Build a better mousetrap and ... what? The world beats a pathway to your door? Maybe that was true once but what generally happens today is that Microsoft and Google duplicate your mousetrap, slap their logo on it and leave you wondering where all the mice and cheese went.
Such is the fate of Dropbox, a very clever and useful file hosting service that uses the Internet to enable its users to store and share files and folders across the Internet.
It's not just a storage system, it also provides very sophisticated file synchronization -- so that your laptop, desktop, iPad and other devices all stay up to date as files are changed and deleted. Founded in 2007 by MIT graduates Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox now has millions of individual and enterprise customers using free and premium versions.
It's also extremely popular with its users, with a positive net sentiment of more than 80% over the last year, according to a ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of about 950,000 comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
What does everyone like about Dropbox? It might be more illustrative to ask what they don't like. The answer is: almost nothing, as this chart illustrates.
Among its advantages is that Dropbox is independent and, as the techies say, platform-agnostic. It is not tied to your Google profile, your Microsoft profile or any other profile. It simple stores your stuff without nosing around to see what ads, offers and promotions might be floated by you. It works with Windows, Mac, Linux and all kinds of smartphone and tablet systems.
Of course, Dropbox could see its popularity erode now that Microsoft and Google are on the Dropbox beat -- Microsoft with its SkyDrive and Google with a new service reportedly known as Google Drive -- although Dropbox is not sitting still. The company announced yesterday that it was offering a new service that enables Dropbox clients to share documents, photos and videos with non-Dropbox clients.
"We're always looking for ways to make life easier and solve the basic problems people face everyday," said Drew Houston, CEO and co-founder of Dropbox. "Sending files has always been a painful process, but now with Dropbox, sharing with friends, family, and colleagues is effortless."
Business presentations, home movies, and even entire folders can be opened and viewed instantly without having to sign in, download anything, or open files separately, Houston said.
Dragging out the oldest and most anachronistic metaphor it could think of, Microsoft says it's hoping to make SkyDrive a "one-stop shop" (clever, no?) for file syncing and remote file access. On the software side, there are new clients for Windows and Mac OS X to sync files with the cloud, and updated versions of the Windows Phone and iOS clients. Of course, there's nothing for Linux users and at least for now, no Android or Blueberry support.
As for storage, users will get 7 GB of synced storage, with options to buy more space, starting at $10 for 20 GB per year, up to $50 for 100 GB per year.
Details of Google's new offering aren't yet known but it will include both free and for-pay versions, sources say. And of course, it will include search capabilities so you (and Google?) can rummage around in your files.
Reports say you'll get 5 GB of storage for free with Google Drive, while various versions with incrementally more storage capacity, topping out at about 100 Gigabytes, will be available for monthly fees, the source said.
How does all this compare with Dropbox? Well, you can get up to 18 GB free, although you start out at 2 GB and get 500 MB for each person you refer. Paid plans include 50 GB for $99 per year or 100 GB for $199 annually.
Box not dropping out
Another established service, known simply as Box, established six years ago, provides cloud storage as well as enterprise collaboration tools and says it is relying on its focus on large corporate and institutional customers to survive the new competitive challenges.
"We think the enterprises are going to value platform-agnostic players that are very, very, very focused on security and the enterprise depth that we offer," said co-founder Aaron Levie in a video provided by the company. "We think that our level of focus is going to be the huge competitive advantage that we have against any player in the space, whether it's Google, or Microsoft, or Apple or IBM or anyone... they're going to be competing with one company that is just entirely focused on this proposition."