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Synchronise computer files online

Use free software instead of memory sticks to transfer data between computers, says Dr Neil Paul.

If you have to take work home frequently, or if you use several computers, it can be annoying to forget where you saved that important PowerPoint presentation.

While USB sticks offer one solution, the best that I have found is free and works across platforms.

Web browser access
I have been a MobileMe subscriber for a while. One nice feature is a hard disk 'in the sky' where you can save and access files from any Mac computer.

It has been upgraded recently so you can access the files from any computer though a web browser, from a Windows PC and even from your iPhone. The downsides are it costs money, feels slow, and it is aimed at Mac users for whom there are other benefits.

Microsoft has a similar product called SkyDrive, which is for PC users only but is free as part of their Windows Live project.

Stable, reliable solution
However, I prefer a great piece of software called Dropbox, which although still in beta form is very stable, fast and reliable. Better still, the basic version that gives you 2GB of online storage is free.

You can pay for more storage and in theory you can use it for off-site backups, but I mainly use it for transferring files.

Dropbox works on Windows machines, Macs and Linux. It installs a directory or folder on the local machine and in the background constantly synchronises this with the version on the internet.

You can install it on as many machines as you want. I use it regularly to swop files between my Mac, my Macbook and my PC at the practice.

There are some other nice features, such as a web interface for when you are in an internet cafe and a public folder that lets people upload and download files. Plus, there is a special folder where images are automatically added to a slideshow viewable to either everyone or just friends with a password.

You access it from a little icon in the menu bar which allows you to see how much space you have used, what files have changed recently and to open your folder.

The company that developed Dropbox is small and you can read the creators' blogs and newsfeeds about what they are working on. They are obsessed by speed and performance, which really shows. Dropbox works simply and quickly.

  • Dr Paul is a GP in Cheshire

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