I've started using Dropbox on my Android devices recently (and my laptop as a result, [1]) and I'm incredibly impressed with the software and with the way that this service is a perfect example of the kind of web services that we need to see more of. While I have some fairly uninteresting concerns about data security and relying on a service that I'm not administrating personally, I think it's too easy to get caught up the implications of where the data lives and forget what the implications of having "just works," file syncing between every computer.

I used to think that the thing that kept mobile devices from being "real" was the fact that they couldn't sell "post-file system" computer use. I'm not sure that we're ready to do away with the file system metaphor yet. I think Dropbox is largely successful because it brings files back and makes them available in a way that makes sense for mobile devices.

The caveat is that it provides a file system in a way that makes sense in the context for these kinds of "file systemless" platforms. Dropbox provides access to files, but in a way that doesn't require applications (or users) to have a firm awareness of "real files. Best of all, Dropbox (or similar) can handle all of the synchronization, so that every application doesn't need to have its own system.

This might mean that Dropbox is the first functionally Unix-like mobile application. I think (and hope) that Dropbox's success will prove to be an indicator for future development. Not that there will be more file syncing services, but that mobile applications and platforms will have applications that "do one thing well," and provide a functionality upon which other applications can build awesome features.

This isn't to say that there aren't other important issues with Dropbox. Where your data lives does matter, who controls the servers that your data lives on is important. Fundamentally, Dropbox isn't doing anything technologically complicated. When I started writing the post, I said "oh, it wouldn't be too hard to get something similar set up," and while Dropbox does seem like the relative leader, it looks like there is a fair amount of competition. That's probably a good thing.

So despite the concerns about relying on a proprietary vendor and about trusting your data on someone else's server, data has to go somewhere. As long as users have choices and options, and there are open ways of achieving the same ends, I think that these issues are less important than many others.

[1]To be fair, I'm using it to synchronize files to the Android devices, and not really to synchronize files between machines: I have a server for simple file sharing, and git repositories for the more complex work. So it's not terribly useful for desktop-to-desktop sharing, But for mobile devices? Amazing.