The Internet has radically changed how we can manage our data. There are now dozens, maybe even hundreds, of hard-drive-in-the-sky services offering centralized file storage and/or backup. Most are inexpensive or even free, and for the most part they all do a good job of allowing you to store documents centrally and retrieve them from a computer or a smartphone.

But the typical online file/folder storage account has a couple of annoying downsides. First, if your files are going to be kept safe from unauthorized access, you’ll probably have to log on with a username and password. Forget those credentials, and you can’t get to your stuff. Mistype your login info three or four times in a row and you’ll probably be locked out. Then, once you get in, large files can take a long time to download, even on a fast connection, and your computer can slow to a crawl while that’s happening, so you can’t really work on anything else.

Installed and In Synch

Dropbox is a unique hybrid service that solves all those issues and more. It’s an online storage service like many others, but instead of having to go log on to a website to get your files, Dropbox adds a special folder to every computer or smartphone where you have installed Dropbox.

Simply place any file you want to backup, store, or share directly into your Dropbox folder. The service then synchronizes those files with its online site as well as with the Dropbox folder(s) on any other computers or smartphones set up to access your account. In case you need to access your files on a computer that does not have Dropbox set up, you have the option of going to the Dropbox website.

Dropbox makes it easy to share large files and eliminates the hassles and limitations of e-mail attachments. For example, if you wanted one customer to work with you on a selection sheet and another to access a set of drawings for a deck, they would each install Dropbox on their own device, and the files you shared with each of them would automatically show up in their respective Dropbox folders. You control who has access to what.

Dropbox is available for PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, and Android, with a Blackberry version promised soon (according to the company). It’s free for up to 2GB of storage; 50GB costs about $10 per month; and 100GB is around $20 per month. For an additional $40 per year — for the paying accounts — you can add the “packrat” unlimited undo feature that keeps a copy of everything you’ve ever put in your Dropbox — even if you delete it locally.

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology. Reach him at Twitter,, or at