Computers at work and at home, smartphones, I Pads, and tablets everywhere. It’s pretty common to have more than one computer or computer-ish device in your life these days.
These things are supposed to be helpful, and mostly they are, but there are times when it would be really helpful if we could have our digital stuff – our files, and letters, and photos, and such – available on all those devices too.
We want our stuff in many places at once. And we want it without all the special cables and gadget-specific software that it usually takes to move a file to or from a phone or a tablet.
Good news! With the aid of the Internet, it is possible to have your digital documents appear on more than one smart device at a time.
If you change a document on one device, within seconds of saving your changes they will be available on your other devices too.
For example, you can work on a document at home and save it. Then when you get to work, the document will be there on your work computer with everything that you did at home. All without a flash drive or email.
You could even work on the document on the train, on the way to work.
And; you can do this for free. You just need a free account at one of a few cloud-based services that provide this file sharing feature. Google has one that comes with Gmail called “Drive”. Microsoft has one called “SkyDrive”. AOL has one, and so does Amazon.com. One of the first and possibly the most well-known is Dropbox, at Dropbox.com.
The basic function and features of these services is the same, but the inner workings are different. It may be different tomorrow, but as of today, Dropbox has advantages over the others. So, from here on I’m going to focus on Dropbox.
To get started, go online to Dropbox.com, and if you don’t already have an account, sign up for one there. Then download the Dropbox program to your computer (Mac or PC).
That all takes about 5 minutes. (Take the free 2GB for now.) Once it’s done, if you look in your “Documents” folder you’ll see a new folder called “Dropbox”.
You can copy or move any file or document that you wish into that folder, and when you do, Dropbox will immediately begin to “sync” it to the cloud. (“Sync” means it is going to keep it up to date if you change the file.)
You can open and edit files directly in the Dropbox folder. You don’t need to work on separate copies. In fact, it all works best if you do work directly on the files in your Dropbox folder.
Now for the cool part. Go to another of your computers or tablets and download the Dropbox software to it. If the device is an Android or iPhone/iPad, then go to the App Store for your device and install the Dropbox app from there. (This includes Kindle “Fire” and Nook “Color” too.)
When you start up Dropbox on the new device the first time click the selection for “I already have a Dropbox account”, and then sign on with the email and password for your Dropbox account.
Within a few seconds you’ll be shown a list of the files and documents that you have saved the Dropbox folder on your computer. You can add files or change them on your new device and the additions/changes will magically appear on your computer.
Now repeat the cool part for each computer or smart device that you have. It’s all free and works the same.
A bonus feature. If you happen to be at a computer that isn’t always yours – like at the library or at a friend’s house – you don’t have to download the software to get at your files. You can just go to Dropbox.com and log on, from whatever device you happen to be using, and you’ll have access to your files right there on the web.
The web-access part works really well with the other services too – such as SkyDrive and Google Drive – but it is in the automatic syncing that they don’t quite match Dropbox yet. (That doesn’t mean that they won’t match it sometime soon. Hopefully they will – more free stuff for us!)
It doesn’t take too long to find out how useful it can be to have some of your files available to you in many places at once. As long as you have Internet access, Dropbox is much easier than having to carry – and remember to “eject” – a flash drive.
As always, if you have any questions about sharing files with yourself via the cloud, or about which of the sharing services might be most useful for you, please call any time; Mike Pepper ~ Pawling Computer Guy. 845-855-5824