Dropbox: Painless and Free Backup

If you use several computers, sharing files between them is a pain but Dropbox takes the pain away--for free.

At home, you use Linux. At work, you use Windows. How do you share files between them? If you said, “USB drives” or “CDs” or “DVDs” there is a better way: Dropbox. Dropbox provides you with the ability to sync files between computers via a daemon. Additionally, they’re available on the web for those times when you don’t have physical proximity to one of your computers but you still need access to your files.

Dropbox also provides you with a reliable backup solution. In its simplest implementation, you have your local copy and an online copy of every file in your Dropbox folder. In more complex scenarios, you can keep files synchronized between several computers and an online copy.


Open your favorite browser and point it to http://www.dropbox.com. Click the Download Dropbox button. Based on your distribution, the recommended version of Dropbox appears above the list of available Dropbox packages. As always, for you purists, a link to the source is also in the list. If you use a Debian-based or an rpm-based distribution, download and install the recommended package.

When attempting to install Dropbox, you might receive a message about dependencies that you’ll need to meet before you continue with the installation. This nautilus extension installation is part one of two steps required to install Dropbox on your system.

$ sudo dpkg -i nautilus-dropbox_0.6.3_i386.deb

The installation begins at the command line but launches a graphical dialog box that helps you finish part one of the installation. Click Next, when the dialog box shown in Figure 1 appears.

Figure 1: Dropbox Setup - Starting Dropbox
Figure 1: Dropbox Setup – Starting Dropbox

Then, restart Nautilus as directed in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Dropbox Setup - Restart Nautilus
Figure 2: Dropbox Setup – Restart Nautilus

Close the dialog box after Nautilus restarts.

The first time you start Dropbox, from the Applications Menu, you’re prompted to complete the installation by downloading the Dropbox daemon. Click OK on the dialog to continue.

Once the Dropbox daemon downloads to your system, the installation begins automatically and steps you through a series of prompts to continue. The first prompt welcomes you to Dropbox and asks if you have a Dropbox account. For this demonstration, you’ll select I don’t have a Dropbox account as shown in Figure 3. Click Forward to continue.

Figure 3: Create a Dropbox Account
Figure 3: Create a Dropbox Account

Complete the form as shown in Figure 4 and click Forward to setup your new Dropbox account.

Figure 4: Enter Your Dropbox Account Data
Figure 4: Enter Your Dropbox Account Data

Figure 5 prompts you to choose the free 2GB Dropbox or select from two larger (50GB and 100GB) paid subscriptions. Select one and then click Forward to continue.

Figure 5: Select Your Dropbox Size
Figure 5: Select Your Dropbox Size

The next few screens (not shown) include a tour of Dropbox and how to use the service. Take the tour or click Skip tour and finish. You’ll see the final screen shown in Figure 6 to select the location for your Dropbox folder or to accept the default location (/home/khess/Dropbox). Click Finish to set the location, create your Dropbox folder and use Dropbox.

Figure 6: Choose the Dropbox Folder Location
Figure 6: Choose the Dropbox Folder Location

Using Dropbox

Your Dropbox folder is now ready for use and opens automatically to display the default folders (Photos and Public) and one file (Getting Started.pdf). Within each of the folders, are files to teach you how to use those folders. The Photos also contains a sample photo album folder and three pictures. See Figure 7.

Figure 7: Dropbox Folder Details
Figure 7: Dropbox Folder Details

To use Dropbox, you can create files directly in your Dropbox folder. You can create new folders too. The Dropbox daemon keeps you in sync with the online file store that you setup earlier. You can also drag and drop files and folders to the Dropbox folder.

Dropbox also allows you to share those files with other computers that you use. Install Dropbox on any other computer (Windows, Linux, Mac), login to the account you setup previously. The Dropbox daemon on each of those computers keeps everything in the Dropbox folder in sync with your online file store and your other computers.

For example, if you create a new file named Resume.txt on your Ubuntu system, Dropbox copies that file to your online 2GB space. The Dropbox service on your other computers copy those files to their local Dropbox folders too. Your files are always in sync and stored in multiple locations. The Dropbox daemon attempts a sync each time it starts (system start). For subsequent syncs, the daemon “watches” the Dropbox folder for changes and updates the online store immediately so that your files are always backed up.

If you delete your online account, don’t worry, the files on your computers aren’t removed. They are permanent copies.

You can also share files with your friends without allowing them to access all of your files. If you use the Public folder, each file you copy to it receives its own hyperlink to share with whomever you wish. Those users don’t have to have a Dropbox account to access the file.

Sharing photos is easy too. Copy albums to your Dropbox folder under the Photos folder. Provide the link to your friends to the album. You can only share folders under the Photos folder, not individual files.

Congratulations, if you decide to use Dropbox. It’s secure, feature-rich and exciting to use. 2GB isn’t much but it might be enough to keep your most precious files safe and synchronized. With Dropbox, your files go with you even when you’re empty-handed and that’s a lot of comfort at no charge.

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