google+/Picasa uploader, support for sending files to Box.net and to Amazon’s Kindle. Better yet, the service now lets users restrict access to just one folder in Dropbox.
We covered Dropbox Automator when it launched at the end of December, but the service had a few rough edges. Specifically, some of the conversions weren’t working or worked sporadically, and you had to give Wappwolf (the company behind Dropbox Automator) full access to all of your Dropbox folders.
With the update, Roland Trimmel of Wappwolf says that they’ve been working on the glitches the past few weeks, and they’re “all fixed” now. Wappwolf says that they’ve increased Dropbox Automator’s processing capability “more than fivefold” to cope with the demand that the service is seeing. Processing should be less than one minute “depending on file size and speed of a user’s Internet connection.” (Fair enough, Wappwolf can only work on the file once it has access.)
First and foremost, you’re now able to restrict Dropbox Automator to a single folder. I re-enabled the service and walked through the setup. You’re promoted to “Log in with Dropbox” or “Login with Dropbox ‘one folder’ access.” If you choose the one folder access, you then create a folder under Dropbox/Apps and go to town.
New in this release? You can upload pictures to either your Google+ profile or Picasa. Dropbox Automator also allows storing files in Google Docs. If you’re using Dropbox and Box.net, you can store files in that service from Dropbox Automator.
The other biggie is Kindle support. Drop one of the supported formats into your folder and Dropbox Automator will shoot you file to your Kindle via Wi-Fi or Whispernet. (Amazon charges for files sent over Whispernet, though.) You can also opt to convert to Kindle format or not.
If you haven’t yet given Dropbox Automator a whirl, I’d recommend taking a look at it.
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The Wall Street Journal has revived rumors about Google launching a cloud storage service called Drive. The comparison everybody wants to make is to Dropbox. The thinking is that Google will challenge everyone’s favorite start-up by releasing a native desktop and mobile Drive app with the same syncing features Dropbox users know and love.
Google Drive rumors have been around for many years, and they’ve always conformed to the understanding of “The Cloud” that has prevailed at the time. If it’s not like Apple’s iCloud, which is integrated into Apple’s devices, then it must be like Dropbox, which lives on the Web but syncs through a client. But think outside the box for a minute. Google has new and unique cloud services that Dropbox and Apple don’t. There’s room for a third, stand-out option here.
Google already has a browser-based file system, Google Docs. It originated as a sort of word processor in the cloud, but it can actually handle and store many kinds of files, such as PDFs, JPEG images, MPEG audio and video, and it’ll handle pretty much anything containing text. That does make it a pretty compelling stand-in for Dropbox when it comes to simply storing files.
It even has a nice disk drive icon now, after last year’s Google makeovers. Google Drive, indeed:
Are people already using Google Docs as a cloud drive? Spanning, a company that provides backup for Google apps users (not just Google Apps users; free customers, too), took a look into how thousands of people are using it, and it studied their use to better optimize its services. Consequently, it has some insights into Google apps users to share.
Spanning has found that over half of the files in their customers’ Docs accounts were not Google Apps-created. They were PDFs, audio, video, photos and Microsoft Office files. By file size, non-Google files comprised over 85% of the stuff people stored in their Docs accounts.
So, at least for the use case of storing files, lots of people are already using Google Docs instead of Dropbox. What Docs does that Dropbox doesn’t is allow users to create and edit certain kinds of files. If you use Google Docs as your cloud document service, you’re probably using it to make and work on documents, too. That’s more than Dropbox can offer, standing on its own. (We’ll get to apps built on top of Dropbox in a minute.)
Search, plus Your World
There’s a new Google product that didn’t exist last time the Google Drive rumors surfaced. It’s Google. Or rather, it’s Google+. On January 10, Google revealed Search, plus Your World, which threw everybody for a loop. If you don’t understand that Google+ is the user-centric backbone of Google itself now, it doesn’t make sense that this one side of Google search has stuff from this weird social network in it.
While this early stage of Search+ is definitely about putting Google+ in users’ faces, that’s not what the message is. “Your World” does not consist solely of YouTube videos shared on social networks. Google’s personalized search also tries to figure out what a search means to you, so it can return something more meaningful. It’s two modes of search: Global mode searches the indexed Web, and personal mode tailors it to you.
How much more useful would this be if Google’s personalized search had your files in it? If your Google Drive contained your documents and music and other local files, they could show up in your personalized search results. If you couldn’t remember whether you read something online or in a document you downloaded, Search+ could find both. Now we’re giving meaning to the “Your World” part.
