Does the World Really Need Another Dropbox Post?

January 12, 2011 | 10 Comments

logo.pngIt might be that the world already has enough blog posts and articles raving about Dropbox. Geez, this greedy post on Appstorm listed so many tricks that there isn’t much left for the rest of us to write about.

But I’m going to write one anyway. And this is why…

A few years ago, I parted with my iMac G5 — my last desktop computer — thinking that I would never have one again. Laptops had reached the sweet spot of pricing, portability and power. And then I saw that blessed 11″ MacBook Air in the Apple store and I wondered if there was room in my life for a combination of an Air and iMac. That wondering turned to reality, so here I am. But I never would have considered it without Dropbox.

Project Files

Dropbox has effectively replaced my documents folder — for active documents anyway. My Dropbox can easily fit in the limited storage of my MacBook Air, and it ensures that I have anything I need with me on the go. This includes current Scrivener documents for blog posts (where this post was born) or for teaching series in our church community.

Even with a free Dropbox account, I have plenty of room for all the Photoshop files for my website projects. Current project files live in a folder cleverly named Current Projects, and I have another one called Potential Projects for websites that are in the proposal stage. Projects completed in the last few months live in the Recent Projects folder just in case I need them on the go.

I don’t have one of those big, fancy, paid Dropbox accounts, but I have all the room I need with the 4gb of storage I’ve built through Dropbox referrals. (And if you are my mom or one of the others who still doesn’t use Dropbox, I’d appreciate it if you’d sign up through my referral link to add another 250mb to may account!) To keep my Dropbox slim, I have a Hazel rule set to move documents that haven’t been modified in the last six months into an Archive folder.

Application Support

Making essential documents available on Dropbox was one big step toward having two different setups to work on, but it wouldn’t have happened without being able to sync Application Support folders. Many apps store data not as documents, but in Application Support. Patrick Rhone got his MacBook Air right about the same time I did, and I assume it was setting it up that led him to say:

patrickrhone_tweet.jpg

There are a handful of apps that I connect to Dropbox to sync their data for availability on both systems:

  • TextExpander: Smile Software has built Dropbox syncing into the app. If I recall, they were the first to do it, and I love them for it.
  • 1Password: This also has Dropbox syncing built in, and I can’t imagine living without it. They even have automatic sync with the iPad version via Dropbox.
  • Delicious Library: I like to have my book library with me on the go to track books I finish or might want to read next. I suppose I could limit myself to having this one on my laptop but if I can have it on both…why not?
  • Billings: I track all my design time and manage all my invoicing with Billings. I still do enough coding, planning, and even designing on the 11″ Air that it was important to be able to track time with it.

As I said, the first two apps have built in support for this, while the second two don’t, so it takes some special setup. The makers of Billings specifically warn against syncing data over Dropbox as it could lead to data corruption and loss. I have to be diligent about making sure to only have the app open on one computer at a time to avoid data corruption. But, I also have revision history happening on Time Machine and Dropbox, plus a backup on Backblaze, so the chances are good I can restore a good copy of my data if I needed to. So, if you want to set this up, make sure you also have a reliable backup plan in place to avoid potential catastrophe.

To set up Delicious Library, Billings, or any app with data in Application Support, you need to create a symbolic link, which points the Application Support folder for the app to your Dropbox instead. Here’s how you do it: (I will describe for Billings. If you want to do with with another app, make the appropriate folder changes.)

  1. Make sure the app isn’t running and that you have a backup of your data! I usually duplicate the folder in Application Support and call it “Billings Copy” just to be extra safe.
  2. Move your Billings folder from /Application Support/ into your Dropbox folder.
  3. Open Terminal.app and type: cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/
    (If you aren’t familiar with Terminal commands, this will navigate you to the Application Support folder.)
  4. At the next Terminal prompt, type: ln -s ~/Dropbox/Billings/ ./Billings
    (This creates a symbolic link, which redirects the app to look in the Dropbox folder for data instead of the Application Support.)

Those four steps might appear daunting if you are new to Terminal commands, but as long as you have that backup copy from the first step, you shouldn’t do any permanent damage even if you type something wrong.

Oh, and the iPad/iPhone Too

This gush about Dropbox only talks about the advantage for using multiple computers. I haven’t even talked about the iPad, though I’ve written about it in a number of posts already. Dropbox was already a win for me with the iPad because it allowed me to access most of the files described above on the go, and kept 1Password up to date on my iPad.

Boring Wrap-Up Heading

Yes, Dropbox offers other conveniences for multiple computer users that I haven’t mendtioned here, and likely haven’t even thought of. Leave a comment and let me know how you are using it.

  • Hi John – Really enjoy your blog and great articles on tech, mac, and design. I tried to subscribe, but got a huge page of text…feedburner did not bring me to the subscribe page. Just thought I’d let you know. thanks

    Robert

    • John Chandler

      Robert,
      Thanks for letting me know. It looks like the feed got corrupted somewhere between my site and Feedburner but it appears to be working now. Please try to subscribe again and let me know the results.

  • ok, working fine now, thanks for fixing- looking forward to future posts!

    Best, Robert

  • Worth Wheeler

    Hey John,

    Just curious, do you use Mobile Me as well? My family bought a family pack subscription. I’ve had more issues with it than I care to share. Maybe it’s because i don’t know how to use it well and have not found a good post anywhere on how to use it well. Got any tips or expertise?

    A-dios (say it like La Boeuf),

    Worth

    • John Chandler

      I do, but not for files. Mostly for the convenience of syncing calendars, address book, and a few apps that have built in support for MobileMe (OmniFocus and Yojimbo).

  • Shawn Wright

    I love the hazel rule to automatically move folders to the archive in 6 months. I can’t find a 6 month rule, are you setting a specific date and updating it? How is your rule structured?

    • John Chandler

      Shawn,
      It looks like this:

      Date last modified | is not in the last | 24 | weeks

      Works like a charm.

  • ken

    soooo . . . how do you use Dropbox for Delicious Library? i’m very intrigued.

    • John Chandler

      Ken,
      You just need to replicate steps 1-4 described above, but pointing change out Billings for the proper Application Support folder for Delicious Library.

  • Thanks for this. SO frustrating that Billings doesn’t offer this sync without a monthly fee, especially for single users with multiple computers. So, do you think iCloud will match or better Dropbox?