FolderShare vs. Dropbox

Earlier this week Om wrote about Dropbox, which he liked so much that we at GigaOM are trying it out for our file-sharing and backup needs. Also this week, FolderShare, another remote file access program, launched its first version since being acquired by Microsoft two-and-half years ago. So I decided to try them out, too.

After playing around with both, I’m torn. The essential differences between the two stem from the fact that Dropbox is all about sending your data to the cloud and accessing it there, whereas FolderShare links two computers that are already online. So for remote access of your files, FolderShare is the clear winner, while Dropbox takes the cake for backup and collaborative work.

I used both programs to link my MacBook with my ancient Toshiba laptop, which runs Windows XP. I’m using Firefox as my browser, and it was nice to see that Microsoft’s FolderShare program respected that and didn’t seek to open in Explorer instead. Both took just a few minutes to install and were easy to get running. Dropbox didn’t install cleanly into the applications portion of my Mac’s hard drive, but I moved it over.

With the install over, it was time to play. I created a shared folder in Dropbox and had the option of either saving files into my Dropbox located on the desktop or going to the Dropbox web site and uploading them. This feature would be nice if I were working on some else’s computer and didn’t want to install the Dropbox client. Could you use this to upload proprietary corporate data even if it was protected from transfer to a USB drive?

To access a shared folder, you send out invites. With Dropbox currently in private beta, it’s a nice way to spread your Dropbox love to friends who might appreciate the site. Another fun things about Dropbox is that you can share your photos with non-Dropbox members via a URL, but that will show all the photos in your Dropbox photo file, so be careful who sees it.

Frankly, because I don’t collaborate with anyone using offline files like Word or Excel, and work from the same laptop all the time, I’m not sure how useful I find Dropbox. FolderShare, on the other hand, is appealing to me in the way it lets me access the random files I have stored on my personal laptop, such as contact data from Outlook and notes taken on my personal PC. I can also use it to grab photos and music fairly easily, although I do wish I could see thumbnails for my images in the display. That would require too much information to be stored on the Microsoft servers, though.

Another caveat is that for FolderShare to work, both computers have to be online. So hibernating computers need to be awakened from their slumber. Bottom line, you could use FolderShare for easy access to your files on various computers and Dropbox for backup and collaborative work. As a word of caution, both services were running pretty slowly while I was playing around with them.