Parallel Desktops

My new favorite free utility: Dropbox

Lately I’ve been playing with Dropbox, a free utility for Macs, Windows and Linux based machines. It’s a pretty simple concept; an internet drive that allows you to sync your files between multiple machines. There is really not too much to using it; a small application is installed that monitors a folder on your hard drive (normally placed in the user’s home directory but you can put it anywhere). Dropbox monitors changes to that folder and if a file is updated it is pushed up to your virtual drive on the interwebs. If you have multiple machines with Dropbox installed and pointing to the same account then they will automatically pick up the changes.

While this sound like something that can just as easily be accomplished with a network share, the nice thing about Dropbox is that the files are automatically copied to the machine’s local drive. In my case I have three physical machines: a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro and an HP Slimline that serves as an Ubuntu workstation. In addition I usually have a Windows XP instance running on my Mac Pro using VMware Fusion. As I am currently working on some file importing routines for my product I am jumping between machines frequently; now if I make a change to files I need globally I see this little notice pop-up on each machine:

Mac (Growl notification)

Windows XP

Linux (Ubuntu)

So if I make a change anywhere it is auto-reflected wherever I need it. If I then grab my MacBook Pro for a meeting and the place I’m going doesn’t have internet access I still have a locally updated copy of the files that will be updated as soon as I get back to a live connection.

If you are away from your machine and need access to those synchronized files you can log in from anywhere and download the files from your account. You can also place your files into a public folder that will allow you to share them with others, though I haven’t tried that feature yet.

Dropbox comes with 2GB of storage for free; you can upgrade to a 50GB version for $9.99 / month or $99 / year. I’ve had it running on all of my machines for about a week now and have been impressed with how easy it is to use.

Got a great solution for keeping files synchronized on multiple machines? Drop a note in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.


Parallel Desktops

Reflections on my first Mac

With all the talk of the 25th anniversary of the Mac I started to wax nostalgic about my original Mac experience.

Though my blog got a lot of page views last year because of my switch from Windows to Mac, the reality is the little white MacBook I bought in February of 2008 was not actually my first Mac. From ’83-’84 I worked at a small retail computer chain in Southern California named Sun Computers (not Sun Microsystems). We sold IBMs, Compaqs, DECs and Apples.

When the Mac was introduced Apple provided special training to the authorized dealers and I went off for a day of presentations in early ’84. At the end of the presentation Apple gave us all forms that allowed us to purchase one Mac directly from Apple for a ridiculously low price. We could get a 128K Mac, an Image Writer dot matrix printer and a padded carrying case (for the Mac). To be honest I don’t even remember the price, though it was considerably lower than its $2,500 retail price; so low that I quickly took them up on the offer and bought the machine, maxing out my one and only credit card in the process.

Keep in mind that in today’s dollars the retail price was over $5,000, a princely sum of money for a 20 year old geek to be spending on a computer. Though I had been spending a lot of time around various computers that Mac was a completely different animal. It’s hard to appreciate how much better it was than the DOS based PCs of the day.

It took a while before the machine was actually delivered—a couple of very, very long weeks—but when it finally came I remember spending countless hours playing with MacWrite and MacPaint, the only two programs that I had available. I would happily jam my Mac into the padded carrying case and take it with me the first couple of weeks I had it, though that got old fairly quickly. My girlfriend at the time was unimpressed with the machine, likely because I wasn’t paying attention to her when I was using it.

The lack of software and the paltry 128K of memory meant that my first Mac quickly got less and less use. There were only so many MacWrite documents and MacPaint images I had the energy to do. Software started to trickle in to our store for the Mac over the late spring and early summer but it was expensive and I was already tapped out because of the cost of the Mac. In September of 1984 I landed my first job as a programmer working with DOS based PCs and my Mac quickly became expendable. I ended up selling the machine to buy a PC clone so that I could continue to learn the programming tools I was using during the day.

For the next 24 years I rarely touched a Mac, spending the vast majority of my time on DOS/Windows and later various Linux flavors. When I finally did rediscover the Mac last year it was a great experience; I felt like a kid again, exploring all the new features (well, new to me anyway) and playing with the wide range of software that is now available.

With all the coverage about the 25th anniversary of the Mac’s launch I’ve been looking at original announcement videos and news stories and for just a few minutes I am that 20 year old budding computer geek, carefully removing that original Mac from its white box.

So what about you? If you are a Mac user when did you get your first Mac?