How To Make The Most Of Dropbox (Part 2)

10/16/2012 9:04:59 AM

Sharing files more widely

You can invite as many people as you wish to share a Dropbox folder, and - until you uninvite them - everything within the shared folder will be available to everyone. Making a folder available to selected others is as simple as entering multiple email addresses when prompted. Bear in mind that sharing folders is recursive - once a folder is shared, everything within it is shared too. However, it’s possible to only share selected items within a folder.

Description: You can invite as many people as you wish to share a Dropbox folder, and - until you uninvite them

You can invite as many people as you wish to share a Dropbox folder and - until you uninvite them

One limitation of using Dropbox in this way is that everyone needs to have the service installed. Since Dropbox is so useful, this isn’t much of an imposition. And as a bonus, if someone signs up as a result of your referral, you’ll receive an extra 500MB of storage.

For one-off sharing of large files, however, there’s a simpler approach. Simply right-click on the file you want to share and select “Dropbox I Get link”. A web page will open in your browser showing a link to the file, and you can share the URL with anyone to enable them to download it. If you want to revoke the link so the file is no Longer available for download, click on the cogwheel at the top-right of the screen and select “Remove link” from the dropdown menu that appears. It’s worth noting that this behaviour used to work only for files inside the “Public” folder that’s automatically created when you install the software; in the latest version, however, you can use it to share anything, anywhere in your Dropbox folder.

If you need to share a large number of files between a group, another option is to invest in the Dropbox for Teams service. It’s a pricey offering - $795 per year for five users, with additional users costing $125 each - but it gives you much more space than a regular Dropbox account: storage starts at 1TB, with an extra 200GB for each user you add. You also receive unlimited version history and file un-deletion without having to shell out for the Pack-Rat extra, and the package includes phone support - the only service from Dropbox that does.

Accessing multiple accounts

Perhaps Dropbox’s biggest weakness when it comes to shared projects is the way it links each device to a single Dropbox account. If you need to access resources that are shared with two different accounts, you can’t sync both at once - if you try simply unlinking your Dropbox account and relinking to a different one, you’re liable to end up overwriting one Dropbox folder with the contents of another.

Dropbox suggests that one way to work around this is by creating multiple user accounts on your computer, which will allow two installations of Dropbox to run independently of each other. You can then leave one account active but dormant in the background, while its Dropbox continues to sync, or switch back and forth as required. Alternatively, you can create a shortcut using the “RunAs” command line to open an instance of Dropbox from your secondary user account without having to log in to Windows. For a detailed guide to setting this up, see

Getting more space

Simply signing up for Dropbox gets you 2GB of storage for free, and for many purposes that’s ample. Referring other users gets you an extra 500MB per person, to a maximum of 16GB. Dropbox also employs a bit of “gamificatiori”, so you can receive small increases in storage for doing certain tasks: run the “Get started with Dropbox” tour, for instance, and you get 250MB; supply feedback to Dropbox and you get 125Mb. All told, it’s possible to garner an extra 750Mb of space for free in this way.

The developer also runs occasional community-wide challenges, such as May’s Dropquest II event, which set users a series of riddles to solve with a prize of 100GB of storage space.

For those with more important things to do, you can get more space instantly by digging out your credit card - US$99 a year gets you a Dropbox Pro account, which provides 50GB of storage: US$199 gets you the 100GB plan.

Mobile apps

Dropbox’s mobile apps add an extra dimension of usefulness to the service. Dropbox’s official apps are free, and enable even so-called “closed” devices such as iPads to easily share files with desktop PCs and other devices, without any complicated copying procedures.

The OS apps also support previewing a broad range of file types out of the box - Word documents (including DOCX files), PowerPoint and Excel files, and a range of video and audio files, can be opened from within the app, as well as Apple formats such as Keynote presentations and Pages documents.

Description: Dropbox’s mobile apps add an extra dimension of usefulness to the service.

Dropbox’s mobile apps add an extra dimension of usefulness to the service.

On other devices the choice is more limited in terms of previewing: on Android, you get native support for only JPEG, TIFF and GIF images, plus HTML web pages and plain TXT files, although Android devices typically include their own support for viewing additional file formats, and all Dropbox mobile apps will hunt through your device for apps that can open the different formats. Usefully, if you mark a file as a Favourite within a Dropbox app, that file will be automatically synced to your device and can then be accessed even when you find yourself off line.

Is Dropbox safe?

Dropbox is terrifically convenient for shoring personal documents and professional projects - but is it safe for sharing sensitive documents? Embarrassingly, the service doesn’t have a perfect security record: in June 2011, a bug allowed users to access any account by typing anything into the password box. The problem persisted for four hours.

Actually, we will start off by saying that in some case, it’s more secure to keep some data in a Dropbox than it is on your computer. Like in the military and banks, the Dropbox uses the same security systems.

When Dropbox is working normally, however, it uses a heavy-duty combination of SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology and 256- bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption ensuring that even o determined hacker is unlikely to be able to break into your account.

If you’re running o Dropbox for o client, you should still tread carefully. By default, Dropbox’s employees can’t access the contents of your files, but they can read file metadata (such as filenames, file sizes and the EXIF dota attached to images). What’s more, in the event of a court order being issued that affects your account, your files will be subject to US low. Dropbox states that it will supply files to a law enforcement agency if it has “a good faith belief’ that disclosure is needed to comply with laws, protect a person’s safety or prevent fraud - and it will remove all of the Dropbox encryption before supplying them.

This means that those with vulnerable clients — schools, for instance - would do well to double-check before sending private data to Dropbox. A possible precaution might be to apply your own encryption to any sensitive files you wish to commit to the service.

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