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Dropzone makes it easy to copy files, install apps

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

We've mentioned Dropzone before as a Friday Favorite, but I just happened across the app while I was trying to solve a problem.

I suspect many TUAW readers find themselves in the same situation that I am in: I use a desktop and a laptop. I often find myself wanting to move files between these two machines, so here's what I do: switch to Finder, click on the shared Mac I want, navigate to the folder I'm looking for, and then track down the file I want to copy there and drag it over. I could drag a folder from the other computer to my "Places" sidebar in Finder, but honestly, I just never do.

What I wanted was something quick and painless. I tried to whip something up using Automator and Folder Actions where it would copy/move files saved in one folder to the other machine, but even that would get messy. Most often I don't want to move the file, I just want to copy it. I could put the files in Dropbox, but some of these files are sizable (i.e. the 30+ MB iMovie update). To use Dropbox for this would take a long time.

Turns out that Dropzone offers the perfect solution: by enabling FTP on both Macs (System Preferences > Sharing > File Sharing, then click the "Options" button, and check the box "Share files and folders using FTP") I now have a drag & drop solution to copying files between computers. Simply drag the file to the Dropzone icon on the dock and then drop it onto one of the many "dropzones" which I have defined, and Dropzone does the rest. Two folders that I added almost immediately? The "Automatically Add to iTunes" folder in the iTunes folder and the Auto Import folder from inside my iPhoto Library (you will have to control-click your iPhoto library and choose "Show Package Contents" to find the "Auto Import" folder).

There are several plugins available to extend Dropzone to other services such as ImageShack, TwitPic, Flickr, and more. For Internet services, not only will the file get copied to where you want it to go, but the URL will be placed on the clipboard so you can paste the URL wherever you want it to go. I often FTP files to my website, and files Dropzone FTPs to a website can also support putting the URL on the clipboard.

There are several other nifty options, Dropzones for starting the screensaver, putting your Mac to sleep, or drag & drop printing a file to the default printer. You can also zip files (or zip and email them) and many other conveniences.

The biggest feature of all was one that I almost overlooked until I watched a screencast from about Dropzone. A built-in Dropzone called "Install Application" will allow you to drag a .dmg onto Dropzone and have the DMG mounted, the app installed to /Applications, the DMG moved to the recycle bin, and the app launched (it also works with applications which have been .zip'd instead of put into a disk image).

If you are anything like me, the "install a new app" process is several steps that you repeat a lot. Dropzone's handling of it is incredibly fast and works really well. If it opens a DMG it cannot handle (such as an installer), it will simply open the folder. Great, start stuff that saves you time and frustration. Remember how computers were supposed to make our lives easier? Dropzone does just that.

One other unusual feature: Dropzone requires a second click on the Dock icon to dismiss the "dropzones" which the user has defined. The reason for this is so that you can easily drop your file(s) onto the dropzone without it disappearing on you. If you click on the Dock icon to merely switch to the app, your dropzones will automatically appear. Another click hides them again.

The application is out of beta, but is still only at 0.29 release, which is to say that there are some rough edges. One of the "dropzones" included in the app is the ability to move a file to a specific folder on your computer (for example, your Downloads folder or Dropbox folder). Unfortunately Dropzone doesn't check to see if a file by the same name already exists. The developer has promised a fix for this bug "very soon". That is a problem which should only effect files moved via the "Move Files" dropzone action.

As I mentioned above, the "Install Applications" dropzone will move the .zip or .dmg to the Trash. While this might work for most cases, I would like some way to tell Dropzone not to throw away files that I decide to send elsewhere. One simple checkbox "Move file to trash after this action" when initially setting up a new dropzone would potentially save a lot of trouble. Also, the files should not be moved until the dropzone action has been successfully completed.

A glaring omission is the lack of support for uploading files via SSH/SCP instead of FTP. I loathe FTP, and you should too, because FTP sends your password across the Internet without any encryption at all. I haven't used FTP in ages. The developer told me that he does plan to add that in the future, and suggested that I might use ExpanDrive in the meantime. Unfortunately ExpanDrive is a $40 application, so if you don't already own a license for it that would be an expensive solution. (We've mentioned ExpanDrive before as well.)

Dropzone is a steal for a mere $10. The support page says the company "will be increasing the price shortly" so you might want to grab it at the introductory price. Updates through 2.0 will be free, and given that they are at 0.29, that ought to cover you for awhile. The application will operate in a demo mode allowing you to setup five "dropzones" without having to register the application.

Lastly, I want to mention that I exchanged several emails with the developers, and they responded very promptly to my questions and suggestions. I didn't tell them that I was planning to review the app for TUAW, as far as they knew I was just another potential user. My experience with the demo and with their customer service turned me into a paying customer. The "Install Application" feature alone is worth $10 to me. I have set all .dmg files to open with Dropzone. Once you've used it, you'll wonder why Apple didn't make something so easy.

If you're not convinced you want to spend the $10 and you only need basic point-to-point copying, Brett suggests checking out 10baseT Interactive's DropCopy; it's free for personal use, $25 for LAN installs. Steve did a face-off of DropCopy and Fliq for Mac earlier this year.

Dropzone requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later. One license allows you to install the application on all of your personally owned Macs.

UPDATE: One of our great readers, Peder, wrote a SSH/SCP dropzone. You can find it with other user-supplied Dropzones at Github.

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