July 31, 2010

No, DropBox is not just for dropping files

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imagesThere are very few applications that impress me and DropBox is one of them. DropBox allows you 2GB of storage on the web which is synchronized with a folder on your local drive. It works on Windows, Mac, Linux and host of Smartphones too. I have been using DropBox on my Mac earlier and hadn’t paid much attention to it earlier. I, like most people would, thought of it only as a place you drop your files IF you wanted to share it with Windows, Linux or share it with other people. Maybe the name of the product promotes that kind of thinking. When I switched back to Windows and started using DropBox again, it struck me that my thinking was wrong. Its not some kind of application to take online back up (which it is) on a virtual drive (which it is not). I have used other applications like this before.. like SkyDrive and GDrive (GMail account mapped as virtual drive) and was always weary of them as copying/moving files into them seems to put explorer into a slowdown as it handles the virtual drive.

Not a Virtual Folder

kdisknav_2847_48DropBox creates a folder which is a real folder and not some virtual mapped drive. A service monitors file changes in the local folder as well as in your website account and silently synchronizes both ways. This means you can access files even when you are not connected to the internet and even add files into the folder and modify then, which will then by synced next time you are online. This is very different from other situation where you have to be online to access your files. Neat!

Cross Platform


While there are similar products in the market (e.g. Live Mesh, Live Sync,, none of them work on a wide variety of platforms and devices. DropBox works on Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, Android, iPad and Blackberry support coming soon. So when you decide to share your files with other users, you don't have to worry about which platform they are using. I use Dropbox to sync regularly across my Mac and Windows and for those times that I am not on one of my own computers, I simply access the site to download the file I need.

Its meant to be your new My Documents

When I started using it as first, I used it like an online backup, storing critical files in in. But soon I realized that its not meant as a safe vault, in fact, I would get more out of it if I started using it as “My Documents” folder, storing every new files that I created into the DropBox. Why? Because, first of all its not a virtual mapped drive which will immediately  put explorer into a tizzy. Second of all, I don’t know which file I might delete by mistake or commit changes to which I might want to rollback. Thirdly, I don't have to bother whether I am online or offline and don't have to go online just to store files in it.

DropBox as Super Recycle Bin and Version Control

graphix-transparent-full-recycle-bin_340x367Yes, that’s right.. One of the biggest advantage of making DropBox as your My Document is that even if you delete a file (including shift-delete bypassing the recycle bin), the deleted file is retained on the site for 30 days and this does not count towards your storage limit. Of course, you can go to the site and permanently delete the “deleted” files whenever you want. Another cool thing is that it maintains a multiple versions of every file you store in the dropbox and that does not apply to products which support version control (like MS Office). In fact you can get previous versions of text files, executables and office documents from the site whenever you want.

Not a waste of bandwidth

graphix-my-network_284x245It would appear that having an app like this all the time would consume a lot of bandwidth but the fact is the DropBox transmits only the changes and not the entire file. Which means if you have 1MB file and you modify 10 bytes, it would transmit just those 10 bytes and not the entire file. If you a still worried about frequent bandwidth utilization, you can make changes offline and then go online to sync everything in one go. Even then, you can set the upload/download limits for DropBox so that it does not hog the bandwidth.

What about Privacy?

leopard-security-locks_128x128Most people are rightly worried about online privacy. DropBox uses secure connection to the site when synchronizing by utilizing SSL connection so that data cannot be viewed in transit. On the site the data is kept in secured environment where even DropBox staff does not have access to the data. Still, if you want to be doubly sure for certain files, I would recommend using a free utility called TrueCrypt which allows you to create a virtual drive anywhere (including directly inside DropBox). You can continue to work normally with files inside this virtual drive but to rest of the world it will appear to be merely a file and that too encrypted.

My Document –> My DropBox

Go on! Make your DropBox as you new My Document folder and never miss a file or version ever again!

July 30, 2010

Weird C or is it?

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I guess I am one of the leftover dino from Mainframe and UNIX/C era. While I am enchanted by the progress programming in general has made with .NET, Java, frameworks and Web technologies, I cant help but feel that there is a need to understand the fundamentals very well. I am in no way say that “we” C programmers are better than Java and .NET, in fact, I am amazed at the spread of technology footprint that modern developers have to understand and remember. However, some of the developers look down upon C and C++ as outdated (which they may be soon), but miss the point… Fundamentals have to be strong and C/C++ kind of bring you closer to metal to make one realize that.
Check out the code fragment and explain why it works (I don't mean syntactically). It is based on some very sound principles of programming (at least in C/++), even though it looks completely useless (which it is) and syntactically incorrect (which is it not)
#include <stdio.h>

int main()
1; 2; 3; 4; 5;
6, 7, 8, 9, 0;

return 0;

Trust me, if you can explain the working behind this code snippet, you would understand a lot about statements and expressions in C/C++. Leave your explanation in comments.

Network bandwidth monitors

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 Though I have unlimited usage account on my home internet connection, its not really unlimited in sense that I get 1Mbps speed up to 25GB transfer and thereafter it drops to 256kbps for rest of the month. Sometimes this happens within days and sometimes lasts a month. That of course depends on what I have been downloading.. (e.g.. I downloaded a copy of MS Office 2010 from my MSDN account). I wanted to keep track on how much I was downloading and also which applications were downloading the most. I searched the net for applications and came across BitMeter. While BitMeter displayed a graph of current network activity, it didn't really provide the customization and history of downloads. So after using it for a couple of days, I started looking for other tool and came across two different and complementary tools.

