I'll be the first to admit - I'm incredibly "late to the party" on this one (to quote the linked article at the end of this post). But, as I'm a pretty tech-savvy guy who tries to be up on the latest advances, it's possible that there are others out there who could benefit from this but don't yet know about it - the same position I was in until about a month ago. For those people, here's my great insight:
Dropbox is amazing and will change your life.
So for the uninitiated, what is Dropbox? It's a free and simple way for you to access files wherever you are. For me, this basic function of Dropbox has proven invaluable and has immeasurably improved my computing life as an academic.
Unfortunately, the network drive that my university has set up is not that big nor that easy to access remotely. Dropbox solves that problem, and does so in a way that is incredibly simple to use. Once you register for an account and install the program on your computer, a Dropbox icon appears. That icon functions as a folder. Once you put folders and files in that Dropbox folder, all those folders and files become accessible on the internet (via Dropbox's website) as well as on any other computer (or smartphone) on which you've installed Dropbox (and linked to your account).
The best part of it is that after installation, everything happens seemlessly. All you have to do is use the Dropbox folder as your primary folder for storing files that you need, and they are automatically synched to every other computer you have your Dropbox account on, as well as the Dropbox website. And it works from the other computers and the internet as well.
It's really wonderful for an academic. For example, I've put all my files for this semester's course in Dropbox on my work computer, as well as all the files from last year when I taught the same course. Now, when I'm home, I have access to all of those files, with automatic synching on both computers of any changes I make on either one. When I go into class, I don't have to email myself my Powerpoint or put it on a thumb drive. Rather, I just pull it down from the Dropbox website, which is where it's automatically synched when I save it (wherever I've worked on it).
For my scholarship, whatever I'm currently working on is in a folder in Dropbox. I work on something on my office computer, and it's automatically available everywhere else I have Dropbox. And not just the main file for the article, but all supporting files that I'm using as well. They're all stored in the Dropbox folder, so they're accessible everywhere.
At this point, I still just have the free 2GB of storage, but I'm considering migrating all of my work files to it and upgrading to 50GB ($100 per year). With that, everything (past and present courses, past and present scholarship) would be at my fingertips, wherever I work. To those of you who have a system like this in place already, this is old news. But, for me, this has been liberating and revolutionary.
Dropbox has some other cool features as well. The internet sync means you always have an online backup of your files (on top of the backup that each linked computer provides). Dropbox also allows you to share Dropbox folders with others, which allows easy collaboration on multi-user projects. David Pogue, the amazing New York Times tech columnist, has a great article about Dropbox here that focuses on this feature.
Look, I know this sounds like I'm a paid advertiser for Dropbox. But I'm not. I'm just an incredibly happy user who thinks that other academics will probably benefit from finding out about this product. It really can change your life as a teacher and scholar.