Monday, 23 July 2012

Dropbox as an active filestore

I've written previously about what you could do with cheap android tablets with an external keyboard as note takers but one of the problems has always been getting the data off of the tablet without ending up with multiple versions of the same document on different platforms.

I think I now have the answer.

I've been using Writebox, a minamalit text editor for Chrome that saves text files straight to your dropbox folder, which then syncs next time you are online - very useful for spotty internet connections. They are text files which mean that they can be read by just about anything under the sun, and highly portable between platforms. This also solves my abiword instability problem allowing me to work on a variety of platforms with ease

You can of course get the same effect by saving notes from any text editor you like to your dropbox folder. Writebox's advantage is that it's a native Chrome app that you can install into Chrome on any machine without you having to remember to save to dropbox, or indeed learn multiple text editors if you switch between platforms,

And then I thought 'I wonder if you can get the same effect with Android ?'

Up to now I've been using text edit on Android which lets you email files, but a couple of minutes googling uncovered Epistle, an app that saves files from Android to your dropbox account. This means that you can write notes on something basic, and then combine/edit/pretty them on a full size machine before saving them whereever.

This is not very new as a concept. In the late 1980's DEC had a product known as pathworks. Basically what it meant was that your Vax filestore was connected to your networked pc as a disk and that your pc could read and write to these files. This turned out to be incredibly useful as it meant one could create a vax text file from home in a terminal session and then import and edit the document at work the next day - in fact one of my tricks was to write reports as text files on my Mac Classic at home, paste them into a vax editing session in a terminal window, save the files and then format them up the next day.

And in fact all through the dial up years of the nineties it was the same. While we ditched pathworks and went to pc-nfs as a campus networking product, it was still the same - dial into a unix server, transfer a file and there it was sitting in your pc filestore. (Which was the same as your unix filestore - infact the filestore was common to anything that could NFS mount the fllestore. At the time I used to rave about the concept of the one-touch filestore - save it once, open it anwhere)

Of course the world changed, personal computers took over the world, and the need to move documents in this way disappeared. Now that typically (and I know I'm not typical) everyone has more than one computing device the need to move data between devices is more and more common. It's not surprising to learn that the whole dropbox concept was dreamed up as a solution to not having to carry documents back on forth between home and work on a usb stick.

Using it actively as a filestore rather than just as a transfer tool means that data can moved where it's most appropriate - basic notes on android or a linux netbook, formatting and structuring on a PC or Mac. Just as in the same way one could get the Vax to output the results of a data manipulation onto disk and one could import it in excel for further analysis.

In my continual quest to avoid having to carry reams of paper to meetings I've just ordered myself an Android tablet and keyboard combination. With a combination of Evernote to hold scanned copies of reference materials and epistle for writing notes I should be sorted. The only possible downside I can see is these people who persist in sending out word attachments rather than something platform agnostic like pdf.

I'll post further about this once I've tried it for real ...

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