Dropbox has search, but it only contains part of what you’re looking for when you search “your world.” It’s more useful as one of many services in a third-party cloud search app like Greplin, which also logs into Google apps and searches across. Google’s new social signals run through all its services now, so if it’s in your Google cloud, Google search will find it, period.
Dropbox Is A Platform. It’ll Be Fine.
Between Docs and Search+, whatever Drive Google eventually ships (whether it’s in a few weeks or another X years) will have lots of unique capabilities that make it a different beast from Dropbox.
That’s exactly the way Dropbox wants it.
Dropbox turned down insane amounts of money from Apple, because it didn’t want to get rolled in as a feature of one integrated system. That’s why iCloud doesn’t work like Dropbox. Apple wanted cloud syncing that was just there, so users don’t have to know where their files are. Developers in the Apple ecosystem can just hook into iCloud. Their applications become Apple-specific. In exchange, they get free marketing in the App Store, and if Apple is feeling generous it features their apps as the App Of The Week or something.
Dropbox said “no” to all that. It wants to be the next Apple or Google, and its valuation seems optimistic about that possibility. Apple’s cloud is totally integrated with its devices, using hardware as the platform. Google’s cloud is integrated with its services, using the Web as a platform. Dropbox is a platform.
Dropbox lets different clients on different systems read and write to it. Dropbox doesn’t have a Google Docs because anyone can build a word processor on top of it. We can build a thousand word processors on top of it, and if they can all read the same file format, they can all work together. Dropbox’s platform ubiquity is what it’s all about, and that’s why Google (and Apple) can’t copy it.
Lead photo: AHMAD FAIZAL YAHYA / Shutterstock.com
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An alteration made for the latest 2.0 version of the Dropbox app for Android in order to better comply with the rules of the operating system resulted in the removal of some features that, in the 1.x versions, users had come to rely upon. As a result, Dropbox team members these past few weeks have found themselves in damage control mode, as they work to stem a rising tide of frustration from users, some of whom aren’t yet buying the company’s message that these changes were necessary.
The biggest change the new version makes is to the storage locations for files downloaded from users’ Dropbox storage areas to their phones. One is the cache for files that may be useful on the phone, like pictures and music. Another is for documents that may then be opened up in apps on the phone, like the QuickOffice productivity suite or the KeePassDroid password cache. The new version of the Dropbox app moves these locations to directories specified in the Android guidelines. But the change was implemented before users and developers were ready.
The Android app for Dropbox has been generally available only since mid-2010. During that time, both users and developers had come to recognize sdcard/dropbox as the storage location for downloaded files. Other apps could rely on those files appearing there, so when they were launched automatically, the files would be loaded with them.
After upgrading to 2.0, Dropbox for Android users discovered that feature no longer worked. They panicked. One furious developer contacted me personally.
In an e-mail, Dropbox forums member ro m. expressed his outrage that developers were never told about the change of methodology prior to the 2.0 update. “The worst part is that while the upgrade migrates data that originated from the Dropbox app to the new location,” ro m. wrote, “anything that the users put into that place from other sources will be lost.”
Writes one Dropbox user on Android Market, “This app used to be awesome. It would sync automatically. Now it sucks. Docs were available once it synced. Now you have to ‘export’ and it won’t even preform background downloads.” Followed another, “Dear, Netflix… I mean, Dropbox: Don’t fix what isn’t broke.”
This afternoon, Dropbox’s Android app product manager, Aseem Sood, acknowledged to ReadWriteWeb that the change from one-click downloading to an “Export” button caused some issues with customer support.
“We did this partly to be a good member of the ecosystem and partly because the cache isn’t meant to be used directly by users or developers,” Sood tells RWW. “Some users assumed that our cache worked just like the Dropbox folder on desktop with full sync capability. Due to battery and bandwidth limitations on a mobile device, full sync isn’t practical. So the folder is an internal cache meant to be accessed only by the Dropbox app.”
Having anticipated that folks upgrading to 2.0 may have already had files in the existing 1.x cache location, Sood says the new version’s installer does move the files to a new location. That’s a fact that some users found out for themselves. Believing those files disappeared, Dropbox ended up giving them guidance as to where they moved so they could be recovered. Admits Sood, “In retrospect, it’s clear that we could have done a better job of communicating this move to users.”
The one-click and longtap download features that have since been removed from Dropbox for Android 2.0, are touted in this June 2010 review by Revision3, at about 1:30 into the video.
Android’s least “Favorite”
Rather than expect the user to navigate to Android’s new, prescribed cache location – which may be several folders deep – Dropbox added two new features, the purpose for which it’s clear from a scan of Android forums users don’t readily understand. A user declares a downloaded file a favorite, Sood says, to ensure that Dropbox’s cache management functions do not inadvertently delete the file to create space for new ones.
