Discover the full potential of Dropbox

When you get right down to it, Dropbox is a pretty simple application. It syncs files—that’s it. But what makes Dropbox amazing is the sheer number of different ways you can use that functionality, by itself or in conjunction with other programs, to improve your computing experience. And if you don’t have Dropbox, well you’re missing out, Big time! Download Dropbox here.

That’s why, in this article, I’m going to share with you things that I think everyone should know about Dropbox, from how to get extra storage for free to how to use Dropbox to host your own website!

Know the pricing options

I know you like getting your internet services for free. Dropbox doesn’t disappoint, as the majority of its users utilize the free 2GB account. But what if 2GB of synced cloud storage isn’t enough for you? Dropbox offers two Premium account options.

The first is the Pro 50 account, which boosts your storage capacity to 50GB (it adds 48GB so that your cap is 50GB), which costs $10/month, or $99 a year. For $20 a month, or $199 a year, you can upgrade your account to 100GB of total storage. Pro accounts also get 9 votes (as opposed to 6 for Free users) in the Votebox system, which lets users pick which features to add in the next iteration of Dropbox.

Compared to other services, the pricing is competitive. My only wish is that Dropbox would offer more storage size options. Sugarsync, a Dropbox competitor, has premium account tiers at 30GB ($5/month) and 250GB ($25/month).

Also note that once you’ve upgraded to a Pro Dropbox account, Dropbox will still give you the option to downgrade back to your original Free account, even though this isn’t explicitly stated in the terms of use. Dropbox also reserves the right to delete your account if you don’t use it for 90 days.

Get 8GB of total free space

You can more than quadruple your free account capacity by using Dropbox’s referral system. Simply find your referral link on the Dropbox website and get a friend to create an account using that link. For each new account you refer, you and your friend get 250MB of extra space, up to 8GB. That means all you have to do is refer 32 people to max out on this referral bonus.

In addition, Dropbox gives you another 250MB bonus for becoming a Dropbox “Guru.” Just head to the Getting Started section of the website, and complete five of the six steps listed. These are pretty simple requirements, which include taking the Dropbox tour, installing the desktop app, and sharing a folder with friends. This is the quickest and easiest way to get extra free storage without using any referrals.

Pro accounts can earn up to 10GB of referral space, and downgraded pro accounts still retain any bonus space earned from referrals.

Use your My Documents folder as your Dropbox folder

In Windows Vista and 7, you can easily store your My Documents folder in Dropbox. This puts all your document files in the cloud, which can also then be synced with your other computers’ My Documents folders. Just right-click My Documents, go to the Location tab, and click the Move button to relocate My Documents to a new directory. Navigate to your Dropbox directory, and click OK.

Use Portable Dropbox to keep your data mobile

Making Dropbox into a portable app (that is, an app that can be installed on a USB thumb drive) might at first seem redundant—isn’t Dropbox meant to replace thumb drives, after all? But if you stop to think about it, there are ways in which Dropbox and USB drives can be used together. For instance, consider the following situation:

You’ve got to give a PowerPoint presentation, and you’ll be using somebody else’s laptop, which is connected to a projector. You could copy the .ppt file over to a USB key, but why bother? All your project files are already sitting on a USB key connected to your computer, running portable Dropbox. You snag the drive and head out the door. On the way, your boss calls and tells you that there’s a big mistake in the presentation, but you don’t sweat it: your boss saves a correct version, and when you get to the presentation you run Dropbox and the file updates in a flash.

So how do you actually run portable Dropbox? It’s pretty easy, just follow these steps:

1. Download Portable Dropbox. The Dropbox forums page for the project is here.

2. Unzip the file you downloaded, and drop the contents (the Dropbox folder) onto your thumbdrive.

3. Run the Dropbox Portable executable, and follow the instructions in the installer.

Host your music collection in the cloud

Tired of having to juggle your music collection between your desktop and laptop computer? Want to be able to access your music from anywhere, on any computer, but don’t want to (or don’t have the cash to) set up a streaming media server? Consider setting up a $9.99/month Pro 50GB account to host your favorite music.

