Two weeks ago you wrote some beautiful notes/an assignment. A week ago you learned to reference beautifully. Today your hard-drive exploded and its all gone. There was a freak petrol-fight accident that killed your homework. Lost your thumb-drive, whatever: it’s gone.
There are two totally different ways this could pan out. The first person loses everything, loses 10 percent because it was due that day, loses sleep and hands in a crappy shade of the assignment that could have been. The second person used Dropbox.
The main reasons (I believe, this is on no way based on anything but my opinion) people don’t back up are (1) laziness, (2) lack of ability, (3) not knowing the risk. The last one is the only stupid one. Everyone loses files. No matter how computer-illiterate you are, there’s a chance your computer will die, even if you don’t do anything crazy with it.
A little (free, I might add [here]) application axe-murders (1) and (2). It’s called Dropbox. It is godly.
It’s two gigs of free online safety net. And it’s all automated.
You select a folder, you tell Dropbox about it. That’s it. Whenever you save anything in the folder, it backs it up online. It saves versions so you can track the progression of your writing/editing process. It lets you share documents when needed.
I guess laziness is dead because it is automated, and it is so simple to use that my bejewelled blitz obsessed mum even uses it.
Organising your documents and setting up Dropbox
To make best use of Dropbox, you’ll need an organised in-computer filing-system. For this part, I’m going to assume that you use Windows 7; most of the techniques are transferable to other OS’s. The long and short of it-make use of folders and libraries.
Since we’re going to have to keep all of our important documents in one “Dropbox” folder, we’ll use libraries to allow quick access to specific folders that are in common use.
On my computer, I separate my system files (which are on “drive” [actually partition] c:\) and my documents (which are at d:\). This helps me keep my folders organised since I start with a blank slate (there are other benefits in partitioning a hard-drive, but I’ll talk about them another day).
My d:\ drive is organised simply: 4 folders. (1) Music, which I leave iTunes to organise for me. (2) My Dropbox: I set Dropbox to save to this location when I installed. (3) Pictures and (3) Videos, which auto-import and sort from my iPhone and my camera.
Wait! Why does the “My Dropbox” icon have a different icon from the rest of the folders? The green tick shows that the folder is synchronised with my online Dropbox account.
Everything in this folder is backed up. I have a folder here for the items I want to share and for my uni work — though you can easily add more folders if you please.
My university folder has four folders in it a) my current work, b) my archive, c) miscellaneous (this can be a bad habit, since you can throw anything you want into a folder like this, but I limit mine to LSS, AUJS and OatsAndSugar files) and d) my EndNote library (need to back this up!).
Each semester, I create a folder for each subject ##### – Subject Name. When the subject is active, it’s in current, when I’ve finished it, it goes to archive. I don’t like deleting things.
This is a bit of a schlep – it would make it annoying to save documents in the correct folder: at least 5 double clicks down a file tree.
This is where windows 7 shines to life. We have Libraries!
What libraries do is collect several locations under a single easily accessible shortcut.
I’ll walk you through setting up your Documents library, you can organise the Music, Pictures and Film libraries to your own specification. The folders that are attached to the library by default in Windows 7 aren’t that helpful to our task, but it can be edited to allow for a streamlining of our filing system. The first step is going to your Libraries page.
In the Documents library, hit the button that says 3 locations at the top of the screen, this will allow you to edit which folders are shown in your Documents Library.
As you can see, I added my Current, Archive and Misc. files to my library. I added the Current folder first because I wanted it to display first in the library, since it will be most used. Again, you can set this up to your own preferences. The result is, when you want to save something in Word, it will open directly to this library, and it takes one click to select a subject folder. If you didn’t customise your libraries, it would have taken you 6+ clicks.
Setting up Dropbox
To simply set up Dropbox, just select your My Dropbox or University file to back-up when you install the program. If you’ve installed Dropbox already and you want to change the location of your Dropbox folder, just right-click on the blue box icon in the taskbar, select preferences, and change the Dropbox folder location to where you want it to be.
Now, your computer is organised, and your backup is set up. Lets learn a few more advanced Dropbox techniques.
A few Dropbox use-cases
So now that you’ve set it up, what can you do with Dropbox?
I want to edit my files from another computer.
So open up your browser and go to dropbox.com. Log in, choose a file and edit away! Just make sure to upload the file back on to the site when you are done!
My computer died! What do I do?
Get the files you need from another computer using the method above. When your computer is fixed/daddy buys you a new one, just install Dropbox on the new computer, log-in with your old username. Like magic, all the files that populated your old Dropbox folder will appear on your new computer.
I’m away from home but want to email someone a file.
Just install the iPhone (or Android) app (the Blackberry app is soon to come). The mobile app lets you view all the files in your Dropbox folder (handy in its own right, since you can also export your PDF’s from the Dropbox mobile app to iBooks), it lets you email these to others on the go, and much more.
I want to go back to an old version of a file I saved.
Just find the file on the web-interface, click on the down arrow to the far right, and select previous versions. Easy!
I want to synchronise the work I do on my home computer, my work computer and my laptop.
Just download Dropbox on to all three, and log-in with the same account. Every time you save any file, it will be updated on all three machines!
If you have an organised computer, you’ll be able to find what you need. Dropbox will keep “what you need” safe, and available from wherever you are!