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article imageDropbox Smart Sync lets you access cloud files from your desktop

By James Walker     Feb 1, 2017 in Technology
Dropbox has announced a new feature that lets you access all your cloud files from your desktop, even if they're not synced to your computer. Smart Sync is similar to Microsoft's abandoned OneDrive placeholders, making cloud storage easier to use.
Smart Sync was launched at a press conference earlier this week. It's part of Dropbox's existing sync client for Windows and macOS. Once turned on, all of your Dropbox files will be visible inside Windows' File Explorer or macOS' Finder, regardless of whether they're actually being synchronised.
Trying to open a file that's not currently stored offline will immediately download it. It will then open as usual, letting you seamlessly access files in the cloud without using up disk space. Previously, you had to choose which folders to keep offline in Dropbox's settings. The new approach is more fluid and makes it easier to see the entire contents of your online storage.
Downloaded and online-only files are distinguished by different icons. Files that are stored locally on your computer have a green tick. Those which are only stored online have a grey cloud icon. When there's no internet connection, you'll still be able to see the online-only files but you won't be able to open them until your device is reconnected.
Dropbox Smart Sync
Dropbox Smart Sync
Dropbox
"Users working with just 128 GB of hard drive space can easily comb through terabytes of files to find exactly what they need - right from Windows File Explorer or macOS Finder," said Dropbox. "Now, they won't need to take extra steps - like switching to a web browser - just to view files. And whenever they need to access files stored in the cloud, users can download them with a quick double click."
Smart Sync is essentially Dropbox's take on Microsoft's placeholders, a former OneDrive feature that also let you view online-only files within Windows' File Explorer. It was a major part of Windows 8's tightly-coupled OneDrive client but was abandoned with Windows 10.
Microsoft has reverted to its old, less integrated sync client from Windows 7 for its new OS. When it removed the feature, it claimed Windows 8's placeholders confused users who weren't sure if their files were available offline. Based on this judgement, it decided not to add placeholders to Windows 10's OneDrive client.
However, after years of criticism from users, the company has recently confirmed that placeholders are on their way back. They'll return to OneDrive in a future update to Windows 10's sync client, renamed as "On-Demand Sync."
Dropbox Smart Sync
Dropbox Smart Sync
Dropbox
Microsoft's conviction that customers didn't use the feature has allowed Dropbox to gain the lead though. For the time being, Dropbox is the only cloud storage provider that lets you see online files using your computer's file browser. It gets to trumpet the benefits of the feature that Microsoft pioneered.
Smart Sync is part of Dropbox's wider ambitions to improve its collaboration features and attract more teams to its service. The company thinks Smart Sync could prove useful to businesses with large amounts of files that need to be accessed infrequently by team members. They're all available in the filesystem but won't consume storage space until they're needed.
Dropbox has also publicly launched Paper, its new note-taking app designed for collaboration. It's now available in 21 languages on the web, offering what Dropbox claims is a simplified writing experience built to connect people and ideas. The website is available today with mobile apps set to follow soon.
More about Dropbox, smart sync, Cloud, cloud storage, Paper
 
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