Files, Files Everywhere

Dropbox HomeThis is about ubiquitous file management. Do you work on multiple computers, maybe even on different types of computer platforms? You may carry a USB drive or email files to yourself, but there are slicker options available. Dropbox is a tool for storing your files on your local machine and in the cloud. It is a free service, up to 2GB of storage, but also has premium accounts for additional storage needs. I have been happily using Dropbox for about nine months and find it meets my needs of ubiquitous file management.

I typically work on two Apple Macs, two Ubuntu systems, and one Windows XP system (plus my iPhone). How can I keep all my files in sync and also available on my local hard drive (for when I’m without internet)? Dropbox.

Aside from providing access to your files anywhere, even from your iPhone (viewing only), you can also save files securely, share any folder with a specific group, or put items into a public shared folder. Other features.

The first step is to download the Dropbox application. Second, copy your files into the Dropbox folder on your local computer. The files will automatically be uploaded to your Dropbox account online. If you install Dropbox on another computer, all files in the online account will be copied to the new local machine. Your files are now located in three places: original computer, online, and second computer. If a change is made on either of the computers then the file will automatically sync with the cloud and the other computer. Keep in mind that if you are uploading/downloading a huge number of files, it may take a while the first time but then only files with changes will sync.

Sharing

In addition to a general shared folder, any folder can be shared with a group. If you want to share a folder with another user, simply right-click (Windows) or control-click (Mac) and choose the Dropbox menu item. This will launch your web browser and take you to the Dropbox site. From there you simply enter the email address of those you’d like to share the file. The share can be turned off at any time.

Extra Secure Files

Even though Dropbox requires a user name and password, you may have files you’d like to store more securely (such as tax returns). This too can be accomodated using a free encryption tool. I use TrueCrypt, cross-platform open-source encryption software. Download TrueCrypt and create a secure volumne in your Dropbox folder. This secure volumne acts like another drive on your computer that you can save files. It is an extra step but if this extra layer is important to you then it is worth the time and effort.

Using Firefox and Saving Settings

This is my favorite new way of using my Dropbox account. My web browsing habits involve having many pages open at once and a customized web browser. I use Firefox and a handful of plugins to make my life easier. Because Firefox saves all settings and plugins to one folder and those settings are cross platform, I can save this folder to my Dropbox and access them from my Mac, Windows, or Ubuntu machine and still have all the same Firefox windows open, my plugins, and my saved passwords. Very convenient.

In order for this to work, you need to create a new Firefox profile (using the Profile Manager) that points to the Dropbox location. I recommend keeping the default profile available and have the Profile Manager load at the beginning of every Firefox session. This works almost perfectly and that is why I suggest loading the Profile Manager every time. For some reason, Dropbox sometimes will “hiccup” on syncing the Firefox settings folder and I need to close Dropbox and reopen after quitting Firefox. In general, this is ok and worth the effort for me. However, sometimes I want to quickly check a web page and I don’t need all my special windows and plugins so then I use the default profile.

I could probably write an entire entry just on using TrueCrypt and the Firefox Profile Manager but I’m going to leave it with this brief synopsis. The important thing is that I love Dropbox and I am confident in the service it provides. Let me know how you are using Dropbox and if you find it useful. Also, let me know if you’d like an expansion of TrueCrypt or Firefox.

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