When Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says he wants to kill the hard drive, he doesn’t mean it literally, of course. What he does mean, though, is that Dropbox is becoming much more than a place in the cloud to stash your digital stuff. It’s becoming a platform, the center of a suite of different applications and technologies that will allow users to manage and share a wide range of content on laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Want to send a file from Dropbox using your smartphone? Before long, you’ll be able to do that with just a tap or two. Need to save a file you just opened to Dropbox. Just click a “save” button that Houson predicts will be built into many applications. Paused a game on your laptop and now you’ve only got your tablet with you? Not a problem. You’ll be able to save the game information to Dropbox and resume play on another device without having to start all over.
Those are just three of the many new ways you’ll be able to use Dropbox if the young company succeeds in attracting developers to build applications tailored to work within the company’s cloud storage framework. And that’s where the bit about killing the hard drive comes in. Dropbox will allow you to do so many things, it will practically supplant your hard drive, Houston hopes.
On Tuesday, Dropbox hosted its first-ever developer conference in San Francisco, attracting approximately 800 code jockey’s who played games, nibbled gourmet treats and listened to Houston(pictured below) and other company execs explain how easy it will be to write Dropbox-friendly applications.
Technology, says Houston is great, but all too often “it punches us in the back of the head.”
He was referring to the myriad annoyances that plague users when they try to do something as seemingly simple as share contacts or calendar information between devices or open a file on their smartphone.
Actually, the technology that allows devices to save or sync smoothly is quite complex. So what Dropbox is attempting to do is build a framework that hides much of that complexity from the developers who are building apps that will work with Dropbox.
Much of the first half of the conference was devoted to new APIs, which are really chunks of code that allow applications to work with a platform.
Developers can now use the Datastore API to store and sync a lot more than files. By using Datastore developers will build applications that can share things like passwords, to-do lists, settings, bookmarks and so on between devices. In fact, some of these functions are already built into Yahoo Mail, one of the first major applications to use Datastore.
Although I was impressed with the direction in which Dropbox is moving, I was surprised that there wasn’t more attention paid to issues around privacy and security. If you’re a Dropbox customer, you probably remember a nasty hack Dropbox suffered last summer.
Dropbox is hardly alone in that regard, and it is becoming evident that cloud storage, by its nature, is a tempting target for hackers and, sadly, for government snoops.
I asked Houston about those issues, and didn’t get a very good answer. He simply said that Dropbox has beefed up its security team, but offered no details and seemed eager to talk about anything but security. However, the company does publish a transparency report that shows the number of requests from U.S and foreign governments for user data. Although that’s a good step, Dropbox’s report doesn’t have nearly as much detail in it as Google’s.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.