Ever since Lifehacker turned me on to Dropbox, it’s become one of the most essential pieces in my daily workflow. Sure it syncs files extremely well, but Dropbox is an excellent tool for so much more.
Dropbox, at its core, is a simple file synchronisation utility that stores your data in the cloud and makes it accessible across Windows, Mac and Linux machines—or via the web interface from any browser. What sets Dropbox apart from other file syncing tools is that changes are nearly instantaneous, uploads are blazing fast and it just works.
Dropbox doesn’t have to be limited to simply syncing your documents, photos, and music, however—with the proper setup you can completely synchronise your digital life across any PC.
Sync Your Passwords Across PCs
If you’re really serious about security, you’ve already learned how to choose secure and memorable passwords and probably started securely tracking your passwords with a password manager like KeePass–an ideal candidate for using Dropbox as the ultimate password syncer. Since both Dropbox and KeePass are cross-platform applications, you can access your passwords from Mac, Linux, or Windows. (Though if you’re on a Mac, Dropbox is also great at syncing with password management tool 1Password.) You can also synchronise your web passwords with Dropbox and Roboform, and since the Dropbox web interface is available from any computer, you can even store the portable version of KeePass there and just download the files onto any computer to access your passwords.
Sync Your Pidgin Profile
The Pidgin multi-protocol IM client not only works on both Windows and Linux, but the profile directory can be synchronised across both operating systems with Dropbox and a little symlink trickery. The basic idea is that we’ll move the profile folder into our Dropbox folder, and then create a symlink from where the original used to be so Pidgin won’t even know you moved it.
To accomplish this, you’ll want to exit out of Pidgin, move the Pidgin profile folder from your %appdata% folder (hit Win+R, then paste %appdata% and hit Enter) into your Dropbox folder, open up a command prompt (in administrator mode for Vista/Win7), and then use the mklink command to create a symbolic link between the folder in Dropbox and your AppData folder like so: mklink /D %appdata%.purple C:PathToDropboxPidginProfile. This will make Pidgin see the folder in the same location as it’s always been, even though the files actually reside in your synced Dropbox folder. For more detailed information and doing this on XP, check out our guide to syncing files and folders outside your Dropbox folder. Linux users can use the ln command to accomplish the same thing.
Access Portable Applications from Any PC
These days, almost every application has a portable version for use on a thumb drive, but what you may not have known is that your portable applications work perfectly when you add them to your Dropbox folder and synchronise them across all of your machines. You’ve already shared your favourite portable applications, from Portable Firefox to VLC player, but you can add almost any tiny and awesome Windows utility to your Dropbox folder, and as long as they don’t require installation, they should work perfectly across all your Windows PCs—complete with all your custom preferences. As if that wasn’t enough, you can even sync your thumb drive with Dropbox.
Control Your Computer Remotely
Dropbox is designed to simply sync files and folders, but you can use it to trigger other tasks by simply adding files to Dropbox in a particular folder and monitoring that folder on another computer. For instance, most popular BitTorrent applications include a folder-monitoring feature that checks for and automatically opens new torrent files in a user-specified folder, meaning you can easily trigger a BitTorrent download from any computer by telling your home computer to watch a folder inside your Dropbox folder for new torrents.
If you are running Linux, you can remote control your PC using Bash scripts, and a similar method can be enabled on Windows by creating a scheduled task to run a batch file in a folder within your Dropbox. On my home computer, I have a scheduled task that runs an AutoHotkey script inside my Dropboxbincontrolhome folder. Once the script is executed once, it renames itself so it won’t be run again.
So what clever uses have you found for your Dropbox? Let us know in the comments.
The How-To Geek has been known to close Microsoft Word using AutoHotkey and Dropbox when he forgot to save his changes at home.
The SWWHEP eLearning Team find Dropbox to be a great way of easily sharing content across the web.