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What You Really Need to Know About Dropbox

Dropbox offers free cloud-based storage for personal use, with highly affordable options for commercial use. But sharing files via Dropbox comes with some interesting gotchas, especially when large volumes of data are involved or when files are shared by many users. Learn how to handle these gotchas with dispatch and aplomb, and avoid potential loss of access to important files or content.
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Dropbox, and similar services offered by other websites, have made file sharing super simple for consumers and business people, at an affordable price. But you need to understand a few things about Dropbox that can help to eliminate the pain of first-timers syndrome.

The Accounts

Dropbox offers three levels of accounts: Basic, Pro, and Business.

The Basic account is free, which nets you 2 gigabytes (GB) of space. As you refer friends to Dropbox, which often happens when you share a link and your friends sign up, Dropbox automatically gives you more free space. =

The Pro account comes with 1 terabyte (TB) of space and costs $9.99/month. With Pro, you can recover files within 30 days of deletion or pay $3.99/month to recover deleted files up to 1 year later, and set shared links to expire in a number of days or on a certain date and manage permissions for shared folders.

The Business account is geared for five or more users, costs $15/month per user and offers unlimited storage space. It also includes business-centric features like collaboration, encryption, unlimited file recovery and version history, the ability to track logins, remote wipe, account transfer, and a whole lot more.

The “Good and Bad” of the Desktop Agent

You can use the Dropbox web interface to set up folders, upload and download files, and share links and folders with other people. When you share a link, you’re sending a URL to your friend or co-worker, and that person can view and download files from a particular folder in your Dropbox account. When you share a folder and the person accepts the invitation, he can also upload and modify files to that folder.

Dropbox becomes integrated with File Explorer (in Windows 8/8.1 or Windows Explorer in Windows 7) by installing the Dropbox agent. With Dropbox installed on your computer, you can use File Explorer to manage almost everything. It also creates a copy of all files and folders in your Dropbox, including every Dropbox folder you’re linked to, on your local drive. So, if you’re using 40 GB of Dropbox space in a Pro account, your local disk now stores an additional 40 GB of files, too.

If you frequently use another computer and install the agent on that computer, the same 40 GB of files are now on that computer as well. What if Kim shared a folder with Mike, who decided to keep some of his stuff in the same shared folder? Mike's stuff is now copied to the second computer. Because Mike doesn’t control the folder (it’s only shared with him—he’s not the owner), he no longer controls the files that can easily be copied to any computer.

Deleting Dropbox Folders

When you delete a Dropbox folder in File Explorer, you delete the folder from Dropbox (at least in the Basic and Pro accounts). Let’s say Betty shared a folder named MarketingDocs in her Dropbox account with you so that both of you could modify the same files. When you finished working with her on the project, you deleted MarketingDocs from File Explorer on your computer. That also deleted Betty’s MarketingDocs folder from her Dropbox account.

To avoid this situation, Betty needs to stop sharing the folder with you. When she removes sharing, she can choose to let you keep the folders on your local disk.

To safely remove all Dropbox folders from a computer, you first need to unlink the computer from Dropbox using the Dropbox Preferences dialog box. In the Windows taskbar, click Show Hidden Icons, click the Dropbox icon, click the gear icon, and select Preferences. In Dropbox Preferences, click the Unlink This Dropbox button. We also uninstall the Dropbox agent before deleting the Dropbox folders from File Explorer, just to be safe.

Remember the Delay

When you copy or upload files to Dropbox, the service needs a little time to sync the files with those on your local disk. You can see the syncing progress by opening the Dropbox agent on your computer (click Show Hidden Icons on the taskbar, and then click the Dropbox icon).

If you’re uploading a large number of files, or a very large file, to a shared folder for other users, wait until the syncing process is complete before notifying people that the files are available. Otherwise, they’ll see nothing.

Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance

If you work around the clock, you’ll learn exactly when Dropbox performs maintenance. We notice it during the wee hours of the night and on Sundays. During those times, all kinds of strange things can occur, especially longer-than-usual delays with syncing. After maintenance is done, everything will sync normally, so just be aware of it and be patient. Similar issues will occur if you frequently use Dropbox but have sporadic Internet access.

Winding Down

Dropbox is a great tool and part of our must-have services, and it’s a true value based on cost and capacity. Just in case someone from Dropbox is reading this…for those of us who tend to run tandem file structures on our hard disk and Dropbox (again, a safety mechanism), and then copy files to Dropbox, it would be nice for the Dropbox agent to change the color of the File Explorer background when viewing Dropbox folders.

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