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Dropbox – Your Virtual Drive

Executive summary: Dropbox is a solution for easily sharing files across multiple computers and mobile devices. It solves several problems: Having your files when needed; sharing files with others; Email alternative for large files by emailing a link to a file.

Dropbox creates a folder in Windows Explorer which automatically synchronizes files with all the other devices which share the same Dropbox online account. A rich community of add-on applications extends its use.

Best Practice: Use Dropbox.com to have access to computer files where and when you need them. Share large files securely with partners, vendors, and clients.


Dropbox is an online service for file sharing. Installing creates a “My Dropbox” folder. The folder is local on each device, so you use it as you would any other folder. Even when you're not online, you can drag and drop files to it, create subfolders, save or open files, etc. But as soon as you connect to the Web, that folder automatically syncs with all other local “My Dropbox” folders linked to your Dropbox account. You can also access your private, password-protected folder on dropbox.com from any Internet-connected device. What sets Dropbox apart from other file syncing tools is that changes are nearly instantaneous, uploads are blazing fast, and it just works.

Setting up Dropbox is simple. There are versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, and most mobile devices. Go to Dropbox.com, download the app, and let it install. It will ask you to create a username (email address) and password, or associate this device with an existing account. Choose the free 2GB option initially. View the introductory video to get a tour of features. Advanced options allow you to choose where you put the Dropbox folder in your file system. Some people prefer to put it under “My Documents”, which makes it easier to find when browsing the file system from applications.

A free account provides 2GB, while you pay $10/month for 50GB or $20/month for 100GB. A Team version - about $70/Month for 5 users with 1 TB of storage - allows centralized management of multiple users. By referring others, you can get more free space – up to 8 GB. (If you want to help us get more space, use this link to download Dropbox: http://db.tt/yzL8ix1 )

The first time you open the Dropbox tray icon, you click the command to initialize the folder to your specific account. After installation on your various devices--which can include desktop PCs & Mac’s, notebooks, netbooks, iPads, and various smartphones--everything works automatically.

Dropbox also works as a secure way of sharing files, photos and videos. When you share a folder, the recipient gets an email asking them to open a Dropbox account (if they don't already have one), and the shared folder is saved to a matching sub-folder in their new Dropbox folder. Sharing folders works well for collaborative endeavors. (Only that shared folder is viewable by the recipients; they can't see other data unless you give them your password.) 
Dropbox has a special “Public” folder. If you share a "public" link to a file or photo gallery, the recipient can open the file and save it to their own computer, but not back into your Dropbox folder. You can email a link to a file temporarily stored in this folder as a workaround for sending files too big to email. You can create a link to allow others to view shared public photos as a slideshow.

Dropbox tracks file revisions—whether a file gets accidentally deleted or overwritten with a bad version, you can easily recover the older version of the file through the web interface. This can also work as a limited backup solution for files on your PC not covered by other backups.
Files must not be in use to synchronize - a file opened in Microsoft Office or WordPerfect will save to your local folder but it won't sync while you work on it. You have to close the file before Dropbox can send it through the Internet to your other Dropbox folders. This is also an issue for QuickBooks. The QuickBooks server engine keeps some QuickBooks files in use. It works best when sharing a QuickBooks file (perhaps with your accountant) when you move a copy of the QuickBooks company file to Dropbox for transfer, and then move it to another folder for use.

All files stored on Dropbox servers are encrypted (AES-256) and are inaccessible on the web without your account password. Public files are only viewable by people on the web who have a link to the file(s). Public folders are not browsable or searchable. Be sure to add a password to your mobile device if you install Dropbox – no password is needed on the devices you have set up with a Dropbox folder – it is just as accessible as any other folder on your system once you are logged in.

One indication that Dropbox is a compelling solution is the large community that has grown up around it.  People have found a number of clever applications beyond simple file storage.  Many of these are listed in the Dropbox Wiki, which I encourage you to check out when you are ready. If you are just getting started with Dropbox, stop here, and get it installed. Then come back to this article.

Dropbox Add-ons


Dropbox Copy
Dropbox Copy

This is a simple application that adds the copy button menu option letting you transfer files to Dropbox and also copies the URL in your clipboard so that you can share faster.

DropItToMe

Drop It To Me

This is a password protected online application created to help you set up a process for transferring files using Dropbox. The password is known only by you and your counterpart whom you wish to send documents or files to.

Picplz

PicPlz

This is a photo sharing application available for both iPhone and Android users. Picplz lets you manage photos and create interesting galleries which can be shared with ease. The service also provides features to let you create your own photo streaming through Dropbox.

Dropbox Forms

Dropbox Forms

A service hosted by Jotforms. It allows you to create online forms where people come, create documents or leave impressions, fill out form for you and then Dropbox Forms automatically synchronizes the content with your Dropbox account.

DropVox (iPhone / iPad Only)

DropVox

If you’re a big fan of the audio note-to-self but you’d like more flexibility than the iPhone’s default Voice Memos app, DropVox may be for you. It’s a simple audio-recording app that links with and uploads M4A recordings directly to your Dropbox account.

