Sync Your Documents with Dropbox

In my quest to find a online sync service that worked for me, I’ve first decided to try Windows Live Sync. However, that turned out to be a big disappointment mainly due to the peer-to-peer technology that it uses. Here instead, I’ll try the popular Dropbox sync service. Is this the service I should have tried in the first place? If you are still new to the whole online synchronization thing, fear not. Watch this awesome Dropbox video and I’m sure you’ll be up to date in no time. I would also suggest going over the ton of information Dropbox provides on their website. This will allow you to see how Dropbox can work for you and if it is the right solution. In this Tour section, you’ll get a nice summary of Dropbox’s features. In the Getting Started section, you will find the most frequently asked questions about Dropbox. There is definitely a lot more going on here than Windows Live Sync so it would be beneficial for you to go over them just so you can get the most out of Dropbox.

Getting Started

Important Note: Your Internet upload speed is most likely a lot slower than your download speed. When syncing your files from your computer to Dropbox’s servers (dragging any type of file to your Dropbox folder), you are performing a upload. When you sync your files from Dropbox servers (when your computer needs to stay up to date), you are performing a download of the files. The bigger the file size, the longer you will have to wait for it to completely upload to Dropbox’s servers and the longer it will take to download to the other computers. However, the latter is usually not a problem if you have a decent high speed Internet connection.

1. First, we’ll begin by downloading and installing the Dropbox client software. Because this is our first time using Dropbox, we’ll need to create a new account so select that option when appropriate. A basic (free) Dropbox account gives you 2GB of online storage for backup and syncing (more on this later). You will also have the option to upgrade your account for a fee of course but I would only suggest doing so once you have tried out the service for a while. Besides, a lot of users will never need anything more than 2GB so think about that before upgrading. You will use this account to sign in from other computers you wish to sync Dropbox with.

Sign Up
Dropbox Size

Once you have successfully entered in your information, you will be presented with a small tutorial on how to use Dropbox. Basically, you now have a special Dropbox folder on your computer that can sync the files inside it to other computers in your Dropbox account. The good part is if you are using a friend’s computer, you can also access your Dropbox files by directly logging in to your Dropbox account from their website. In your system/notification area, you’ll see the Dropbox tray icon. Here, you’ll be able to configure your Dropbox preferences, quickly access your Dropbox folders, and more. Last but not least, what’s a syncing service if you can’t share it with your friends and family members? Well, Dropbox got you covered here as well. Once you finish with the tutorial, your special Dropbox folder will be created and you can then begin using the service.

2. In the Dropbox folder you’ll see two special folders, Photos and Public. Within these two folders, there is a document explaining how to use them, which I’ll go over here. By dragging and dropping files into the Dropbox folder, they will immediately be uploaded to Dropbox’s server, securely. If your computer is not online, then it will sync/upload the next time you are.

With the Photos folder, I can quickly and easily share my photos with whomever I wish to. All I need to do is create a sub-folder, drop the pictures inside, log in to www.getdropbox.com/photos and be able to view my photos in a gallery view. To share it with others, I simply copy the link it gives me and email it to my friends. Here, I’ll create a sub-folder called Screenshots and place a couple of pictures in it.

Photos

I’ll then head over to the website and log in. I’ll choose the album I wish to share and immediately, I’ll see all my pictures and get to copy the link to share with my friends and family members. Just like that, rather than emailing each photo, I can now simply just upload my pictures to my Dropbox account and share the link with other people. Totally hassle free. The best part to all this? The other person does not need to log in or create a Dropbox account to view the photos!

Sharing Photos

The Public folder works a little bit differently. Any file you store in here can be shared individually to any person you want. This is possible because each individual file in the Public folder has its own Internet link! Therefore, all you need to do to share that file is to copy that link and email it to others! Because the files are already uploaded to Dropbox, they will be able to download the files even if you aren’t online. This makes it much more convenient than Windows Live Sync. Similar to the Photos folder, you simply drag any file you want to share into the Public folder. Once it finishes uploading (evident by the green checkmark next to the file), right click on it, choose the Dropbox menu option and then Copy Public Link. Now, simply paste it into an email, forum or chat box and the other people will be able to download the file immediately.

Public URL

Remember though, you are not limited on working with only these two folders. It’s just that these two folders are more special. You can drop files directly in the root of your Dropbox folder or create sub-directories and so on and so on. They will still get synced with your other computers.

3. Now that I got some files to work with, I’ll sync it with my laptop. You know the drill. Download the client, install, and then log in using the account created in step 1. Once completed, you will see the exact same Dropbox folder on your desktop (if you’ve selected that option) and Dropbox will immediately sync the folder. That’s it! All of your data, files, pictures, music, and video will now be available. Remember, any changes you make on any folder in your Dropbox account will be reflected on the other computers.

Other Dropbox Features

Dropbox Website
Just because the computer you are working with isn’t configured with your Dropbox account doesn’t mean you’re left out in the dark! You can still upload files to your Dropbox account via their website. Simply head over to their main website and log in. You’ll then see the contents of your Dropbox folder.

Web Management

The things you can do here are pretty much depicted on the top and self-explanatory. Once you do log back in to your own computer, Dropbox will sync the changes made.

