Could Dropbox replace the Small Office Server?

It started as many IT Consultancy visits do – a “quick visit” to sort out a minor problem with sending an email at a small business (9 members of staff with a PC each), and then, out of nowhere comes the question that we dread when on a tight time-scale with the next month already booked up in advance… “we need an server to share files for all of us – could you set that up for us… we need it next week, will it cost much?” In default “IT Consultant Mode” I started explaining the costs of the physical hardware, the Windows Server licence, how long it would take to order, install and configure on each PC, and then, just as I was explaining the electricity cost, I stopped.. Thinking back I wonder if my customer thought I had lost it completely, as I stopped open-mouthed and went “AAAHHH” far too loud, and then I asked a question I have never uttered before..

“There might be a better way – have you heard of DropBox?”

She replied that she hadn’t, and enquired as to what it was. It was then that it struck me, on every previous occasion, what was it that always got added on the end of the shared files question… “can I access them at home?” and I started my explanation with a question: “Would you like to be able to access and update the shared documents from home?”. To say that the customer was shocked was an understatement as she struggled to contain her enthusiasm “you mean I could actually do that???” So I proceeded to explain over the course of about 10 minutes the two possible routes – the traditional route with the server, the new router, the VPN, the approximate cost of £2400 all in, and the new route – the brand new option – Dropbox, which is free for up to 2Gb of storage. I asked what was being stored in the file store, and emphasised the importance of not storing personal information in the new dropbox folder if we were to use it, and the answer “no, its just for a few policies and procedures” meant it was a perfect fit. So, 30 minutes after arriving on-site to fix email, all staff have dropbox installed on their PC with a nice DropBox shortcut on their desktop to the folder, the owner has had the dropbox guided tour and actually understands it all (and added Dropbox on her iPhone there an then), and wow – it works (and is still working) perfectly. One very, very happy customer, with a solution that when coupled in the near future with Office 365 will result in not needing any server for the office at all. Dropbox I salute you – a wonderful new technology that can be applied to revolutionise business file sharing.

Apple iPad 2 – 20 essential apps

Apple says there are more than 65,000 iPad apps in the iTunes App Store. With   that kind of choice, finding the best can be difficult.

Apple,   £2.99
Apple’s music creation app has long been popular on the Mac but its iPad   makeover takes it beyond what was possible on a desktop. The touchscreen   allows the iPad to become a whole range of musical instruments, some of   which can do things that a physical instrument can’t. For those who aren’t   musical, smart instruments make it possible to put tracks together without   creating musical horrors.

Apple, £2.99
Whether the iPad 2 will see much use as a video camera is debatable given its   size but it can certainly be used to do some complex video editing using   iMovie, the second app that Apple has produced for the launch of the iPad 2.   With a little bit of practice the touchscreen can be used to make   sophisticated clips that can be uploaded to the web from the device.

Real Racing 2 HD
Firemint,   £5.99
The iPad 2’s A5 processor delivers up to nine-times the graphics performance   of the first generation iPad’s A4. Real Racing 2 HD has been updated to take   advantage of the graphics upgrade and looks very impressive as a result.

Infinity Blade
Chair,   £3.49
One of the most impressive games for the iPad and iPhone 4, Infinity Blade has   received an upgrade for the iPad 2 that makes it look even better. The   graphics alone are worth the price but Infinity Blade is also a very clever   game with a well-designed touch control system.

Jenga HD
Natural   Motion, 59p
In addition to improved performance the iPad 2 contains a gyroscope. Jenga HD,   the iPad version of the popular blocks game, shows that off. It requires a   steady hand but it’s addictive once you get the hang of it.

Evernote,   Free
This is an essential note-taking app, not just for your iPad but for your   smartphone and computer too. You can save documents, web clippings, audio   files, pictures and of course text notes and then access them from Evernote   on any device. The iPad 2 update allows you to take picture notes with the   iPad.

Word Lens
Quest   Visual, Free (Language pack: £5.99)
This is one of those apps that you just have to show off to your friends.   Point your camera at some text and Word Lens will translate it instantly, on   your screen. The free app erases words and reverses them and for £5.99 you   can get English-Spanish or Spanish-English translation.

Twitter, Free
Another app that has been updated to take advantage of the iPad 2’s cameras.   Twitter’s official app is not to everyone’s taste but I think it’s well   designed and easy to use. The ability to take a snapshot from within the app   is a handy tweak.

There will be more apps updating to take advantage of the iPad 2’s   capabilities but in the meantime here are some old favourites that no iPad   should be without.

Marco   Ament, £2.99
You simply have to have this on your iPad. Save articles from your browser and   read them later in Instapaper’s uncluttered app. You can save articles from   your computer, your phone or your iPad and a recent update means there are   now more social options for sharing and finding articles, too.

