Although there are many good cloud-storage services to choose from, I continue to mostly use Dropbox, primarily for its flexibility and level of cross-platform support.
Here are some tricks and tips for getting the most out of the service.
Using selective synching to manage local storage
I have a paid 1TB Dropbox account that I mostly use so store over 600MB of digital photos. The service lets me view, edit, and otherwise manage those images on a desktop PC, notebook, tablet, and even my smartphone. But only the desktop has sufficient storage for the entire collection of images. I keep subsets of the images on the other devices.
For example, I keep only recent photos on my notebook, where I can do an initial cut and also process them in Adobe Lightroom (site).
About six months to a year after an image is created, I move it to an “Archives” folder, which shows up only on the desktop system.
I use Dropbox’s Selective sync feature to create and manage what’s stored locally on each device. (I keep a small subset of “favorite” images on my tablet and phone.) Unfortunately, Dropbox doesn’t make accessing Selective sync especially easy. To do so, you must right-click the Dropbox icon in the taskbar and select the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the status box. Next, click Preferences/Account/Selective Sync.
The Selective sync dialog box will display a list of all folders in your Dropbox account. (You can’t selectively synch individual files.) On each device, you put a checkmark next to the folders that you want on both the local Dropbox folder and in the cloud, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Dropbox’s Selective Sync tool lets you control which files are stored locally on various devices.
(Note: Microsoft’s OneDrive also supports selective synching. Right-click the OneDrive folder in Explorer and click “Choose OneDrive folder to sync.”)
The quirks of selective synching is changing and/or moving a locally synched subfolder to cloud only. Unchecking a folder in the Selective sync manager deletes the folder and its contents from the local drive but not from the cloud or other devices. But on my notebook, to move a subfolder of images from the local “Recent” to the unsynched “Archives,” I must do so either online or on the desktop, which contains all my Dropbox files. (Perhaps I need to reconsider my image-organization thinking.) Fortunately, Dropbox is working on a fix for that problem; more on that below.)
Tip: Use Dropbox and Selective Sync to easily share and manage a collection of favorite background images across multiple devices.
Add a Dropbox icon to your Gmail account
If you’re a Chrome and Gmail user, install the Dropbox for Gmail add-on (site); it’ll place a Dropbox icon at the bottom of the message-entry box. When you create, forward, or reply to an email, clicking the Dropbox icon (Figure 2) opens the online version of the service. You can then attach a file stored either locally or in the cloud.
Figure 2. The Dropbox add-on for Gmail and Chrome
So far as I know, there are not equivalent add-ons for Outlook.com or other email systems. There are, however, third-party helper apps for Dropbox, many of them email and sharing related. An online search will turn up dozens.
Double-up your Dropbox sign-in security
If you maintain sensitive information in your Dropbox account, you can improve its safety with two-step sign-in verification. To set it up, open your Dropbox account online and click your name in the upper-right corner of the window. Click Settings/Security and then look for the “Two-step verification” section. Select the “click to enable” link and follow the prompts (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Keep others out of your Dropbox account with two-step sign-in verification.
To add additional protection to the cloud-stored data, download and install an encryption app such as BoxCryptor (site), which also supports Box, Google Drive, and OneDrive. A limited version is free; if you want to protect multiple devices and cloud-storage services, BoxCryptor starts at U.S. $48 per year. For a quick review of the app, see the Feb. 18 On Security story, “Encrypted backup kicks ransomware to the curb.”
And for other ways to encrypt files stored in the cloud, see the Dec. 12 Top Story, “Pre-encryption makes cloud-based storage safer.”
Recover previous versions of a file
I use a number of templates to produce articles. But I have a bad habit of not saving the template under another name before I add text and make changes. So about once or twice a week, I use Dropbox to recover the original “clean” copy of a file.
The process is quite easy; simply right click a file in the local Dropbox folder and select “View previous version.” That will open the online version of the service in a browser with a list of recent versions. On personal accounts, previous versions are saved for up to 30 days.
Also keep in mind that the online version of Dropbox can also restore deleted files, which, again, are retained for up to 30 days. Note that deleting a shared folder removes it from your account, but it remains on other shared accounts. (Tip: According to a Dropbox Help Center page, you might also find lost files in the local Dropbox cache file. Look for the section titled “Restoring a missing file from cache.”)
Manage your Office-file collaboration
If you’ve recently opened an Office document stored in Dropbox, you might have tripped over the Dropbox Badge. It appears on the right border of the open document. Clicking the badge gives you quick access to sharing options and the file’s version history.
I find the badge annoying because I rarely share my Office-based docs. Fortunately, there’s a way to manage or disable this feature. Click the badge icon and select the Preferences link. That will open your Dropbox preferences dialog box. In the General section, look for the Dropbox Badge drop-down menu. Your options are ”Always show” (the default, naturally), “If others present,” and “Never show.”
Future Dropbox: Paper and Project Infinite
It’s hard to know where Dropbox is going with its beta Paper (Figure 4) — and extremely simple text editor that lives within the online version of the service. You can use it to create quick notes or paste images and simple text. You can’t, on the other hand, drag and drop formatted files such as a Word document. But you can clip and paste information from open documents and websites. For more on Paper, check out the YouTube video “Welcome to Dropbox Paper”.
Figure 4. Dropbox Paper lets you create simple documents using any browser and your Dropbox account.
This past April 26, a DropboxBusiness Blog post announced its Project Infinite initiative. The concept is one Microsoft put into OneDrive — and then removed. The new Dropbox technology allows for virtual files and folders on digital devices. In essence, it lets you see all data stored on Dropbox, but keep only a selected set of physical files locally.
Think of this as an extension of selective synching. With the new feature, you could apply selective synching to specific folders and still see the files stored in the cloud in your local Windows/File Explorer. Clicking a virtual file should take you online, where you can view and open the file as needed.
Given the current limitations with selective synching, I’m eagerly waiting for Project Infinite to go live. Where is it Dropbox? Also, the original post is in the DropboxBusiness blog. If the new feature is not included with personal accounts, I’ll be extremely disappointed.
Capen, Tracey. Windows Secrets, “Tips for getting more from Dropbox cloud storage” July 2016