Dropbox is a tool that I have been using more and more these days. It has become a central tool to my online strategy… and it is free.
What is Dropbox?
Dropbox is a little hard to describe, but in its simplest form it is a way to share files across different computers or devices (think iPhone, iPad, etc). If you have only one device, don’t have the internet and don’t have friends then you can stop reading now because Dropbox is not for you.
The way that Dropbox works is that you download the program to your computer, in my case to my Mac laptop. When you run the program, which you would normally want to do at startup, it creates a special magic folder on your hard drive. Anything you drag into that folder will automatically sync to a copy of this folder on the internet at the Dropbox servers. And anything you take away from this folder will be deleted from their servers.
A free Dropbox account can store 2 Gb of data but you can get more storage with a paid account.
Sharing with Myself
Where the magic starts is when you have two devices, like for example a work machine and a home machine. Drop a file into the magic Dropbox folder on the home computer and it will copy it in the background to the internet. When you get to work and start up that computer it will automatically, again in the background, copy the file down from the internet to your Dropbox folder on the work machine. There are other ways to get a file to your work computer like emailing it to yourself so let’s look at some other ways Dropbox makes my life better.
When Gawker Media recently had their password database hacked people all over the internet learned the value of not using the same password on every web site. But how do you keep track of all those different passwords. 1Password is a great program for doing that. It also installs itself into your web browsers so that you can easily log into any specific site with the password you create for that site. 1Password works with Dropbox and was one of the first programs to take advantage of the service. Just store your password database in your Dropbox and then all your machines will have the latest passwords, including your iPhone.
I have a lot of things that I am trying to get done between work, blogging, podcasting and trying to keep my marriage working. And especially since I recently hit a birthday with one of those scary round numbers, I have learned not to try and keep all of those things in my head. My todo list system of choice is a Mac program by the name of Things. The problem was, how to keep my work computer and my home computer in sync. Again Dropbox is the answer, although Things it is not quite as smart as 1Password so I have to be careful not to have the program open on both computers at once as it does not lock the database file. Hopefully future versions of Things will use Dropbox better. Also I use Things on my iPhone but there is no way yet to store the iPhone’s database in the Dropbox folder.
I have been traveling a lot this year. I want to keep up on some of the TV shows I have on my Tivo at home. I could try and track down those shows on hulu or see if I could buy them on iTunes, but the solution I have is free. I have a Mac Mini at home on the network that runs a program called iTivo. iTivo connects to the Tivo series 3 box which we have and pulls off shows, converts them to something compatible with iTunes and then stores them in Dropbox. Presto chango, even though I am in Boston I have the latest copy of shows from the Tivo a couple of hours after they have recorded. Downsides: the Tivo has a copy bit that allows the networks to say that certain shows cannot be copied. These shows cannot be ripped with iTivo. Don’t watch these shows, until the network realizes that they are only hurting themselves.
One of the programs I have on my iPhone and iPad for reading documents like PDF files is GoodReader. One of the great things about GoodReader is that it knows how to get files directly from the web, but it also knows about Dropbox. So if I want to get a PDF file from my Mac to my iPad, I can just dump it into my Dropbox and can later pick it up with my iPad.
TypeIt4Me One of the programs I use on my Mac to help with my productivity is TypeIt4Me. TypeIt4Me is a System Preferences Panel which lets me use text macros/abbreviations. For example, I can type my email address for instance just by typing “atpe” which will expand into the email address for me at AmateurTraveler.com. If I type “atp-episode” that will expand to the skeleton of a blog post for the show notes for an episode of the show. It is a great time saver for routine tasks. With Dropbox I can synchronize my macros between my home and work machines so I don’t have the frustration of “why doesn’t that work here, it works at home”.
Sharing with Friends / Coworkers
You can also make a folder in your Dropbox and then share this folder with someone else who has a Dropbox account. This folder then will show up in their Dropbox folder but will not count against their storage. We use this at work sometimes to share files too big to email. I also always use a virtual office when I’m running a business from home as I don’t want to use my home postal address for the business on the web site etc. I use a great London virtual office service and it offers all of that, as well as a really impressive looking postal address, so it just works amazingly well.
Sharing with the World
Similarly you can drop something into your “public” folder inside of Dropbox to make a file available to the entire world. After the file is synced you can right click on it, choose “Dropbox” and “Public Link” to get a URL to the file that you can include in an email or post on the internet. For example I keep a copy of my daughter’s resume in my Dropbox ready for someone looking to hire a smart marketing intern.
I almost never go to the Dropbox website, but if I did want to access my files from any machine on the internet I can do that from the website without installing the application. Dropbox is a surprisingly useful utility. The more you use it, the more you will find uses for it.
How do you use Dropbox?
Originally posted on AmateurTraveler.com – DropBox and 7 Ways It Makes My Life Better