How many times have you driven all the way to school, only to find out you’d left some important document, or your USB flash drive, at home? A dozen times? Three or four? Just once…when it was an important midterm essay worth a quarter of your grade?
This article will help you utilize a free service to help you keep your files available to you at all times. While this article applies to Dropbox in particular, the same principles apply to the other cloud-based storage services out there, including SugarSync, Google Cloud Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, BitCasa and others. They each have their minor differences, but they accomplish the same task: they all store copies of your documents in a central location.
So, why do you want to do that? Isn’t keeping them on your computer at home good enough for you? After all, can’t you just copy your work to a USB flash drive before you leave the house, or bring your laptop along?
That thought alone is a recipe for disaster. Maybe you create that file on your desktop computer. Maybe you copied that by using your flash drive to move it to your laptop, and made a few changes there. Then, you take the flash drive to school and open up your document, perhaps tweaking a font setting here or there. What you now have are possibly up to three different versions of your files scattered across three different devices. Which one is the most current? Which one has the correct version of the document you were looking for?
That is where central storage comes into play. (The providers call these “cloud” services.) And to take the pain out of remembering to move your files around, what you do is install a small utility on each computer you use, as well as on other other devices, so you can automatically synchronize those files across all of your devices.
When you setup Dropbox (more on that later), what you do is point Dropbox to a folder on your computer where you would like to store your files. Here is where it takes a bit of pre-planning. On my Windows computers, I make certain that all of my files are stored in My Documents. Within My Documents is my Dropbox folder. I have been able to retrain myself to save all of my “portable” files (or, any file I want to have available to me on all devices) to my Dropbox folder, and the Dropbox utility then automatically synchronizes it to my account. As I work and continue to save, the latest version is being synced automatically to Dropbox.
What I might do is start on an essay on my laptop, relaxing at home, then work on it while on break at school. When it comes times to get it ready for print, I will then open it on my desktop computer and finish it up. With Dropbox syncing the file, the copy I open up on my desktop computer is the same version (the same actual file!) as the one I prepared on the laptop.
So, I head off to school, arrive in class and realize I forgot to print out my assignment! This could work to my advantage in two ways. If I’m fortunate in that my instructor may accept an emailed copy, I then use the Dropbox app on my phone to retrieve the file, attach it to an email, and send it to the instructor immediately. Or if a printed copy is all that will do, I can head to the library, log in to Dropbox via the web, download the file from my account and print it.
Another nice feature of Dropbox is that it save previous versions of your files. If you made massive edits to your essay and deleted a lot of your writing, but later realized you really wanted to keep some of it, you can go back into Dropbox on the web and restore an older version of the file.
Need to share a Powerpoint presentation with a classmate? That is simple as well! From your folder, you can right-click a file and choose the option to share that file with someone. You can also share entire folders. To share, Dropbox gives you a link to email to another person, and they will be able to retrieve that file. They will not, however, be able to upload that file–they have read-only permissions on that file, and any modifications will require that they email the edited file to you.
Dropbox is also a great way to transfer files. Do you have a dozen photos you took with your smartphone camera and want to touch them up in Photoshop? Simply “share” them on your phone into your Dropbox folder and within moments, they will be synced to your computer for editing.
Finally, even if you use Dropbox only on one computer, you have the advantage of having a constant, live backup of your work. In the event your computer has a disk failure or is stolen (in the case of a laptop), your files are still safely located online.
Installing Dropbox is easy. It will ask you to setup an account. The installer is very helpful, and allows you to customize which folder you install it in. I like to install it within My Documents, as it makes backups of my computers easier. In programs such as Word, Excel and others, you can set your default folder to a folder within your Dropbox, making it “set and forget” easy!
Dropbox is free for the first 2GB of storage space, but if you use the links in this article, we both receive 500MB of additional storage space. Recommend your own account to others to increase space as well! If you work on large files regularly, you can start with a paid account for $9.99/month (or $99/year) which will hold 100GB worth of files.
Keep in mind, though, that you will need an Internet connection to make certain your files are updated on your devices.
Other services mentioned above do basically the same thing (automatically synchronizing files), but have their own unique take on it. Google Drive does sync files, plus it also acts as your storage for your Google Docs files. Microsoft’s SkyDrive does the same but interfaces with Office365 (the online version of Office). SugarSync is very similar to Dropbox. Bitcasa does offer syncing, but only as part of a larger package of services. For $10/month (with the first 2GB free), Bitcasa’s offering is an “unlimited” hard drive.
All of these are excellent tools to help you organize and keep the most current versions of your files with you at all times, along with providing a live and nearly instantaneous backup of your files.