Free utility Dropbox is great at syncing files between computers, but it has a lot more potential than just that. Here’s a handful of clever ways you can use Dropbox that you may not have thought of.
If you haven’t read our first article on this subject, be sure to check out how to use Dropbox for more than just file syncing, where we covered using it to sync passwords across PCs, access portable applications from anywhere, or control your computer remotely. Let’s add to those ideas and walk through a number of interesting use cases for Dropbox.
Store Your Files in an Encrypted TrueCrypt Volume
If data security is a big concern for you, create an encrypted TrueCrypt volume and store it in your Dropbox folder so you can sync it to anywhere. You can take it a step further by storing the portable version of TrueCrypt in your Dropbox folder as well, to save time if you need to get into your encrypted volume from a PC that isn’t already hooked into Dropbox. Aren’t too familiar with TrueCrypt? Check out our beginner’s guide to get you started.
Once you’ve got your TrueCrypt volume up and running, you can install all of your portable applications, documents, and anything else you want to keep completely secure. You might be concerned about syncing such a large file between PCs, but since Dropbox only transfers the part of the file that has actually changed, there shouldn’t be too much bandwidth being used.
Use Shared Folders as a Cheap Network Drive for Remote Teams
Over at How-To Geek, since our team is geographically all over the map, we use Dropbox’s shared folders feature to simulate the type of shared network drive you might find in a corporate environment. We store all of our important files like business documents, artwork, and other files, in our shared folder—whenever any of us changes a file, the rest of us 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.
Make Dropbox Your Actual "My 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.
To do so for Windows 7 or Vista, just right-click on your Documents folder, select Properties, and then on the Location tab you can specify the new file path, and click the Move button. The process is very similar in Windows XP, but you’ll need to change the Target value instead.
If you don’t want to move your documents folder, but still want quick access, be sure to check out how to add your Dropbox folder to the Windows 7 Start Menu.
Create Your Own Customized Browser Start Page
Since Dropbox makes it easy to create publicly shared files accessible through a URL, you can create your own customized start page for your browser, complete with bookmarks and anything else your HTML skills and imagination can come up with. This can be especially useful for your mobile device, where start pages aren’t always tailored to what you might really want. Just create the HTML file, store it in your Public folder, and then grab the public URL from the Dropbox context menu to set as your start page.
If your HTML skills are lacking, you can check out this tutorial from reader elasticthreads, who has a custom search page using the web-command-line service YubNub to make quick work of searching from your mobile device using a number of services, like Google Images, Maps, or Amazon.
Start Your Torrents from Any Computer
Rather than wait until you get back home to start a download, why not start them remotely from anywhere? All you have to do is set your torrent client to monitor a folder in your Dropbox, and then add the torrent files to the folder remotely—you can even upload them through the web interface if you want. Most of the popular torrent clients, like uTorrent, support this feature, and while there are other ways to remotely start a download, this is certainly one of the easiest.
Take Useful Information With You
Since you can easily sync your data to your iPhone, or access files through the mobile web interface, you can keep your collection of PDF books or other files in your Dropbox folder. You can use this to turn your iPhone, iPad, or other mobile device into an eBook reader from anywhere.
Reader @joeattardi has an even more clever use: he downloads PDF files from restaurants with nutrition facts, so he can get informed nutrition data while he’s on the go. The same technique could be used for all sorts of helpful information—quick shortcut guides, useful fact sheets, or anything else you can imagine and might need while you’re away from your PC.
Sync Your Music, Access from Anywhere, or Share With Friends
Having access to your music collection from anywhere is always a favorite technique for any web-based sync system, and Dropbox is no slouch in that department. You can put your entire music collection in your Dropbox folder and keep it in sync between all of your PCs, as well as listen through the web interface.
If you’re an iTunes user, moving your library to your Dropbox folder is easy—first, make sure iTunes is closed, then move your iTunes music folder into your Dropbox folder. Then just hold down the Shift key (or Option for Macs) while you open iTunes, and you’ll be presented with a prompt to choose which iTunes library to use, so choose the folder from the new location.
On the secondary PC, you can just use the Shift key trick to choose the folder from the new location in your Dropbox.
Once all your music is over on your Dropbox, you can access it through the web interface from any web browser, including your iPhone or some other web-connected devices. It might not be the perfect web-based music interface, but it’s certainly functional enough to use.
So what about you? Do you have any more clever uses for Dropbox that we didn’t think of? Share your ideas in the comments.