It has become quite common for many to work with multiple computers, at home, at work, on the road; and to collaborate with others requiring frequent document sharing. The general approach to deal with this problem requires USB drives, emailing documents to multiple e-mail accounts, or having remote access to one or more computers. I have used all of the above and in some circumstances these solutions may have their place in anyone’s technology tool chest. If you work with multiple computers, or work collaboratively, read on.
In the last 5-6 years many file access solutions have emerged, all requiring some sort of uploads and downloads. I have tried several and given up on them due to their cumbersome nature. Recently, I tried one of the new services recommended by several magazine articles and Web sites: Dropbox.com. I am writing this post to recommend this service to my colleagues and students. It is totally automated and works like magic.
- Click on the big blue button that says “Download Dropbox”. It will initiate the download.
- When it is complete, double click on the downloaded file to start the installation
- Accept all the default settings it suggest, they can be changed later if you like
- When the window comes asking whether you have a Dropbox account or not, choose the one that says you do not have an account
- Enter your information
- You may skip the brief explanation that requires going through several windows by clicking the appropriate button
- You now have 2GB of storage totally free of charge on Dropbox
The installation creates a Dropbox folder on your desktop, which is the magic portal through which full synchronization happens. You can create new folders there, load them up with files, they will magically appear on your Dropbox account which you can access wherever there is a Web browser. Now, you can go to the Dropbox Web site, login and you will see the contents of your local Dropbox folder. But, wait! There’s more!
On your second (or third, or fourth,… ) computer, say your office computer, and your laptop, go through the steps 1-3 above. When you come to step 4, choose the option that you have a Dropbox account and enter your e-mail and password. Dropbox will install on that computer, create the same Dropbox folder on the desktop (or wherever you decided to put it) and to your total amazement will make the files you put in your Dropbox at home appear in your Dropbox on your office computer. You can repeat this on other computers you use with the same automatic synchronization feature, in all directions. DO NOT INSTALL DROPBOX ON PUBLIC COMPUTERS WITH YOUR LOGIN CREDENTIALS. That will give access to your files to anyone sitting at that computer. Instead, access your files using a Web browser on those public computers, in the lab, at a friends house, at a cafeteria, …
Now, are you satisfied? But, wait there’s more!
Say you are collaborating on a project, be it a group project in a class or collaboration on a paper with a colleague, or you simply want to show some photographs you have taken during the spring break with your family. (What? You do not want them to see those photos? Why? Oh, well, never mind.) Create a folder in your Dropbox for sharing with one or many people. Put some files there. Then share this folder on the Dropbox Web site. You will see the menu tab for this purpose which simply requires that you choose the folder to share and enter the e-mail addresses of the people who should see the contents of this folder. That simple. Your friends will receive your invitation to access the shared folder (you can have multiple shared folder for different group of individuals) and arrive at the Dropbox Web site. If they do not have a Dropbox account, they can create on on the spot, or use their login credentials to login to their Dropbox account and accept your invitation to view the folder contents you shared.
I suggest that you go in small steps and get comfortable with the software and the service. It works with remarkable ease and the storage space they give you free of charge is rather generous. You can almost use it for off site backup purposes.
Now, you can stop worrying that you left your USB drive at home. Your files are at your fingertips, wherever you are.
Note: I have found out after posting this message that anyone who registers at Dropbox from the links on this page will add more capacity to my account. Feel free to start your account and share your link with your group members so that you get more capacity if you need it.