ITworld Review: Dropbox on Linux


Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud services that lets you store, sync, and share files over the Internet. And, with some work, you can use it on your favorite Linux desktop as well.

[ Image gallery: Dropbox Linux ]

If you're like most people in 2010, you've got important files scattered hither and yon. You have files on your desktop PC, your laptop, your iPhone, your ... you get the idea. That's where programs such as Dropbox come in. With these programs, you can back up your files, share them with friends, and keep all your devices in sync. Of this software class, Dropbox is especially popular.

It's easy to understand why. Dropbox may be simple, but even your aunt Agatha who has trouble understanding the difference between what's on her PC and what's on the Internet can use it. Indeed, that's part of Dropbox's charm. From a user's viewpoint, it just looks like another folder. It just happens to be a folder that almost any computer or device you use can access.

Unlike many such programs, Dropbox can be used with Windows, Macs, iPhones, Android-based devices, and, oh yes, Linux.

Since I use all those platforms, but mostly Linux, I really liked this idea. I'm always needing access to one file or another. Google Docs is fine for sharing the gist of word processor files and the like, but if I want to reference a PDF, I'm out of luck. Enter Dropbox.

With Dropbox, I get access to 2GBs worth of files for free no matter where I'm at or what device I'm using. If I needed more storage, I could pay $10/month for 50GB (Dropbox Pro 50) or $20/month for 100GB (Dropbox Pro 100) (See Dropbox pricing). Worried about security? Well anything can be hacked, but with my files automatically and invisibly encrypted with 256-AES, I'm not losing any sleep worrying about my files.

If you're running Linux with a GNOME interface, such as Mint Linux or Ubuntu, getting Dropbox up and running is a no-brainier.

You just go to the Web site, it will recognize your operating system, and drop you a selection of Linux distributions. If you're running a Debian/Ubuntu-based operating system, you'll want to select Ubuntu. Using a distribution, such as Red Hat or openSUSE that uses RPM for installing programs? Then select the Fedora option.

To be precise, your Linux PC will need to have GTK 2.12 or higher; GLib 2.14 or higher; Nautilus 2.16 or higher; and Libnotify 0.4.4 or higher to run Dropbox. Don't worry about the software alphabet soup though. If you're running a 2009 or newer Linux with GNOME, these prerequisites will already be installed.

After that just follow the Dropbox instructions, and your GNOME Nautilus file manager will report a new directory in your file-system: Dropbox. Before using your new cloud-based "directory," you'll need to log in to Dropbox and set up a password protected account. That's it. After that, your Dropbox directory, and all the files you store in it, will be at your beck and call on any PC or smartphone where you've set up Dropbox.

If you're running KDE for your desktop though, things are a bit more complicated. Fortunately, there's a project for KDE 4.x users that make it easy: Kfilebox formerly Kdropbox.

This is an independent program that's not tied directly to Dropbox, but it serves as a fine KDE entry-way into the Dropbox service. If you'd rather, you can also install Dropbox manually in a KDE system using these instructions from the Ubuntu Tutorial site. Finally, there's another independent program to bring Dropbox to KDE, Dropbox ServiceMenu.

None of these methods, however, smoothly integrate with the KDE Dolphin file manager. In addition, nothing works well with the older KDE 3.5.x desktop, which I still like. That's why, while it's not as easy, I'm glad you can use Dropbox on Linux just by going to the Dropbox site via any Web browser.

It's certainly not the same thing. Using it this way is like using a Web interface to a FTP site a decade ago, but still, it does work. And, on those platforms that fully support Dropbox, this is one great little file utility. I highly recommend it to anyone who uses one more computer whether you use Linux or not, on any of them.

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