One Dropbox user complained that change places too great a burden on users to make the program easier for Dropbox to manage, rather than the other way around. “The whole ‘Favorites’ system itself completely goes against the ideas behind Dropbox,” writes forum member Riley M. “You don’t pick ‘favorites’ with Dropbox, you download and sync files. There’s absolutely no intuitive connection between something being a ‘favorite’ and the idea of downloading the file for offline use. Before, the option was clearly presented as ‘download’ and kept in a directory labeled as such.”
A new function called Export, Dropbox’s Sood explains to us, was added to enable users to direct downloaded files to a specific location, while at the same time discouraging the use of the old cache location. “Our assumption was that these features cover the use cases of ‘Download,’” he says.
But that was just an assumption, he admits: “Immediately after launch, we realized that there were two bugs that were making it even harder for our users to transition to the new version.”
Because the new cache location has a period ( . ) in its path, some apps, he notes, cannot navigate there and find any files at all. Also, when the 2.0 version was released, users noted that each and every time they exported a file, they had to navigate to the desired folder. A revision to the 2.0 version has since been released, he tells us, which address these two issues.
But even this change can’t make things go back to the way they were, he concludes. “We recognize that it’s still more steps than 1-click Download,” Sood tells RWW, “and while we aren’t considering bringing Download back, we are exploring other options to serve the same use case without having users rely on our cache directly.”
Last year, a mobile tools developer (not Dropbox) explained to me the key difference in his mind between building for iOS and for Android. With iOS, he said, Apple prescribes strict rules which every developer must follow, which he argued discourages innovations discovered through trying to bend the rules. By contrast, the rules for Android aren’t all written yet, so innovators in the field may discover new ways of working, which may retroactively be declared rules later. Well, there are new rules in town for Android, and for many, learning to bear with them can still resemble life in the Wild West.
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Computers keep getting closer and closer to making people obsolete. The latest step towards human obsolescence? Dropbox Automator, a Web-based tool for setting up actions that happen as soon as you put a file in a Dropbox folder. It’s not flawless just yet, but it might provide a useful service for many Dropbox users.
The service is powered by Wappwolf, an online “action store” that features a set of Web actions that can process files. For example, it has ready made actions to encrypt and decrypt files, extract text from PDFs, convert documents to PDF, generate QR codes and manipulate images.
The Dropbox Automator works by connecting to your Dropbox account and then defining actions based on which folder you place files into. For example, I connected my Dropbox account and created a folder called Appwolf. Then I defined actions to convert files placed into that folder into PDFs.
You can also do things like upload files to Slideshare, sign PDFs, scrape PDFs to text files and even translate files automatically using Bing Translator. It looks like much of Automator’s functionality just comes from tapping into Web-based services.
You can also automatically upload photos to Facebook or Flickr, add a bug (stamp) to a photo, resize or rotate photos and much more.
A Few Glitches
I found that the service isn’t entirely glitch free. It says that it can covert HTML files to PDF, which it does… but it just converts the text to PDF, so the tags are presented in the document instead of used for formatting. It might be that you need the header information before the service (conf2pdf properly recognizes the file as HTML instead of plain text.
When Dropbox Automator zips files, it uses a format that doesn’t seem to be recognized on Mac OS X as a zip file. At least not by the Archive Utility that comes with OS X Lion.
Converting Files Using Dropbox Automator
It does convert OpenDocument Format (ODF) files OK, when it actually converts them. Of two ODF files I placed in the Appwolf directory, only one was converted. The other was placed in the processed folder that Dropbox Automator creates, but no PDF ever materialized.
But it’s a brand new service and I suspect they’re still shaking the bugs out. The service, at least for now, is free. How will they make their money? It’s unclear, but some of the actions you set up for files may cost money. So it’s possible that the developers will add premium services or charge a fee to other services for connecting users. If it catches on, I do hope that they start providing paid accounts so users can support the service.
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I got all excited this morning when I saw a link on Hacker News to BitPocket, one of the latest so-called “DIY Dropbox” offerings that’s open source. The excitement faded pretty quickly when I hit the GitHub repo and found that it’s just a “small but smart script that does 2-way directory synchronization” without most of the Dropbox features.
Dropbox didn’t get where it is today by being a wrapper for rsync, Git, Unison or any of the other open source tools for file synchronization. If you want to replicate Dropbox’s suceess, there’s a few features that are mandatory.
The biggest failing that Bitpocket has is the lack of automatic sync. As I’m writing this post (in Vim, using Markdown on my MacBook Pro), Dropbox is syncing it with my iMac and my Linux Mint computer as well as with the Dropbox service.
