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app talk: Dropbox – flexible sharing and collaboration for the tablet, phone, laptop or desktop

logotype-vflFbF9pYPlanning to work collaboratively with other students, faculty, or staff? Want a method to quickly and easily share materials from your tablet or phone?

Consider Dropbox, a storage and file sharing service that is “freemium” – free to use for basic/casual users. Premium users can pay for additional storage.

I have found Dropbox more than an auxiliary to Google Drive (formerly Google Docs).

Google Drive remains superior for online editing and creation of documents among a group, but for merely sharing files among a large group of people – quickly – or staggered group editing on computers in native programs (like Word and Excel) Dropbox is very helpful. I’ve used the tool to plan events and share a Excel workbook.

I’ve shared audio-visual scripts and storyboards, graphics and Powerpoint presentations, academic papers, and grant applications. I can more easily share MP3 audio files with people I’ve recorded, without the need to use a public drive. I’ve shared photographs, MP3s and PDFs.

With the last two, keep in mind that sharing copyrighted items – such as music MP3s or journal article PDFs – can open you up to copyright violation issues, unless you have permission from the copyright owner, or are the copyright owner.

Now, it certainly helps if your friends, family and colleagues are also using Dropbox, but you can also share without them joining the service, by creating a direct link you can send to anyone.

You can also track the changes you’ve made to files in the “Events” folder. This may be helpful if you opt to edit a document on Word and Excel, and upload periodically to share with an audience – a method that works best if each editor/reader/creator staggers their access turn by turn.

Like Google Drive, one of Dropbox’s best qualities is its flexibility. You can download Dropbox to your home computer, and make a folder shareable there. You’ll be able to login and remotely browse those files using Firefox or Chrome from another desktop or computer, but also browse and download the files to your phone or tablet through the Dropbox app. This Dropbox app can also save specific, favorite files that you can access offline on your phone or tablet.  I can’t tell you how much time it’s saved me, to be able to call up a specific file within seconds on my phone or tablet, no matter how far I am from home.

Dropbox can also be set up to automatically import your photos or other files, once you plug in your Android, iPhone or tablet. This can be a drawback if you have large files or an extraordinary number of photos.

Still, you’ll find that Dropbox can considerably improve the productivity you experience while using your tablet or phone for work and play.