With your MP3 files and iTunes library.xml file backed up to Dropbox, you can keep multiple computers running perfectly in-sync music collections. Add music on one computer, and it’ll be available on every other computer as well. Just be sure not to make changes on more than one computer at a time.

To tell each instance of iTunes to use the library file located in your Dropbox, just hold Shift on a PC or – on a Mac while launching the program. A dialog box will come up prompting you to choose a new library file.

If you’re using a friend’s computer, or another computer that you don’t want to keep your whole collection on at once, you can use the Dropbox web interface to download just the files you want to listen to at one time. Just visit dropbox.com, navigate through your collection, put a check mark next to the files you want to listen to (or next to a folder, if you want to download a whole album at once) and then select Download from the More actions tab.

Add files to Dropbox with email

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to email a file to yourself that will automatically sync to your Dropbox account. (Although you can vote for it in Votebox.) But if you’re willing to mash up a few applications and services, you can make this feature work.(Note: GMail Drive only works on 32bit Windows/Xp/Vista/7)

First, you’ll need to create a new Gmail account. This address will be what you use to temporarily store files to sync to your Dropbox. I recommend creating a new account that’s easy to remember, and not using your personal or main Gmail account.

Next, download GMail Drive, a shell namespace extension that links to a Gmail account and syncs attachments and emails onto a newly created system drive. GMail Drive creates a virtual filesystem based on email sent to your Gmail account (with GMAILFS: in the subject line), and lets you browse them as if they were stored on your hard drive.

Finally, using the mklink command, create a symbolic link between the folders in your GMail Drive and a newly created folder in your Dropbox. This means that any time you email an attachment to your dummy Gmail account with GMAILFS: in the subject line, the files will automatically be moved to your Dropbox. This only works if you have GMail Drive and Dropbox running on an active computer or server.

Host a website on Dropbox

Now here’s an unusual use for Dropbox. Did you know that you can actually host a website, using Dropbox’s “Public” folder? It’s easy, you just drop in html files and images into your public folder, the way you would normally upload those files onto an FTP server.

Interlinking works fine, as does client-side scripting. Obviously, any server side stuff won’t work, but this is a great way to quickly host a smaller page. You can simply build the site as you like, viewing it locally, and when you’re satisfied, it’s already on the web!

No word on any information about bandwidth caps on Dropbox’s public share, but it’s safe to say that it’s probably not meant to be used for mass data transfer. In other words, If you want to host something bigger than a personal site or blog, you’re still better off with traditional hosting.

Utilize the web Interface

Dropbox is primarily a desktop app, but its website is very useful for accessing your files. The web interface offers the same functionality as the desktop client, letting you browse, download, and upload files to your account. This is handy when you need file access on the go, but here are three other reasons to use the web interface:

Track recent Activity – The recent events tab gives you a timeline of account activity, even including the movement of files between folders so you can keep track of everything. Uploaded images show up as thumbnails, too.

Share folders – You have to use the website to grant and accept folder shares for collaborating with other Dropbox users (which is different for sharing individual files in the Public folder). Shared folders take up space on the accounts of all collaborators.

Undo deleted files – The best feature of the Web interface is the ability to view and retrieve previously deleted files in your Dropbox. On free accounts, deleted files can be recovered up to 30 days after they were deleted, though that limit is removed for Pro users.

Catch laptop thieves

As a computer enthusiast, nothing gets your blood boiling like tales of stolen laptop computers. With Dropbox, though, there’s a chance for sweet, sweet revenge. The trick is to set up a keylogger on your own machine, and set it to save its log files into the Dropbox shared folder. If anyone ever steals your laptop, your Dropbox folder will give you a detailed look at what the thief is doing with it. If the thief connects to a service such as Facebook, then you’ll know exactly who stole your notebook.

By letting Dropbox handle the syncing, you don’t have to let an internet-enabled keylogger through your firewall (because who knows who it could be sending data too). Of course, keyloggers are pretty sketchy business, so if you want to try this trick out you’ll have to track one down on your own.

Suggest new ideas for Dropbox

If you have a cool new idea for Dropbox go to the Votebox website and submit your idea.

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