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April 25, 2011

Is Dropbox Part of "The Cloud"?

Dropbox Free Storage Space In case anyone has been living under a rock for the last couple of years and doesn't know what Dropbox is, it is fundamentally storage space on the Internet, a small amount (2 Gigabytes) given away freely, in hopes that you'll come to rely on the space and want more and will be willing to pay for it. And, in my opinion...

DROPBOX IS AWESOME!!!

The neat thing about the storage space is that it comes with a small program which runs in the background on your computer (it has an icon in the system tray) which syncs a folder called "My Dropbox" (within your "My Documents" folder) with your online storage space. So, whatever you save into this folder will get automatically synced, without user interaction, with your storage space on the Internet.

In what way is this useful? Well, for me, I've found that if I'm working on a paper or something for school which I know that I'm going to want to work on from multiple computers, or if I'm going to want to print it from other computers, it comes in very handy. By saving my file into the "My Dropbox" folder, it becomes accessible through the Dropbox website where I can print it or access it from anywhere. It's also a place where I store useful PDFs which I know I'll want to reference now and then.

But the awesomeness of Dropbox isn't really the subject of this weblog entry. Instead, the entry is about "the cloud" and what that really means. I found it odd to read where someone else was referring to Dropbox as being part of "the cloud", and I'm interested in getting some feedback and some opinions on the issue. In my opinion, it is not part of "the cloud", and here's why:

The best way to understand "the cloud", from my perspective, is to look at something that we're all familiar with by now: email. Email access typically comes from two sources, and I'll use hotmail as a prototype, even though the same things can be said for gmail and other email services.

Email can be accessed usually in two ways: 1) using an email client program running on your own computer, or 2) using a webmail interface through your browser. The second option is entirely cloud computing and it's the oldest source of cloud computing of which most of us is familiar.

Consider the difference between the two options. In the case of using your own email client on your own computer (Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, etc.), you download your email, the email is stored on your own computer's file system, and you run the program on your own computer to edit or read the email. This is not cloud computing.

On the other hand, you can access email, such as Hotmail, through your browser as well, without using a dedicated email client. When you choose this option, your email files are stored on the remote computer, and when you write email or read email you do so using the software at Hotmail as accessed through your web browser. This is cloud computing. In a sense, your own computer has been reduced to a "dumb terminal" which neither runs the email software nor stores your files.

Now use that description and apply it to Dropbox. This is purely a file storage solution, and replaces no client software on your computer. There's no associated word processor, spreadsheet, email program...nothing. Additionally, your files are stored on your own hard drive and are merely backed up (synchronized, really) with a copy of your files on the remote file system (Dropbox). Thus Dropbox is not performing either of the two "cloud" functions: it neither replaces your use of your own file system, nor do you use remote software to edit or otherwise use your data files.

So why would someone consider using Dropbox to be cloud computing?

Posted by Jeff at April 25, 2011 01:00 PM

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