Dropbox lets you do much more than file sharing via its cloud-based storage service. Consider these eight tips to make your life easier.

Jim Rapoza, Contributor

November 11, 2011

6 Min Read

Top 15 Cloud Collaboration Apps

Top 15 Cloud Collaboration Apps

Slideshow: Top 15 Cloud Collaboration Apps (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Dropbox has become an extremely popular service for users looking for cloud-based storage and a better way to manage and collaborate on files, keep their many digital collections in sync across systems, and easily share large files. But Dropbox can do lot than simply making it easy to send a large file to a friend.

Let us start with the basics for those not that familiar with Dropbox. Available at dropbox.com, it is a cloud-based storage system that also provides file synching across multiple systems. The Dropbox desktop app runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows PCs, and the company also offers apps for Android, Blackberry, and Apple iOS devices (and there is also a browser interface for content access). Dropbox is free for 2 GB of storage, and those looking for more storage space can pay for one of the subscription plans.

Many people simply use Dropbox to share files and keep certain types of content available on all of their different systems and devices. But with a little bit of extra work, Dropbox can be used to improve operating system file management, extend the reach of applications, and improve other Web services and sites. Here are eight ways to get the more out of Dropbox--and share your top tips and tricks in the comments section below.

[ The success of Dropbox has drawn many competitors. Read VMware Project Octopus: Dropbox Alternative. ]

Browser On The Go

It has been possible for a while to use Dropbox to create a profile folder that can keep your browser settings and history synced across all of your devices. But browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox already have built-in synching features to handle this. Much better is to use Dropbox to provide a fully functional browser that basically runs from within Dropbox. There are a variety of apps that have been built to run inside of USB drives and these apps will often also work very well running from a Dropbox folder. So, rather than syncing Firefox, download PortableFirefox from PortableApps.com and install it into Dropbox. You can now run that browser from any of your other systems. The site provides many apps customized for this type of usage and a search on an app and USB will probably turn up even more.

Dropping Into The OS

You know that Dropbox makes it possible to sync content within folders across systems. But there's no reason these need to stay Dropbox folders--they can actually become core folders within your operating system. For example, in Windows you can change the folder location of your My Documents folder and actually replace it with a Dropbox folder. Now the My Documents folder will not only sync across your systems but will also keep these important files automatically backed up to Dropbox.

Folders Of Collaboration

Shared folders is one of the core features of Dropbox, making it possible for multiple users to share files while working on a task or project. But, used correctly, these shared folders can become a powerful tool for collaboration and group document management. Even used in its basic mode, shared folders make it easy to share files and to work collaboratively on content--but there are some drawbacks. The shared folder counts against everyone's data limit and with no check-in/check-out controls, you need to keep an eye on versions to avoid conflict. One solution is to install the free Dropbox add-on Notifybox, which adds features such as check-in/check-out notifications and controls.

Host Of Choice

One of the first ways that many people find their way to Dropbox is when they need to email a large file to someone. But that public link that Dropbox provides can be used in many ways outside of email. Along with adding files to social network posts, an image or file publicly visible in Dropbox can also be embedded in other websites and blogs. So, rather than trying to upload an image onto your blog server, you can simply put in Dropbox, get the public URL, and then embed the image in your blog or website.

iTunes Everywhere

Keeping your iTunes music library synced across multiple systems can be a tedious task that is often neglected, until the time you're on the road and realize all the new music you bought isn't on your laptop. Dropbox can be used to easily solve this problem. Simply change the location of your iTunes library to a Dropbox folder and then set up your other systems to use this folder as the iTunes library. Now your music stays synced across systems. Though, chances are your music library is quite a bit larger than 2 GB, meaning that this solution is mainly for paying customers of Dropbox.

Image Galleries At A Drop(box) Of A Hat

Of course, folders in Dropbox are useful for storing, syncing and sharing lots of different types of files. But if those files are images, it can be even more useful. Just add images to a Photo folder within Dropbox and then choose the gallery button. You now have an image gallery link that can be easily shared with friends, family, and colleagues with much less work and effort then is typically required from dedicated photo sharing websites.

Refer For More

By default, the size limit of the free Dropbox account is 2 GB. But with a little effort it is possible to grow this to potentially 8 GB for free. The easiest is to simply go through the tutorial steps after first signing up, which will add 250 MB of space. And then, by referring friends to sign up for Dropbox, you get an additional 250 MB per referral, up to a maximum of 8 GB.

Undelete Master

Nearly everyone lives in constant fear of losing that one file or document that ends up being vital in some way. Or they need information that was in an early version of a document that was removed during multiple revisions. If that important file was stored and synced by Dropbox, chances are it can be recovered. From the browser interface of Dropbox, users can bring up the past versions of files and access them and can view and restore files that had been deleted.

About the Author(s)

Jim Rapoza


Jim Rapoza is Senior Research Analyst at the Aberdeen Group and Editorial Director for Tech Pro Essentials. For over 20 years he has been using, testing, and writing about the newest technologies in software, enterprise hardware, and the Internet. He previously served as the director of an award-winning technology testing lab based in Massachusetts and California. Rapoza is also the winner of five awards of excellence in technology journalism, and co-chaired a summit on technology industry security practices. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and expositions and has been regularly interviewed as a technology expert by national and local media outlets including CNN, ABC, NPR, and the Associated Press.

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