03:56 PM
Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer
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Happy 100 Millionth, Dropbox

It still makes no sense to me that a company can make a living selling shared disk access over the Internet, but then again I'm one of the paying customers making Dropbox a success.

Once again I'm wrong.

I would have tended to agree with Steve Jobs when, attempting to convince Dropbox founder Drew Houston to sell out to Apple, he derided cloud storage as "...a feature, not a product." A shared drive? On that you can make a living?

It seems that you can. Dropbox recently signed up its 100 millionth user. Of course the large majority of those users are using the free version, but some people upgrade. I have a free account on one email address and a Pro subscription on another. We use it at BYTE to share files.

But for me personally, Dropbox has changed the way I work profoundly. I don't keep any of my working files local any more. I work on them in Dropbox. I can now just move around between my many computers and I have access to the same exact files.

I've tried many other services, although most of them not for a long time. You'd think that storage in the cloud would be a commodity service with no real differences other than price, but it's not true. Whenever I gave other services a shot I always found myself going back to Dropbox because Dropbox's software is the best. It's the simplest and it works seamlessly on everything.

Some service highlights according to Dropbox:
  • Dropbox has more than 100 million users.
  • People save one billion files to Dropbox every 24 hours.
  • Dropbox is offered in eight languages: English, Spanish, Castilian Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Korean and Italian.
  • Dropbox has paying customers in over 200 countries.

Well, not quite everything. On mobile systems like iOS there is no real local file system, so access to Dropbox feels unnatural. There's probably no way around that, although it does seem that mobile is an area where there is probably a lot more opportunity to differentiate. Microsoft, for instance, put a Save to SkyDrive in Office 2013.

A friend once told me I'm wasting my money. Just use an FTP account and set up WebDAV access to it and you can access it as a network share across the Internet. If I really wanted to be cheap I guess I could do this, and I could even set up my own FTP server. But it's not the same service. Dropbox, and all of its competitors I think, make local copies of your files and sync changes in them back to the cloud and then down to any other clients logged into the same account. So if you shift between computers you need to make sure that it is synched up-to-date with the others. But it's worth it to gain fast local access to files that are synched through the cloud.

Over the long term I still think Dropbox can't survive simply as it is. If there are still software differences, eventually the others will get better. And if it's nothing but a shared drive to the user then there's little stopping me from taking my business elsewhere. Drew Houston better think about saying yes to the next offer.

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