Have you ever spent the night at home toiling over a report for work, only to arrive at the office in the morning and realize you forgot to email it to yourself? Of course, we all have. While the “I forgot to email it to myself” excuse is a bit more acceptable than, “My dog ate my homework,” wouldn’t it be nice to never be in that situation again?
With the recent wave of cloud storage platforms, the days of emailing files to yourself, carrying around a thumb drive, or even a (gasp!) floppy disk are long gone. Keeping your files synchronized across various machines and platforms has become as simple as saving the file to a folder on any of your computers using a service called Dropbox.
You might be asking yourself, “What is a ‘cloud storage platform’?” Storing your data in the “cloud” means that your files aren’t saved locally on your computer—instead, your files are uploaded to servers that are accessible from any computer, anywhere, anytime. Dropbox takes this one step further:
- When you install it on your computer, you create a file directory on your local machine so that your files are stored locally. Then, Dropbox regularly scans that folder and automatically uploads new and updated files to the cloud.
What’s so great about this? It means there’s no need to download the file to edit it, or re-upload it when you’re finished working on it. Picture your “My Documents” folder on a Windows machine or “Documents” on a Mac:
- Dropbox is integrated into your desktop so that it acts just like that folder on your computer, except that an identical Dropbox folder exists on every machine you install it on (be it Windows, Mac, or Linux). You can even save files while you’re offline and it will sync them to your device when you restore your internet connection.
You might already be familiar with Google Drive. And while it has some advantages, such as lower prices for storage and superior integration with Google Apps, Dropbox is incredibly flexible and is more advantageous if you prefer using desktop applications over web applications.
What is Dropbox good for?
Dropbox is the best solution for anyone who has ever had to email themselves a file. Since it syncs your files across all of the machines you’ve installed it on, you’ll never need to carry a thumb drive or email yourself a file again.
If you’re like me, and you like to view and edit your files while you’re away from your computer, Dropbox also provides a mobile app for iPhone and iPad, as well as Android and Blackberry devices. While the mobile app doesn’t sync exactly the same as the desktop app—you have to download and re-upload each time you make a revision—it provides an easy way to view Word, PowerPoint, and PDF files by previewing them within the app.
An added bonus to the mobile app is that it can automatically upload all photos taken with your device to a “Camera Uploads” folder within your “drive,” so you never have to worry about losing those photos should something unfortunate happen to your mobile device. Dropbox also offers a photo gallery mobile app, Carousel, for advanced functionality and, should you decide to install it, Dropbox will give you three gigabits of extra storage space.
Are you collaborating with colleagues on a project? You can easily share files (even with non-Dropbox users) or even share entire folders with just a couple of clicks. Have you ever emailed a document to a colleague before realizing that you forgot to make some changes? Sharing through Dropbox allows you to make changes at any time, and the recipient will only see the final version.
Dropbox has also built their platform to integrate with other services. There are numerous platforms that allow you to seamlessly save files, choose files to upload, or sync them with Dropbox.
JIMDO USER TIP: You can add photos to your Jimdo site straight from Dropbox by linking your account to your Jimdo site. Then, add a Photo element and click the “Dropbox” button on the upload dialog.
Here are a few other apps that offer Dropbox integration:
- Mailbox: an iOS and Android email app allowing you to attach files directly from Dropbox.
- TextExpander: a text expansion application for Mac that will backup and sync with your Dropbox account—no need to manage your text expansions on a per-computer basis.
- BlackBerry Messenger (BBM): you can share files directly from Dropbox to other users on BBM.
- Titanium Backup: Android power users can easily sync their phone backups with Dropbox.
- Vimeo: prefer to use Vimeo instead of YouTube for video hosting? Vimeo allows you to choose your video file directly from Dropbox, so you can upload your video to Vimeo from anywhere.
- Yahoo Mail: if you use Yahoo as your email provider, you can choose attachments straight from Dropbox and save attachments directly to Dropbox.
Of course, this is just a partial list—there are over 300,000 apps on the Dropbox platform, so be sure to take advantage of it where you can.
Dropbox tips and tricks
Now that you’re familiar with what Dropbox is and what it’s good for, allow me to offer some tips and tricks that will make it even more useful.
- Use your Dropbox folder as your “My Documents” folder so that all of your documents are up to date no matter which computer you’re on. Because your “Document” files are relatively small (compared to music, videos, and high-resolution images), syncing all of them won’t take up much of your Dropbox space.
- Are you an iTunes user? If you’ve got enough space in your Dropbox account, I recommend syncing your iTunes library to it, so you can access your music anywhere. You can even play the music straight from your Dropbox account on your mobile device using an app like BoxyTunes or DropTune.
- One of the most useful features is version control. Have you ever realized that you shouldn’t have saved that last change to your file? No worries—just go back and download the old version. Free Dropbox accounts have access to the last 30 days of file version history, while paid accounts get unlimited file version history.
You can also use third-party tools to add more functionality to Dropbox. Here are a few really useful ones:
- If This Then That (IFTTT): automatically save all your email attachments, all your tagged Facebook photos, and more. You can supercharge anything with IFTTT, including Dropbox.
- DROPitTOme: allow anyone to securely upload files to your Dropbox account through this web app.
- Send to Dropbox: email attachments to your Dropbox folder from a shared or public computer.
- BoxCryptor: encrypt your files that are saved to Dropbox.
- Digify: share Dropbox files with your friends that are view only and self-destructing.
- QuickDrop for Chrome: manage your Dropbox files through directly through the Chrome browser.
Last, but not least, don’t forget to invite your friends to Dropbox. For each referral, you’ll receive extra space on your account.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, you’re basically a Dropbox expert. But remember, since you’ll likely be storing sensitive information in Dropbox, especially if you’re using photo backup, be sure to use a very secure password.
If you’re feeling especially ambitious, feel free to take on one of these projects:
- Recover your stolen Mac.
- Remotely start BitTorrent downloads.
- Run a script to wirelessly print files on your home printer.
- Synchronize your video game saves across those multiple computers.
As you might have noticed, Dropbox can be used for so much more than a “modern thumb drive.”
Do you have any questions or other Dropbox tips and tricks? Or do you prefer Google Drive, Box, or OneDrive? Let me know in our comments section.
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