My new favorite piece of (free) software is Dropbox. I first heard about this when I read a Professor Hacker post about it. For some reason, I did not download it immediately, but rather waited six months—I figured that my system worked well enough.
But I was wrong. Dropbox has made my life better. It is a program for storing files in the cloud, and it syncs among computers automatically. With a work computer, two (actually three) computers at home, a computer in each of the two classroom I teach, and my iPod touch, there are 6-7 computers where I may want to reference or work on the files I create for my class. This has made my flash drive all but obsolete (and I long ago stopped emailing files to myself).
On the computers that I “own,” I just downloaded the program onto the hard drive. This has the effect of creating a new directory/folder on my desktop, but this same folder is on the desktop of every computer I own. For computers I do not own, I can access the files through a website.
In particular, I have been creating Beamer presentations for my classes. If I find a typo in my first class, I can fix it between classes and have the changes appear immediately on the computer in my second classroom. There is no need to use flash drives or email to get the slides to the new computer.
The only suggestion I would make to people in academia is not to store sensitive student information in Dropbox—a lost iPod Touch could result in a huge security breach, not to mention that it seems a little sketchy to store student grades on a third-party’s computer.
I highly recommend this to people who work at multiple computers. You can download it directly from the website, and 2 GB’s worth of storage is free (you can pay for more).
I hope you all know that it costs me exactly $0 per month to maintain this weblog. If you enjoy this weblog, you can repay me by contacting me to refer you to Dropbox. By referring you, I will get an extra 250 MB of storage free (and you still get your 1 GB free—you lose nothing, I gain something). I feel kind of dirty asking this, but this was something I was planning to write about before Dropbox made me this offer; I will still sleep well at night.