If you’re like us, you’re using Dropbox for all kinds of unusual tasks. But we wanted to go further, so we asked the experts at Dropbox to tell us their most unusual, unexpected and crazy ways to use this versatile software tool.
If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, it’s free desktop synchronization software that lets you store a copy of a file on your computer and then access that same file from anywhere. You can store up to 2GB for free. Go over that amount, and it’ll cost you $10 a month for 50GB and $20 a month for 100GB.
Here’s the scoop from our experts for three different levels of Dropbox users:
For Beginners Only
Before we get to the advanced techniques, one Dropbox expert suggested that we focus on the basics. Beginners, this is for you; advanced users, you already know all this stuff, go ahead and skip to the next section.
Sync between two computers: This is the most basic task, where you install the Dropbox application onto two computers and synchronize files between them.
Undelete: We were so relieved when we first discovered this feature. Simply go to the Dropbox website, click the arrow that appears to the right of the file when you position your cursor over it, and select Previous Versions. Look at that — it’s your own Time Machine.
Share a folder to collaborate: We do this all the time here at Mashable, where everyone has access to the same files, and if someone else is working on that file, it lets us know so we won’t overwrite each other.
For Astute Users
Now that we have the basic techniques out of the way, here’s where our team of Dropbox experts get into the intermediate stuff:
Learn the keyboard shortcuts: Just like any application where you’re a power user, you can work much more efficiently with shortcuts, jumping all over the place by pressing just a few keys. For example, you can show/hide deleted files just by pressing “d.” Move up a directory with the letter “u.” Check out all 13 keyboard shortcuts here.
Password/Vault synching: Apps such as 1Password, KeePass and Tiny Password will let you store your secrets in your Dropbox, and then access them from any other device where you have these applications installed. Or, do like we do and use LastPass, a browser plug-in that performs all the synchronization in the cloud for you itself.
Sync between desktop and iOS device: Here’s what one expert called “beautiful, quick syncing,” where you never have to click “save” to save your notes. Mac users, he recommends using Notational Velocity on the desktop and PlainText on any IOS device to sync notes through Dropbox. For PC users, you can store notes in .txt format (using an applet like Notepad) and save them in Dropbox, where you can open them using the PlainText app (which we love) on your iOS device.
For Smarty Pants Users
Now we get into the advanced techniques. Here’s the most unusual tip we got from our experts, this from one of Dropbox’s sales team:
Sync music for your car: As our expert tells it, “I’m using Dropbox to sync a small netbook in the trunk of my car with my music library, and then have that connected to my head unit for playback. Anytime I’ve added new music to the library on my home PC, the next time I get in my car I will set my Android phone as a mobile hotspot, use that to hook the netbook up online, and I have the local Dropbox account on the machine selectively synced out of every folder except my music. It syncs the new music while I’m driving around and I now have way more songs in my car than I could ever fit on an iPod, including my favorite new edition of Arcadio.”
Chrome data syncing: Chrome browser users, try moving your Chrome data file to Dropbox, and your entire session — everything, including windows and settings, opens just how you want on any other computer. Our expert warns of a downside, though: conflicted copies of your settings files if Chrome is open on two computers at the same time. Here’s more info for the adventurous.
For Techno-Gods Only
Abandon all hope all ye who enter here, well, unless you’re a techno-guru. Here’s the granddaddy tip of them all, a way to get remote desktop access to all of your machines by using Windows Server 2008, straight from the upper echelons of Dropbox:
Compute anywhere: “One of the lesser known features of Windows Server 2008 R2 (and the currently-in-beta Windows Home Server “Vail” which is based on R2) is called RemoteApp. Basically it allows you to launch a self-contained streaming instance of an application that is installed on the server and delivered via
a remote desktop session where you only see the app on the client side.
“It’s cool because, on a Windows machine, it can be run one of two ways: via an RDP file, or taking it a step further, using an MSI installer package which makes it look like the app is installed on the local machine, complete with file associations. You can also run multiple instances from multiple remote locations at the same time. This is particularly cool for special file types like PSD’s where it may not be convenient or possible to install the app on the remote machine.
“Tying in to Dropbox, I had two folders: one called RDP and one called MSI. I was able to take my apps with me anywhere and if it was a Windows machine I had control of, I was able to “install” the remote app as well. The end goal was to be able to remotely launch a single copy of iTunes from anywhere and possibly even map the USB ports (you can set that up when you make the MSI) so I could sync my iPhone remotely. It was also great for controlling apps that needed some horsepower (i.e. Handbrake) from much more underpowered devices.”
Commenters, let us know how these tips worked for you, and tell us more ways to get the most out of Dropbox.
We’d like to thank all those at Dropbox who helped us prepare this post.
January 23, 2011