1.  NetWorx

NetWorx is a bandwidth monitoring tool which provides a host of features which help you to effectively control the amount of network transfer. As expected, it provide a system tray icon so that you can keep an eye on the downloads. If the system tray is too small to be able to judge the network transfer rate, you can pop up a small window on your desktop which updates a graph of data transfer. To make this pop up window unobtrusive, you can make it semi transparent and also make it click-thru so that you can continue working with the window below while you are able to keep an eye on the download graph.
Apart from this basic feature which most network monitors provide, Networx provides a host of other features like quota control, usage reports for daily, weekly, monthly or for any given period of time. The reports show received, sent and total transfer for the given period and any dialup durations, if used. It can display these report for the current user or all users combined. The Usage reports can be exported to Excel for further processing or even backed up and restored in XML format.  There are usual network tools like Ping, Trace, Netstat thrown in for good measure. 

quotaOne way to control your data transfer is to use quota for  daily, week and monthly usage and save you from spiralling bills. It would also be good for controlling internet usage of you kids as it can block usage once you exceed the quota. It has a password control mechanism which protects the quota system and also prevents the application from being exited. This should keep the newbie users from circumventing the quota lockdown and other restrictions. But in modern homes you have more than one computers connecting thru the same wifi or internet router. Rather than trying to configure the router and wifi AP, use Networx built in synchronization with other computers. This way you can see a consolidated usage from all systems.
However, one feature that I was hoping to see in Networx was the ability to display which application was consuming how much bandwidth. While NetStat feature of NetWorx provides list of application and the sites they are accessing in real time, it does not provider a summary or usage data for each application. To control utilization effectively, we need to know which application is downloading how much data. This led my search to another tool.

2. NetBalancer

NetBalancer is a network monitor tool which works are much deeper level than Networx, in sense that it installs as a driver and can monitor network traffic from lower levels in the operating system. NetBalancer shows real-time statistics of which application is online and uploading/downloading from the net. It shows current upload/download as well as cumulative transfers. It display a traffic graph along with information about the selected application and its connections.

However, NetBalancer does not show daily, weekly, monthly graphs like NetWorx and does not have features to show quota and control usage. By combining these two application, you can get a handle on your internet usage, figure out which applications consume higher bandwidth and track your hourly usage.

If you have come across good bandwidth monitor tools, drop me a line to update me.

July 26, 2010

Amazing 7Stack

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7Stacks7Stacks is a nifty utility for Windows 7 taskbar. It installs like a regular application icon but behaves like a pop up stack (Also know as drawers). This is really cool because it allows you to group applications or files together. E.g. if you are a web developer and you test your site with multiple browsers, you can create a stack with all the browsers (as shown in the picture). This saves you from having to pin all the browsers n the task bar or having to search the browser from start menu and yet it takes only one icon on the taskbar. Of course, when you launch an application from 7Stack, it appears on the TaskBar like any regular program but is not pinned. You can create multiple stacks like Browser, Office, Media Players, Sysinternal Suite or even your favourite music.
The creation process is simple: Run the create stack utility and choose the folder you want to appear as a stack, choose the icon size (I prefer big icons, as shown in the picture), choose the text style and click on create shortcut. Once the shortcut is created, simply drag and drop it on the TaskBar and you are done.
As you can see, it has a nice Aero effect which makes it blend with beautiful looking Windows 7 TaskBar.

July 8, 2010

Just5: Cell phones for Luddites?

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They say they're targeting seniors, children, and the vision- and hearing-impaired, but Just5's new mobile phone line is really best explained as a talking device for Luddites.

"We want to open mobile phones to specific populations that may have difficulty using the latest and greatest mobile gadgets, especially the current generation of 'baby boomers' who need a safe, reliable phone," Alex Petrov, vice president of operations at Just5 Americas, said in a news release.

Just5 version 10

Just5 version 10 is due out in the U.S. in about three months.

(Credit: Just5)

Here's the setup. Just5 phones boast big buttons. They can be turned up louder than the average celly. An emergency SOS button can be preset with five phone numbers (i.e. 911, doctor, relative, etc.). It can send and receive calls and text messages, and it has Bluetooth and an FM radio. And that's about it.

Moreover, the company's newest version 10--out in Europe and coming to the U.S. in about three months--has no new features, only a bigger screen and a look Petrov tells me is going to be "a little more hypey," which may or may not be the word he intended to use.

It's an interesting strategy. Make a phone whose purpose is to function for people who don't know how modern phones work, and continue to come out with new and unimproved versions. It reminds me of that Steak & Shake ad: Unimproved since 1934.

To be fair, Just5 phones might be ideal for people with vision and hearing loss, or medical conditions that require constant and easy communication with health care providers. In this regard, Just5 has found a great niche market. (It's even won design and branding awards.)

But how big is this market, really? To say that it's for seniors and kids is frankly insulting to seniors and kids. My 82-year-old grandpa hosts his own podcast on robotics, and my 2-year-old nephew can navigate his way through an iPhone without yet being literate.

So proceed with caution if you're thinking of gifting one to grandma. It could be the equivalent of giving a Dummies Guide to someone who isn't a dummy at all.

We are moving rapidly forward with iPhone 4, Android 2.x and Windows Phone 7, yet there is a class of users who need just basic phone capabilities and this fills that gap remarkably.

Posted via email from Thinking In Visuals