BitPocket, one of the latest so-called “DIY Dropbox” offerings that’s open source. The excitement faded pretty quickly when I hit the GitHub repo and found that it’s just a “small but smart script that does 2-way directory synchronization” without most of the Dropbox features.I got all excited this morning when I saw a link on Hacker News to
Dropbox didn’t get where it is today by being a wrapper for rsync, Git, Unison or any of the other open source tools for file synchronization. If you want to replicate Dropbox’s suceess, there’s a few features that are mandatory.
The biggest failing that Bitpocket has is the lack of automatic sync. As I’m writing this post (in Vim, using Markdown on my MacBook Pro), Dropbox is syncing it with my iMac and my Linux Mint computer as well as with the Dropbox service.
It’s doing it silently, without any intervention or extra setup on my part. Before Dropbox, I used rsync over SSH to sync my files to rsync.net and my other computers. It was workable, but not particularly convenient. It took about ten minutes for me to decide to plunk down the monthly fee for Dropbox after discovering the LAN sync feature in Dropbox.
Another feature that any Dropbox challenger needs? Platform ubiquity. If it doesn’t run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android, I’m not interested.
Technically, I’m actually OK with a service that doesn’t run on Windows, but the sheer number of folks who use Windows means that any Dropbox alternative is pretty much DOA without a Windows client. And there’s very little attraction to any tool that doesn’t sync with my mobile device.
If I’m not on a computer I control, I still want to be able to get to a file in a pinch. Dropbox’s Web interface is perfect for the few times I don’t have my own computer handy, or haven’t gotten around to installing Dropbox yet. Since I tend to do a lot of testing, it’s not uncommon for me to set up a new box without wanting to hassle with installing Dropbox when I’m going to be wiping a system in a few days. (Not that Dropbox is all that hard to install.)
Revision Control and File Restore
Revision control and file restore are features I don’t use often, but are worth the price of Dropbox even if I use them just twice a year.
I admit it, I’ve fat-fingered
rm once or twice in 2011, and saved over a file in LibreOffice that I didn’t mean to. Revision control and file restore mean that I’ve been able to recover gracefully with zero loss of data. Unless an alternative can give me that, I’m not switching.
Finally, I need to be able to share files with co-workers and friends. Dropbox makes this dirt simple, even for other folks that don’t use Dropbox.
Bitpocket and other sync scripts and tools may be acceptable for some use cases, but they don’t rise to the “Dropbox” label. Up-and-coming projects like SparkleShare may be nifty collaboration tools, but they’re not a Dropbox replacement.
I’d love to see an open source, DIY alternative to Dropbox, but so far none have come close.