It’s doing it silently, without any intervention or extra setup on my part. Before Dropbox, I used rsync over SSH to sync my files to rsync.net and my other computers. It was workable, but not particularly convenient. It took about ten minutes for me to decide to plunk down the monthly fee for Dropbox after discovering the LAN sync feature in Dropbox.
Another feature that any Dropbox challenger needs? Platform ubiquity. If it doesn’t run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android, I’m not interested.
Technically, I’m actually OK with a service that doesn’t run on Windows, but the sheer number of folks who use Windows means that any Dropbox alternative is pretty much DOA without a Windows client. And there’s very little attraction to any tool that doesn’t sync with my mobile device.
If I’m not on a computer I control, I still want to be able to get to a file in a pinch. Dropbox’s Web interface is perfect for the few times I don’t have my own computer handy, or haven’t gotten around to installing Dropbox yet. Since I tend to do a lot of testing, it’s not uncommon for me to set up a new box without wanting to hassle with installing Dropbox when I’m going to be wiping a system in a few days. (Not that Dropbox is all that hard to install.)
Revision Control and File Restore
Revision control and file restore are features I don’t use often, but are worth the price of Dropbox even if I use them just twice a year.
I admit it, I’ve fat-fingered
rm once or twice in 2011, and saved over a file in LibreOffice that I didn’t mean to. Revision control and file restore mean that I’ve been able to recover gracefully with zero loss of data. Unless an alternative can give me that, I’m not switching.
Finally, I need to be able to share files with co-workers and friends. Dropbox makes this dirt simple, even for other folks that don’t use Dropbox.
Bitpocket and other sync scripts and tools may be acceptable for some use cases, but they don’t rise to the “Dropbox” label. Up-and-coming projects like SparkleShare may be nifty collaboration tools, but they’re not a Dropbox replacement.
I’d love to see an open source, DIY alternative to Dropbox, but so far none have come close.
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The file sharing, synchronization market led by Dropbox is a popular target these days. For many companies, it’s a chance to horn in on a growing market and carve out a piece of the pie for themselves. For open source projects, it’s a chance to return control of personal data to the user. For the folks behind ownCloud, it’s both.
ownCloud is a project started by Frank Karlitschek, who’s been very active in the KDE project. This week, Karlitschek took ownCloud to the next level with former SUSE/Novell guy Markus Rex and funding from General Catalyst. Terms weren’t disclosed, but sources say that the funding is “well into 7 figures” but below $10 million.
Comparing ownCloud to Apples and Dropboxes
ownCloud is online storage, but it’s not a quick and easy drop in for Dropbox nor is it an exact analog to Box.net or Apple’s iCloud.
First off, ownCloud isn’t just about syncing files. That is to say, it syncs not just files but contacts, calendars and bookmarks across devices. (Yes, those are files too, but it’s doing more than just dropping files into a folder.) ownCloud even features streaming music features.
Secondly, ownCloud lets you choose where your files are going to be hosted. You can use Amazon S3, you can use Google, or you can drop in your own server. For casual users, ownCloud is probably a bit more maintenance than the average user is going to want to deal with. Folks who are particularly privacy conscious, technical or already running their own servers (or using S3, etc.) will probably take to ownCloud, but it’s mostly businesses that will find this feature particularly compelling.
Rex says “we allow the system administrator and company to decide where they want to have their data reside and give complete flexibility around” where it’s stored and how it’s shared. Not only does this mean that you have control, but it also means that users are paying for a service and that the ownCloud business “does not depend on selling gigabytes” says Rex.
Finally, ownCloud is open source. This means that companies have the option of adopting ownCloud without any ties to the company itself, until they need support and/or want to hit up the company for custom development or some other form of support. Companies can also extend ownCloud and participate in development, rather than being locked into a roadmap set by Dropbox or another company.
Not So Fast
If you’re excited by the prospect of ownCloud, you can try out the demo or grab a ownCloud appliance to deploy on a server or Amazon EC2. You can also grab the source and install it on a server with Apache, PHP and MySQL.
However, Rex says that the native clients for Mac OS X, Windows, Android, iOS and so forth are still in development. The actual ownCloud launch is not scheduled until sometime in the first quarter of 2012.
It’s About Time
ownCloud has been in development for quite some time, and has about 350,000 users (estimated). Even though it’s not quite ready for prime time yet, it should be ready to roll early in 2012.
While Dropbox is the easy solution, and Box.net offers a much more advanced service, ownCloud will offer companies a lot more control over their data. It also will provide ISPs and other businesses the opportunity to add ownCloud as a value-add service or standalone offering.
How does ownCloud look to you? Is your business likely to deploy its own file-sharing service?
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