File Organization & Version Control Revisited: DropBox

A year and a half ago I wrote a 5 part series here on File Organization and Version Control for SketchUp. Two things spring to mind:
  1. What kind of nerd writes about source control for fun?
  2. How fast things change
I still believe in the importance of being able to access your SketchUp work from any machine and being able to get to prior versions of your models when you screw something up but my workflow used to be to transport the master archive around on a thumb-drive.

Remember thumb-drives? They were what we used to use before DropBox. What's DropBox? If you're geeky enough to be reading this blog I assume you already know but if you've being living under a rock for the last year and a half, think of DropBox as a virtual memory stick with benefits. DropBox uses the cloud to store your files and folders. The amazing part is that when you install in on your PC or Mac it full integrates in with your Documents folder. What does that mean? It means it just looks like part of your native file system and you don't have to go through a browser to retrieve and use your files; you just open My Documents, or the Mac equivalent, and your files are right there. Behind the scenes, every time your machine connects to the net it checks to see if there are files to sync and it changes your local cache accordingly. So, if you've been taking measurements out in the field and entering them into a model on your laptop, as long as the laptop connects to the web at some point before you start working in your office, you can take that model created in the field and start using it straight away back on your desktop. And you don't have to do are start anything to initiate this magic - all you need is access to the cloud and enough space on DropBox.

DropBox is even useful
on your phone
But wait, there's more. You can also choose to share files or folders with others. If you get stuck in your model and you need to share it with your mentor so that they can help you out, via the DropBox web interface you can give them access to your model so that they can try to fix it. If you like what they've done you can just keep on working on the model but if they alter it in a way you don't appreciate DropBox has built in versioning so you can get back to any prior version of the model that you saved to DropBox.

If you work in teams on large modeling projects there still is no substitute for an industrial strength Source Control system setup on your server. If, however, you're a freelancer or enthusiast I highly recommend DropBox as the location where you store, and work on your SketchUp models. DropBox and the cloud has many advantages:
  • If your hard drive fails your work is safe
  • If you work in SketchUp on more than one machine you can be confident that you're working on the most current version on the model
  • You can easily share a model with a collaborator
  • You can easily locate previous versions of your model
  • Unlike a thumbdrive, you can't loose your data because you forgot to take it out of your jeans before doing laundry, or it got lost down the back of the couch.
  • It's cheap or even free
  • It works on your PC, Mac, iPhone or Android
  • You don't have to set anything up or change your workflow
If you don't have 100% faith in the cloud or you don't have persistent access to the web DropBox can still work for you. While you're unconnected you will be working on a local cache on your PC and it will sync up in the background the next time you're connected to the web. If you're already backing up your documents (you are reckless if you're not) you're DropBox folder will be included in this backup without you having to make any changes.

  • if you move a folder you loose the history of the files it contains so, if the file history is important to you do not reorganize your folders.
  • trusting your data to the cloud feels strange if you haven't done it before
  • space is limited unless you pay or work to get some free upgrades. Luckily SketchUp models are pretty efficient and compact.
  • I've experienced occasional quirkiness when SketchUp auto-saves large models to a DropBox folder if your connection is slow or flaky
  • be careful sharing folders containing large files - if you have a free account DropBox takes the shared file size from both your quotas - no a biggy but something to bear in mind.
I can't believe how easy DropBox has made my geeky life. If you haven't given it a go I highly recommend that you do. If you do have an account you might consider adopting my working practice and making it your primary SketchUp working directory.
Context sensitive menu showing how to access previous versions of a file 


No comments:

Post a Comment