How To Make the Most of Dropbox – Part I

Dropbox is a file syncing and backup application. Files in the “My Dropbox” folder are synced to the cloud and are then accessible from a wide range of devices, including the iPhone and Android. What initially attracted me to Dropbox was the fact that it was one of the few file syncing applications that worked on Ubuntu flawlessly. Having used Dropbox on Ubuntu, Windows XP, Windows 7 and Mac OSX for a number of years, I have realised that pigeonholing Dropbox as a mere file syncing or backup service does not do it justice. In a series of articles I hope to show you how to make the most of Dropbox.

In this first article, I will explain the basics of installing Dropbox and using its more common features. In the next article I will outline some of the more unique uses of Dropbox.

1. Installation

First, visit www.dropbox.com and download the Dropbox client. After installing and creating an account, you will get a choice to keep the Dropbox folder location as default or move it somewhere else. At this point if you wish to make your entire “My Documents” folder as your “My Dropbox” folder you have that option. I personally prefer to keep it as a separate folder in my “Users” folder.

dropbox-setup

2. Increase your Dropbox Limit for FREE

While the 2GB that Dropbox provides for free is adequate for documents, once you decide to start syncing photos or music you will soon require more space. If you are willing to pay, you can upgrade to 50GB for $9.99/month or 100GB for $19.99/month. However, with a small amount of work, it is also possible to increase your allocation of free space by 8.2GB to a total of 10.2GB.

The first thing you must do is click on the “Getting Started” link on your Dropbox home page. Immediately after the tutorial completes you will notice that 250MB has been added to your total limit.

To obtain the remainder of the bonus space, Dropbox requires you to refer a certain number of people to their service. To do this, click on the “Get Extra Space Free” link on the Dropbox home page and you will be taken to your referral page. From here you can either send the referral link to friends using their e-mail addresses or you can copy your referral link and entice others to sign-up to Dropbox using your referral link (by signing up using your referral link those new users will also get extra space for free).

dropbox-referral

Each referral gets you 250MB of bonus storage space, so it will take a total of 32 referrals for you to hit 8GB.

3. Backing Up

While Dropbox has robust syncing features, it is also handy as a simple backup tool. Simply place all the data you want backed up into your “My Dropbox” folder and no matter what happens to your physical storage, your data will remain safe in the cloud. The “undelete” option is what sets Dropbox apart as a backup service.

On the website, if you browse to any folder, you are met with the following interface:

dropbox-folder

Clicking on the “Show deleted files” button reveals, in grey, a number of previously deleted items.

dropbox-folder_deleted_files

From here you can select any folder or file and either permanently delete it or “undelete” the item.

dropbox-folder_deleted_files2

It is also possible to launch the “undelete” function directly from any folder inside your “My Dropbox” folder by right-clicking, selecting “Dropbox” -> “Show Deleted Files…”.

dropbox-contextmenu

If you have a free account this feature is limited to the past 30 days, so a file older than 30 days is permanently erased. If you buy a “Pro” account (i.e. 50GB or 100GB) you can ‘undelete” files forever.

In addition, to being able to restore deleted files, it is possible to revert back to older versions of any file by selecting a file and clicking on “previous versions”.

dropbox-previous_versions

On the next page you can select the version you would like to roll back to.

dropbox-previous_versions2

4. Photos Folder

After installing Dropbox, the “My Dropbox” folder contains a “Photos” folder by default.

dropbox-photos

If you place a photo or a folder full of photos in this folder and then browse the folder in Dropbox, you have the ability to view the photos in a gallery view.

dropbox-photos_gallery

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From here you even have the ability to share this particular gallery with anyone (even if they do not possess a Dropbox account). Simply send them the highlighted link.

Just remember, the gallery mode only works if the original folder is named “Photos” (e.g. “pictures” does not work).

5. Sync any Folder with Dropbox

Currently, the only way to sync data onto Dropbox is to physically place it in the “My Dropbox” folder. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this problem.

In Windows 7/Vista/XP download the program Link Shell Extension. Once you have installed the program, MOVE (not copy) the folder you would like to sync with Dropbox into your “My Dropbox” folder. Then right-click on the folder and select “Pick Link Source”.

dropbox-link-shell-extension

Having “selected” the folder, navigate to the folder where this particular folder was originally located and select “Drop As… -> Junction”.

link shell extension-context menu2

This will ensure that while the original folder actually resides in the “My Dropbox” folder, you can continue to interact with the folder as though it is in its original location. It is essential that you place your original folder inside Dropbox. If instead you create the junction inside Dropbox, leaving the folder in its original location, any changes inside the folder will not sync until you restart Dropbox (this is a bug with Windows junction points).

In my next article I will demonstrate some of the more advanced uses of Dropbox.