MailDrop

DropMail



This is an advanced backup tool designed to help you save your important emails and conversations from your email account. When using MailDrop you can even choose which folder of your email you want to backup.

FileStork

FileStork

An easy and very secure way for Dropbox users around the world to request files from each other. All you have to do is to register, send a request and then the file will be uploaded to Dropbox and you have full access to the file. (As of 3/2012 still in Beta)

Send To Dropbox

Send To Dropbox

Airdropper

Airdropper

If you transfer files frequently but don’t have a page to host a form on and don’t want to send links to people manually every time you want to give them a file in your Dropbox then Airdropper is your solution. It’s a service that allows you to easily set up a page customized with your companies branding that people can use to download files that you send them.

Dropboxifier simplifies the process of adding folders on your hard drive to Dropbox syncing. It moves your data into your Dropbox. It then creates a reference link so that when your application looks to the original folder location, it links to Dropbox to retrieve the data.

Dropbox Droplet
You can shoot a file directly to Dropbox and share it with someone lightning fast with Dropbox Droplet. Once you have the droplet installed it will pop an icon in your dock. Then, just drag one or more files to the droplet to send it to your Dropbox public folder and a sharing URL will be copied to your clipboard for easy sharing. For a Windows version of this use DropBoxPlugin.

PrintQueue
Print from your mobile devices - Download this zip file and double-click the eprint.vbs file (see the source code). The script will create a sub-folder inside your main Dropbox folder called PrintQueue where all the mobile print jobs will queue up and another sub-folder called logs where all the completed jobs will be archived. Not for the technically challenged. This is one solution for printing from tablet devices.

CloudZap is an application ($50) that allows you to print and scan directly to Dropbox, Evernote, and other web applications.

Otixo If you are looking for any easy way to transfer files across different cloud services like Dropbox, Google Docs, Picasa, etc. or if you need to move files between Dropbox and an FTP server, Otixo is a near perfect solution.

As if that wasn't enough, you can even sync your thumb drive with Dropbox by using Dropbox Portable. Install portable versions of software such as Firefox, VLC player etc. to Dropbox, and you can have a portable library of programs on your thumb drive.

If data security is a big concern for you, create an encrypted TrueCrypt volume and store it in your Dropbox folder so you can sync it to anywhere. You can take it a step further by storing the portable version of TrueCrypt in your Dropbox folder as well, to save time if you need to get into your encrypted volume from a PC that isn't already hooked into Dropbox. Aren't too familiar with TrueCrypt? Check out this beginner's guide from www.Lifehacker.com.

Since Dropbox makes it easy to create publicly shared files accessible through a URL, you can create your own customized start page for your browser, complete with bookmarks and anything else your HTML skills and imagination can come up with. This can be especially useful for your mobile device, where start pages aren't always tailored to what you might really want. Just create the HTML file, store it in your Public folder, and then grab the public URL from the Dropbox context menu to set as your start page.

This also works to create a simple public web page using the “Public” folder. You can thus put all your HTML, JavaScript, CSS and image files into this folder, map it your domain and your mini website is ready for public consumption.

If your HTML skills are lacking, you can check out this tutorial to create a custom search page using the web-command-line service  YubNub to make quick work of searching from your mobile device using a number of services, like Google Images, Maps, or Amazon.

Since you can easily sync your data to your iPhone, or access files through the mobile web interface, you can keep your collection of PDF books or other files in your Dropbox folder.
To transfer an ePub file to your iPad via DropBox, first copy the ePub file to DropBox, and then use Dropbox to send the ePub to iBooks, like this: Tap the ePub file in Dropbox on your iPad, then, in Portrait orientation, tap the Action icon (the curved arrow inside a box) at the top right of the Dropbox window. You'll see a pop-over menu asking you what application you'd like to send the ePub file to; you can choose iBooks or Stanza or any other ePub friendly app installed on your iPad.

If you travel between two or more machines using web browsers heavily then you know it can get a bit annoying trying to keep your add-ons and extensions all in sync between browsers. The Mac Dropbox add-on MacDropAny allows you to set any folder to synchronize with Dropbox.  Windows users should check out DropboxFolderSync.

Add More Power to your Dropbox
With tools like IFTTT and Dropbox Automator, you can easily glue your Dropbox with various other services like Facebook, Evernote, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and do some really clever stuff that would otherwise require programming.
For instance, you can setup a task that will auto-upload your pictures to Facebook as soon as you add them to your Dropbox folder. Or a task that will auto-deliver your ebooks and other documents to your Kindle when you put them in a designated Dropbox folder.

Drop Dropbox on to your computer, and enhance your mobile productivity.  Let us know if you want help getting it set up.


Tim Torian has his degree in Computer Science, and has been consulting on computer networking for the past 30 Years. He is a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, and a Cisco CCNA and CCNI. He has taught computer networking at the College of Sequoias and Cal Poly Extension. He was awarded “Entrepreneur of the year” by the Tulare County EDC in 2008. Torian Group was awarded “Technology Business of the Year” by the SBDC in 2011. He is president of Torian Group, Inc. which provides a full range of Technology Consulting services to local business, including computer services, networking, web design and Internet marketing. www.toriangroup.com
 

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