Delving Deeper Into Dropbox

Posted by | November 05, 2009 | Apps | No Comments

We all know and love Dropbox, the amazing online file storage, backup, syncing and sharing service. It allows you to keep all of your computers in perfect harmony, your documents, music and more in each location.

That’s great, but what if you wanted to remotely control a computer, synchronize passwords, or sync your to-do lists? Dropbox offers a range of extra functionality that isn’t immediately obvious, and today we’ll be showing you how to achieve some of this interesting functionality!

dropbox

Do you love your Dropbox?

NB. Thanks to Dropbox for the comics!

Advanced Syncing

Spreading your time across two computers can be a real challenge. After only a day or two of use, you run into the question “where did I save that file?” That’s the main problem solved initially by Dropbox. Right out of the box, it creates a folder that is mirrored across each of your computers. This Dropbox becomes the replacement for your USB flash drive, and avoids duplicate files.

Syncing

Syncing

However, nowadays we have become accustomed to using more advanced applications, such as task managers, photo libraries, and music libraries, that require access to a file-based database. For instance, Things, my to-do list application of choice, saves everything into its own XML file. This would make my life complicated if I had different versions of that XML file floating around across different computers.

This can easily be remedied by quitting Things, and moving it’s Application Support folder (Username/Library/Application Support/Cultured Code/Things) into your Dropbox folder. Then simply hold down the option key when launching Things and point it to your newly moved folder. Repeat this step for each of your Dropbox-enabled Macs, but remember to only have one version of Things open at the same time or you could run into some major issues.

This can be done with several other applications, from 1Password (see the section labeled: Automatic Syncing without MobileMe) to other to do list applications such as OmniFocus and The Hit List. Just search for an online guide for your application of choice, if you aren’t completely sure how to navigate through your Library folder.

I also recently wrote an article that covers syncing your iTunes library between computers, however, with the new iTunes 9 you can just turn on Home Sharing to keep your iTunes library in check.

Home Sharing

Home Sharing

Photo syncing is also a great option. A guide to syncing your iPhoto library across multiple computers can be found here.

Multiple Instances of Dropbox

If you’re looking for a way to run multiple instances of the Dropbox app, a solution is available! But be a little wary, as it involves the Terminal. Just copy and paste this command into Terminal and a second version of Dropbox should start right up.

HOME=$HOME/.Dropbox-alt /Applications/Dropbox.app/Contents/MacOS/Dropbox

There is even a way to get this to do it every time you log into your computer – just check out this article. That said, we don’t advise the use of multiple Dropbox accounts to bypass the 2GB free user cap.

There is a slightly simpler way to have all your different Dropbox accounts (maybe one for work collaboration and one for a school based collaboration) together. Simply create a shared link to the main folder of your Dropbox and invite your other account to share. More information about sharing things between Dropbox accounts can be found at the Dropbox site.

Hosting a Web Site

Using the Public folder inside your Dropbox, you can host your own personal website, with 2GB of storage and a nearly unlimited bandwidth cap. Create a site folder inside the Public folder, then copy across your website files. Place an index.html file in there, and set your domain to redirect to the index’s public URL. Ta Da! You have an easy to operate site that is simple to update.

Obviously this only works for basic HTML content, and doesn’t replicate the functionality of a real web host – it’s a useful trick to know though!

Backup Your Computer Completely

One of the easiest way to back up your computer is to connect an external hard disk. Utilizing Time Machine is great, but if you use software like Chronosync, you could kill two birds with one stone: on-site fast backup, and remote, off-site backup. This is how:

Backing up with Dropbox

Backing up with Dropbox

Set up an external hard disk and either move or install your Dropbox onto that hard drive. Tell Choronosync to back up your entire hard drive to the Dropbox folder, and sure enough you soon have a great backup solution. Or just mirror some of your folders, like your Documents and Pictures. Dropbox’s prices aren’t out of this world, but you will probably need a paid account to make the backup work as planned.

Undelete

Time Machine might have been the most compelling reason to switch to Leopard, but could we apply the ability to choose which version of a file to restore to our Dropbox folder? Sure!

You could use Time Machine to do this, or you could use the built-in “undeleter” on the Dropbox web interface.

Undelete

Undelete

Simply log into with your account information at the Dropbox site. Then select to “Show deleted files”:

Show Deleted Files

Show Deleted Files

Select the folders you want to restore.

Select Folders to Restore

Select Folders to Restore

And click “Restore Folder” under the “More Actions” menu.

Restore Folders

Restore Folders

There you have it – your files are back safe and sound. With a free Dropbox account you get 30 days worth of versioning and undelting goodness, allowing you to revert to a version created up to 30 days ago or a file deleted during that time frame. With a paid account you can choose to add an additional feature that will allow you to store an unlimited number of files and versions.

Conclusion

There is plenty you can do with a simple Dropbox account. From syncing your to do lists across multiple computers to running a website, Dropbox is a great web based file management solution.

Don’t feel confined to synchronising only files – let your imagination wander, and you’re like to find a guide for almost any app with a quick Google search.

I’d love to hear any other inventive syncing ideas in the comments!