A great Linux client
Nobody’s really thinking that 2012, or any year after it, is the mythical “Year of the Linux Desktop.” But Dropbox went ahead and made a great client for Linux, one that installs as easily and works as seamlessly as on Windows or Mac. Part of that is Dropbox’s mission to be available everywhere, and part of it is probably one Dropbox developer’s fondness for the open-source platform. I think that has greater impact than just the 1 percent using Linux, which is less than those using iPhones. Linux desktop users are, at least in one author’s experience, a go-to source for tech support among family, friends, and coworkers, and installing Dropbox for others is a robust solution to many, many problems involving attachments, missing files, and file sharing. And I’m sure the Dropbox team gained some impressive design and technical chops in crafting a Linux client that is scads more friendly to beginners than most apps. (Note, too, that most of this applies in equal measure to Spotify, Google’s Chrome browser, and other boldly cross-platform software).
A mobile app that doesn’t "sync"
Dropbox’s founders were called into Apple’s headquarters to discuss, basically, a potential purchase and integration into Apple’s iCloud service (then called MobileMe). That’s impressive, but it didn’t happen, because the founders want to build a company, rather than retire young. Startup politics aside, it’s telling to see how the two mobile access services differ.
iCloud stores certain types of files on Apple’s servers, pushes some of them automatically to all your Apple devices, and as a result can sometimes take up a big chunk of space on your device. Dropbox does automatic syncing and downloading on desktops, but on mobile devices, it’s more like a very polished interface with the Dropbox web site. You can download and open any file saved to your Dropbox, but they don’t land on your phone until you need them. In the meantime, you can upload any file you’d like to Dropbox very easily: pictures, a ZIP package someone attached to an email, anything you’d like.
One could make the argument that Apple’s approach is very, well, Apple: automatic, without the user having to worry about the details. Dropbox’s approach, though, is transparent, works on Android and BlackBerry as well as it does on iOS, and supports any and all files. Another nicety that makes Dropbox feel like an upgrade to every little bit of your life that involves computers.