7 ways to use Dropbox

January 15, 2012

7 ways to use Dropboxby Justine Parsons

Dropbox is a wonderful service which millions of people are already using to sync files between computers and share with colleagues, clients, suppliers and friends.  What many people are not aware of are the many other ways that Dropbox can make our life less stressful and more productive.  Whether you use Dropbox now and then or many times each day – there is something for everyone.

As a virtual assistant I use Dropbox to share files with clients, access files in meetings and away from the office, send information to suppliers … I even set up my digital scrapbook in Dropbox.  But wait, there’s more!!

If you are not already a Dropbox user, it’s easy and free to join.  This link will get you started.

Use Dropbox as Documents Folder

One of the complaints many people have about Dropbox is that it’s actually a separate folder, and you have to remember to put your documents there in order to have them be synced, rather than just specifying particular folders to sync. Instead of remembering, you can actually change your My Documents folder to be the same as your Dropbox folder, or be in a folder inside your Dropbox.

This frees up valuable space on your hard drive and gives you access to the latest version of your file from your phone, laptop, notebook or even the local internet café.

[Instructions] Right click your Documents folder and select properties. Under the Location tab, look for the area where you can specify a new file path. Type in the path to Dropbox (or a folder in Dropbox) and click the Move button. Your Dropbox is now set to be your documents folder!

Access your iTunes Library from Any Computer

With the recent onslaught of cloud music storage services, this one may not seem as important. However, everyone doesn’t have a smartphone and this could be useful in ways not relating to mobile devices, such as accessing your music library from work, a friend’s house or while on holiday. Follow these directions to store your entire iTunes library in Dropbox.

[Instructions] First, close down iTunes if you already have it running. Find your current iTunes Music folder, and move it into Dropbox. It may take a while if you have a lot of music, but you can continue with the next step while it syncs. Hold down the shift key while you open iTunes. After doing this, a box will appear that asks you to choose your iTunes Library. Navigate to your Dropbox folder, find your newly placed iTunes Library, and select it. That’s it, you’re done! Now all you have to do is re-direct each computer’s iTunes to Dropbox and you’re all set. If you want to access it from a mobile phone, you can use the Dropbox application and the built in music player to listen.

Create a Custom Browser Start Page

A lot of browsers come with the option to do a little customization on the first screen that opens. Adding web app icons or displaying your most visited websites is useful, but not as useful as a customised page could be. Wouldn’t it be nice to create a custom HTML page that will open each time a new window or tab is opened? Assuming you have HTML knowledge, you can do this thanks to Dropbox.

This can be especially useful for your mobile device, where start pages aren’t always tailored to what you might really want.

[Instructions] All you have to do is create the starting page of your dreams using HTML. It can include links to your favourite sites, YouTube videos, Twitter widgets, or anything else you can think of. When you’re finished, put the HTML file (and CSS file) in Dropbox and get the public link for it. Set your homepage to that link, and from now on you will have a custom page designed for and by yourself!  I use Google Reader with links to my social media sites so I can access all my networks from the one page.

Access Secure Files from Anywhere

Putting files in the cloud can be scary, especially if they’re important or confidential ones (and this concern has come up with some of my own clients). Many people continue to use hard drives or flash drives because they fear someone can hack in and steal the information. There is built in protection in cloud computing systems, but that’s not always enough. Using TrueCrypt you can secure files and make them available anywhere using Dropbox.

[Instructions] Create an encrypted TrueCrypt volume and store it in your Dropbox folder. Like all Dropbox folders, you now have an encrypted and secure folder accessible from anywhere. You can put documents, videos, slideshows, or even portable applications in this folder and they will all be safe. If you’re worried about syncing such a large file, don’t. Dropbox only syncs the parts of folders that have been changed, so the size shouldn’t be an issue.

Take Useful Information Wherever You Go

Dropbox can also help make your personal life run smoother.  While Dropbox was created to keep things in sync and available anywhere, with the increasing popularity of smartphones information can be accessed for all types of scenarios.

  1. Receipts:  You never know when you might need a specific receipt for something you’ve bought.  Scanning all of your receipts and keeping them in Dropbox makes them available on your phone whenever you may need them.
  2. PDF Books: Catch up with reading articles, e-books and pdfs using Dropbox with your smartphone.  Five minutes early for a meeting?  Use those 5 minutes to read the articles you don’t have time for when at your desk.
  3. Nutritional Facts:  On a diet, or your child may have an allergy but you are on your way out for dinner?  Go online and save the restaurant’s nutritional information in Dropbox so they are readily available when you’re about to order.
  4. Fact Sheets:  With many of us recently back from our annual holidays, think about the information you could have shared with your Dropbox folder about the area you were in.  Things to do, places to eat, history on the area ….with some fact sheets available you can be the nominated tour guide!
  5. Recent Pictures:  A lot of people put pictures online, but using Dropbox might make them easier to share.   If you’ve recently gone on a trip and want to show off how much fun you had, throw some pictures in Dropbox to keep with you.  You can use the share link to send the pictures to others too!
  6. Passwords:  Websites all have different requirements for your passwords, and keeping track of them might get a bit confusing.  You can use Dropbox and encrypted password synchronization software to keep everything in one spot and ready to use on any computer.

Use Shared Folders as a Cheap Network Drive for Remote Teams

With many of us working from remote locations (geographically and physically) use Dropbox’s shared folders feature to simulate the type of shared network drive you might find in a corporate environment. Store all of your important files like business documents, artwork, and other files, in our shared folder … whenever anyone changes a file, the rest of you get the changed version in seconds.

The really great feature that sets Dropbox apart from the rest as a shared network drive for a team is the file revisions.  Whether a file gets accidentally deleted, or much more commonly, overwritten with a bad version, you can easily recover the older version of the file through the web interface.

Create Your Own Digital Scrapbook

Because Dropbox sits right within the operating system and has nice web galleries for images, it’s a good solution for a digital scrapbook. Simply snap images and websites that inspire and copy them to a folder under the Photos in Dropbox.

Due to the nice thumbnails, you’ve got a great digital scrapbook that is available on the web and accessible via mobile devices as well. An article by Colly “Why I use Dropbox and how it enables killer scrapbooking” explains this in more detail.

So, that’s my wrap-up of how to use Dropbox.  I am sure there are many ways in which this powerful service can be used; share your ideas in the comment box below.

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