Sharing a Folder
Sharing a folder with other Dropbox members is surprisingly easy as well. By sharing a folder, you can invite others to work with that shared folder (add, delete, modify files). This makes collaboration between groups of people a lot easier. You can either create a new folder and share it or you can share an existing folder you’ve already created. The instructions are all here. Once the person accepts the invitation, the shared folder will then appear within their ‘own’ Dropbox folder/account.

Revision History/Undelete
One awesome feature with Dropbox is the ability to keep your uploaded file’s history. Ever encountered a time where you edited an essay, saved it but then wished you hadn’t? With Dropbox, you could browse through the file’s history and restore a copy from a previous time. To do so, right click the file, select Dropbox, and then View Previous Version. You can also do this in Dropbox’s website after logging in. Either way, you’ll be taken to the file’s history page where you can view when the change was made, the event type, who changed the file, and even preview the file! Once you’ve found the version you want to revert to, select it and hit the Life Saver, oops I mean Restore button.

Revision History

To view previously deleted files for an individual folder, right click it, select Dropbox and then Show Deleted Files. You’ll be taken to the website and you’ll be able to see previously deleted files for that folder. Restoring the file is just a matter of check marking the right file and then selecting the Undelete button! This is another awesome feature that isn’t appreciated until the day you actually need it! Dropbox will keep snapshots of your files for 30 days.

Undelete

Backup
Due to how files you drop into your Dropbox folder gets uploaded to their servers, you can also incorporate Dropbox into your disaster and recovery strategy plan. For example, you can set aside some Dropbox storage space for your utmost important files. If you have a lot of important data, then you’ll want to upgrade your account for more storage space. Once you have the files uploaded and synced to their servers, you won’t have to worry about it getting lost. If your computer malfunctions and needs to be reformatted, you can rest assure than once it comes back online, you’ll have all your important files back by simply setting up your Dropbox account again.

The ‘not having to worry’ part is not entirely true. Anytime you upload your files to a third party service, the data is now in the hands of someone other than yourself. Although the chances are slim, there could be a possibility that some hacker hack their way into Dropbox servers and wipe out your data. Or worst, one day Dropbox might just decide to call it quits without you knowing and shut down all services. Yes, chances are slim but not impossible. A good (or paranoid) user will always have a backup of a backup.

Getting More Storage Space
To get more storage space, you have two options. You can of course, upgrade your account in which you pay for a monthly fee. Or, you can persuade other people to join Dropbox by using your referral link. For every person that joins, both party members will get an extra 250MB of extra storage space for up to a certain limit!

For anyone interested, here is my invitation link. Any takers?! Remember, we both get the benefit of extra storage space so this isn’t just about me!

Another method to quickly gain 250MB of space is to complete 5 out of the 6 quests Dropbox gives to you in the Getting Started tab. Once you complete enough, you’ll earn the storage space making your total 2.25GB. As you can see, I need to finish one more quest before earning my 250MB of space.

Earning Free Storage

Hacking Dropbox
Well, not really hacking but think of it as getting Dropbox to do other additional things that you’ve never thought of. There are many things possible and here are some I found (some hacks are the same):

15 Hacks Every Dropbox User Should Know by MaximumPC
15 Advanced Dropbox Hacks by StoreCrowd
How-To Use Dropbox as a Image Host by AnotherWindowsBlog

In the End…

Yes, I’ve found the answer I was looking for in Dropbox. I sorta wished I’ve picked this over Live Sync from the beginning but it was a good experience none the less. I’ve gotten a chance to witness how each service worked. After using Dropbox, I can say that it works brilliantly and in many ways, much more user-friendly than Live Sync. For example, I don’t need to worry about how to label my synced folders. In Dropbox, I just have one magical Dropbox folder and that same folder appears on all my other computers. With other features like sharing a photo gallery, sharing individual file links from the Public folder, file history, file/folder undelete, along with some pretty cool hacks, it’s hard to beat Dropbox. Although 2GB online storage might seem a little to some, simply referring other friends and family members to Dropbox can increase that limit.

Will I be getting rid of my USB thumb stick? Most likely no. But using Dropbox does mean that I no longer have to constantly plug it in!

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Comments

  1. Paulo

    Awesome find! I love Dropbox and it's a great service. Sadly for me, I have a very slow upload speed and that makes storing anything other than simple documents or photos a nightmare! I've never seen any article telling you how to get over 19GB of free storage space on Dropbox so this is a first.

  2. just came across a way to get loads more space for free:

    The Dropbox Insider: How to Get Tons More Free Space (Over 19GB Extra Free Storage Space)
    http://www.israport.org/dropbox-how-to-get-more-f

  3. Strom

    In order for someone else to have *sent* you pictures, you must have shared a folder within your Dropbox account. By default, only you (the owner) are able to access your own Dropbox folders, no one else. By sharing a folder, you give other people access to that folder. They can then add and delete files from that folder as well as adding additional users to have access to that same shared folder too. Once the user adds pictures or files to your shared folder, they should immediately be synced to your Dropbox account (and pretty much to anyone who has access to that folder as well) and you should be able to access them just like how you normally could with your other Dropbox files.

    Please go over these instructions to see if you have correctly set up shared folders within your Dropbox account: https://www.dropbox.com/help/19

    I assume this is what you mean by "retrieving" photos sent from someone else as using shared folders is the only way others could send you files. Hope this answers your question. If not, then please provide more information to your problem.

  4. How do I retrieve photos someone else has sent me?

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