Cloud storage is an important safety measure for your critical files, and most cloud storage apps provide file sharing capability. My favorite tool is Dropbox, which I’ve been using for years. I first posted about Dropbox back in 2016, when this post was originally written. It is the easiest to use of all of the cloud storage apps I’ve used (and that’s quite a few).
I use Dropbox every day for storing files, and for sharing them with others. Sometimes it’s just too big to send via email. I also love having my files with me everywhere I go. The app is free for desktop, phone and tablet. Dropbox gives you free storage, so if you don’t have large files you may be able to keep the free plan.
Why Cloud Storage is Vital
Here’s a story that will help you understand why it’s so important. When my oldest daughter went to college, she went with a new MacBook. As an art major, she had Adobe applications and files on her computer that she had created for a graphic design course. We also bought her an external hard drive, and advised her to keep a backup in a cloud storage account.
I bet you know what’s coming. Like most college students, setting up a Dropbox account and adding files didn’t seem too exciting and she never found the time to do it. One night a friend (?) spilled an entire can of Red Bull (mixed with ??? — we’ll never know) on her keyboard. You guessed it, the computer was ruined. The friend bought her a new computer, but she lost all of her art projects. It broke my heart, but it could so easily have been prevented.
Computers, especially laptops, get lost, damaged, or stolen every day. So do external hard drives. I once thought I had lost 20 years’ worth of digital family photos because of an external hard drive failure. The least expensive company I could find online to try to recover the data was going to charge me $900. I cried in that poor sales guy’s ear. Loudly and ugly. Thankfully, I later found the files in a — you guessed it — cloud storage account I had forgotten about.
The last time I got a new MacBookPro, the only thing I had to do to set it up was log in to Apple, Google, and Adobe, and download my Creative Suite apps. All of my files were in Dropbox, and once I signed in and installed the app, they were on my brand new computer, right where I’d put them on the old one. Cloud storage for the win.
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How Dropbox Works
First, go to Dropbox.com and set up an account. You can get started free and if you only have a few files, you can use the free plan forever. I use a paid plan, as i have quite a few large files, and keep archives of every project. Then you’ll download the Dropbox app, which will set up a local folder on your hard drive. The local folder will sync with your cloud account — it takes some time for very large files.
You’ll use the folder on your computer just like any other folder. You can drag files into and out of it and set the sync settings so your files are stored either locally or online only. I use the online only option for my archives, so they don’t take up room on my hard drive. I can still access them whenever I need to.
Once you have the account set up, you can start uploading files. When you set up the app, it’ll ask you for your login information, and as soon as you’re logged in, it will start adding your uploaded files to the app. You can change your storage options with a Control + Click on Mac, right click on Windows as in the image above.
Send with Transfer lets you send large files that are otherwise too large to send via email.
How You Can Use Dropbox for Cloud Storage
I use Dropbox two ways.
1. Share Files
Any time you need to share a file, Dropbox is a great go-to. You can do this from the web or from your computer, depending on your sync settings. If it’s online only, it’ll be faster to share the file from the web, as it will have to download to your computer before you can share it.
To share a file from the web, select the file and click Share at right. This menu will pop up and give you several options.
Then enter the email address of the person you want to share the file with and, if you like, write a message about the file. You can choose whether to allow the person you share with to edit or view only and share just the link or send the share in a separate email.
Shared folders are another handy tool. I created a folder for my husband, Jim, for his real estate business files and named it Z-Jim (to kick it down to the bottom of the list and out of my way) and he can add, edit or delete files from his folder at any time. I get notifications every time he modifies a file. Shared Dropbox folders are a great way to give group access to files and documents without emailing them. You are the owner and you control who can add, delete, edit, or share files.
2. File Storage
I use Dropbox as I would a local folder. I store all of my files in Dropbox, so that the only thing on my hard drive is the applications I use. This way I know my files are safe should something happen to my computer. In fact, several years ago, my previous MacBookPro just stopped working after eight long, lovely years together. Although I wasn’t happy about the large expenditure, I had absolutely no worries about losing data or work files, as they were all in Dropbox.
Here’s what it looks like on my computer desktop. You can see Jim’s shared folder at the bottom of the list. The Dropbox folder acts just like any other folder on my hard drive, except that it also uploads my files to the cloud.
Keeping my files on Dropbox and only apps on my hard drive has given me a tremendous sense of peace, especially as I live in a tornado-prone part of the country. It also helps keep my hard drive from filling up too quickly, which it most certainly would do with a few large Photoshop files.
Dropbox also integrates with other apps too numerous to mention. Chances are if it’s an app you’re using, there’s a Dropbox integration for it.For peace of mind, i recommend both physical external hard drive backups and cloud storage. This way if the tornado, hurricane, fire, or burglar takes your computer, your files are safe. Click To Tweet
I use Dropbox Pro, which is $19.99 per month and gives me 2TB of storage. It’s worth it for the space and the ease of use Dropbox provides. If you’re interested in a paid plan, go here.*
*Affiliate link, which means I get some extra Dropbox storage if you sign up. It costs you nothing extra.
This post was originally published on September 22, 2016 and has been updated on September 14, 2020, to provide more current information.