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Disasters, Accidents, and Microsoft – Why you should be using Dropbox

In the past couple months I’ve had to rapidly replace several laptops, and I had to learn the hard way about a "feature" MS introduced with Win7. I have work files that I can’t access at the moment because of this "feature".

You really should be using online services or some content server for critical files, and I can explain why.

Whenever I switch to a new computer, I generally pull the hard disk from the old one and then put it in an external USB enclosure to copy the important files off of it. This doesn’t work anymore with Win7.

First, Win7 won’t let you grab all the files and folder on a partition and simply copy it elsewhere. I used to do that with WinXP, but with Win7 a lot of files are lost in the process. If you want to copy a large volume of files you’ll need to use a partition tool to copy a partition.

Second, if a partition on your hard disk was originally made with Win7, you won’t be able to access it after you pull it from the original computer. You will be blocked. I have files sitting in what used to be the desktop folder and I can no longer get to them.

If I had been smart I would have used Dropbox, Flickr, and other online services to store a copy of those files. In particular, I like Dropbox for this, and that’s mainly because you can point it at a folder and tell it to sync that folder with the online storage.

I didn’t lose more than about 100MB of data, and I know I can rebuild it. But it is exceptionally frustrating because MS has changed the way their file system works. I’ve used DOS and Windows for going on 20 years now and I’m used to doing things a certain way. Now it’s changed.

image by phil_g

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Alexander Inglis April 9, 2011 um 12:36 pm

Also consider a real-time backup like Rebit for Win7. It’s abt $30 and you can grab an external terrabyte drive for well under $100. The stand-alone version backs up *everything* so you can create a new clone if the original computer burns out. And you get the bonus of multiple backups of user files limited only by the space on the backup drive.

igorsk April 9, 2011 um 1:16 pm

Sounds like a permission issue. Try taking ownership of the inaccessible folder.

elmonica April 9, 2011 um 1:24 pm

I use for storing files like books and such. I didn’t like having the synchronization feature shoved down my throat (it is a add-on feature apparently), plus gives me 5 gig free now versus 2 gig with drop box.

I guess some people use dropbox because they can create their own online ebook catalog which is of value if you use Apple products. I haven’t read anyone doing that with but maybe it is possible.

P.S. If I didn’t value the ability to access my files via the internet, I could do just fine using an external hard drive as backup.

Nate the great April 9, 2011 um 2:04 pm

"If I didn’t value the ability to access my files via the internet, I could do just fine using an external hard drive as backup."

That’s what I used to do with my old hard disks. It doesn’t work anymore.

David Smith April 9, 2011 um 3:10 pm

I’m sure that it can, and I’ve seen far too many things come and go to be comfortable betting that Dropbox or or anything in the "Cloud" will be there forever – they’re convenient, but I want copies on hand under my control, too. It’s belt and suspenders for me: Winchester drives plus optical like CD or DVD, and for the really important stuff, print-outs in a fire-proof box.

David Smith April 9, 2011 um 3:07 pm

I’d go with igorsk and suspect permissions.

Not to start an OS flame war, but I’d bet that if you booted to a Linux CD you could bypass any Win7 permissions and get whatever you want.

BTW, I always put all data files that I care about on a separate "D for Data" drive or partition whenever I’m using Windows (have for twenty-five years now) and when that’s too hard (as in when the app doesn’t care what I want), I use SyncToy to copy what matters over from C: – I’ve had to reinstall Windows too often and it’s just so easy when you can nuke the system drive and start over. Linux used to have issues with NTFS but that’s fixed now.

Nate the great April 9, 2011 um 3:22 pm

Thanks! Linux would be a good way to recover my data, but it doesn’t really help me in the future.

And I’ve also been using data partitions for some time now, just not with everything. I like to work from a handful of files and folders on my desktop. Of course, I could just as easily replace those folders with links to the data partition; I wish I’d done that already.

Perry April 9, 2011 um 3:33 pm

I love Dropbox. I don’t back up everything there (so I can keep it free) but it’s nice to know that the window of disaster is only a few minutes for those files I have in Dropbox.

I do a monthly back up of everything else (okay, that’s my music and my pictures).

Ric Day April 9, 2011 um 4:43 pm

I see exactly the same issue on my Win7-64 box. I don’t believe it existed a year ago and if it is permissions I have not been able to identify their source. Windows does not interact with USB drives properly/reliably now, it seems.

I use Dropbox to keep copies of work-in-progress and to move files/folders between my home office and company office. I do have Linux on the same machine, so will test moving files and folders from the Windows drives with that.

The Win7 machine is proving to be "the last straw" for me. I ditched my Acer laptop in favor of a MacBook Pro a while back, and now that I’ve "adjusted" to the MBP way of doing things, I’m waiting on Apple to release Sandy Bridge versions of the iMac and will buy one to replace the Win7 box, which is the last Windows machine I own (I have a number of computers running Linux). I’ll use Parallels on the iMac to run the (very few) Windows apps I believe I still need.

When my operating system starts messing with my files, it is time to move on.

Bill Smith April 10, 2011 um 8:01 am

Nate: Have you considered using Linux as a "live CD" alternate operating system — with the live CD option, you don’t have to install it to your machine and you’d have reliable access to your data whenever you want.

I run Puppy Linux ( for 99.9% of all my uses — it is as simple (actually simpler) than Windows, takes up a lot less memory and I can do almost anything I want with a minimum of hassle. It comes with most everything I need built in — web, wireless, word processing, media player, etc. Extra software can be gotten through Puppy pets that are just "click and install" and all of it runs only in temporary memory — all my data I store on an external USB hard drive. But I don’t need to install it, I just run it off a CD…actually, I made a USB jump drive my boot disk.

But I still have the Windows 7 install untouched and ready to go if I should ever need it on my main hard drive. Not that I have or expect to.

The main issue I run into is DRMd ebooks — you have to have Windows running to install the Amazon Kindle or Adobe ebook apps…which is why (on principle) I only buy from Smashwords and other non-DRM stores.

Nate the great April 11, 2011 um 11:07 pm

I actually had Ubuntu installed on the last couple computers. It’s not on this one yet because i hadn’t gotten around to it.

curiosity killed the.. April 10, 2011 um 9:45 am

hey nate after reading this article and all the replies i went out into the great googlesphere and went searching for dropbox like sites after i saw some of the limitations to dropbox. and probably the best one i found out there for the free version is called whats great about it that i didnt find in dropbox’s features is it doesnt just work with windows mac and linux it also works with any mobile device and the free version is 5 gigs.
also i found a whole bunch of other ones out there some with less free storage but others have 5 gigs free as well and some are completely free as long as ya use your main computer as the server/hub which kinda defeats the point(except that you have whatever storage your harddrives can handle ) but if ya have bunches of mobiles and its only a day trip i guess that could be useful.
here’s the link to the whole alternatives list

curiosity killed the.. April 10, 2011 um 9:59 am

actually i just found the mobile section in dropbox that i hadnt seen before. however sugarsync is still better in the free version and even the pay. on a month to month dropbox 100 gigs is $20 a month i dont even see any yearly reduced price plans. but sugarsync is $15 a month for 100 gigs or $150 a year. they even have a 250 gig plan. personally though im weary of spending any kinda cash on a cloud storage until the prices reach the point that its simply a preference between physical drives and the cloud.i doubt that will happen anytime soon though

Nate the great April 10, 2011 um 10:53 am

Amazon is slightly better than those 2: only $1/GB/year. And they have a 1TB plan.

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