Flipboard,   Free
Another work of genius, Flipboard takes the activity from your social networks   – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and plenty of others are supported – and   presents it in an attractive magazine-style layout. They say they’re   reinventing the browser for the tablet computer. They could be right.

Dropbox, Free
Being able to move files between your various devices is essential and Dropbox   meets that need perfectly. Upload your files to Dropbox from any device and   you’ll be able to get them on your iPad thanks to this app. It’s free and so   is the basic Dropbox service so it should be impossible to resist.

Amazon, Free
Not everything Apple does is better than the competition. Amazon’s Kindle app   gives you access to more titles than Apple’s iBookstore and at better prices   too. The reading experience is a matter of taste but I prefer the Kindle   app’s simplicity to the rather fussy, fake book stylings of Apple’s own   iBooks app.

Reeder for iPad
Silvio   Rizzi, £2.99
There are several RSS readers to choose from on the iPad but Reeder gets my   vote. Is very well designed, simple to use and, as with many of the apps on   this list, has smartphone and desktop versions as well so that everything   stays in sync.

Ladybird Baby Touch: Peekaboo
Penguin   Books, £1.79
Small children love iPads. They pick up the touch controls very quickly and   love playing games and watching videos. This app, from Penguin, has proved a   massive hit with my toddler, despite the slightly bored-sounding narrator.

iA Writer
Information   Architects, 59p
Apple made Pages, its word processor, available for the iPad at launch last   year. However, for simplicity alone, iA Writer is a better choice for   writing. It essentially turns your iPad into a typewriter and lets you save   your work to Dropbox (see above).

1Password for iPad
Agile   Web Soluitions, £5.99
When you move between computers a lot it can be difficult to remember the   logins for all the websites you use. 1Password keeps them all in one place –   and syncs with your other devices – and that in turn means that you can use   more complicated passwords for added security. All you need to remember is,   as the name implies, one password – the one that lets you in to 1Password.

IMDb,   Free
If you often find yourself watching a TV programme or a film and obsessing   over a familiar-looking actor, the IMDb app is essential. It optimises the   enormous online movie database for your iPad screen and makes it very easy   to look up a person and find out just where you’ve seen them before.

Spotify,   Free app but requires subscription
This isn’t actually an iPad app but the iPhone version works just fine and   lets you browse Spotify’s vast catalogue, access your playlists and store   music to your device. Very handy for loading up on music before a long   journey.

Articles for iPad
Sophiestication   Software, £2.99
Wikipedia is available on the web, obviously, but there are lots of apps that   style the online encyclopedia so that it works better on the iPad.

BBC iPlayer
BBC, Free
Finally, if you want to catch up on some television while using your iPad, the   well-designed BBC iPlayer app is ideal. The playback quality is excellent   and though it’s a shame that you can’t save programmes to watch offline, you   can at least mark favourite shows so that you don’t miss new episodes.

New product coming soon…

I’ve just begun work on the latest ISArc new product – a dual offering of a professional website using web services to securely store user specific data, and an iPad/iPhone app that has been commissioned to also link to the same data! I will post more information once the details are finalised, plus we will need some beta testers – if you would like to be a beta tester leave a comment!

The perils of dropbox when its not understood

It all started with a very panicked phone call, one of our customers was exceptionally worried – she had been deleting files from her computer and then realised that they were no longer available on her iPhone…. And it took me a while to register that last part… On her phone..? Oohhh and then it hit me – the company in question were using DropBox!

So, rewind several weeks, and a local company who have no IT experts amongst their staff needed a way to share their standard corporate documents with a new office in Belfast, budget was a real issue, and a VPN was out of the question, so I had recommended  that Dropbox would be a good solution. It was diligently installed on their server and done so well, that none of the staff noticed any changes (something that would turn out not to be a good thing) – they still accessed their documents through the mapped drive to “Shared staff documents” on their computers.

But things did not end there – unknown to us the company director and one member of staff didn’t quite understand the concept (fault of not explaining it properly entirely mine) and after I had left the site, they downloaded dropbox and put it on their own machines…. Which don’t have sufficient hard disk space to store the 30Gb+ of documents that were then synchronised across the network to their pcs. The first signs of concern was an email saying that the network was running very slowly, but a different local it person visited the site and rebooted the server, and suddenly all was well… (as it turns out, really not well – the dropbox service hadn’t started, so it appeared to have worked, but the moment anyone logged on to the server it started the service again…)

To resolve the mounting issue of lack of disk space the staff with locally installed started deleting documents from the new local dropbox folder…. And that is when the disaster started taking hold…. Nearly 3Gb of documents permanently deleted in moments… Everywhere, in every office… Gone.

Thankfully the panicked phone call stopped all that, and order is now restored (and all documents recovered – a wonderful dropbox feature!) with a big bit of learning – training, training, training – absolutely essential!