Three Great Uses For Dropbox

Dropbox is one of my favorite little pieces of software. It’s practically invisible, silently keeping your dropbox folder synchronized on all the computers you have it installed on (Windows, Macintosh, or Linux). I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Because Dropbox is so easy to use, it’s easy to forget that it’s also very powerful. Here are two three advanced ways I’m using this great utility.

1. Secure Cross-Platform Password Sync

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of pieces of software that will securely store passwords and other information you want to keep secret (credit card numbers, etc.). I stumbled upon what might be the simplest possible solution. 

Message Vault is a free/open source self-encrypting/decrypting archive written entirely in HTML and JavaScript. It’s a single HTML file encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption. You can keep it in your Dropbox folder and easily change your archive locally on your computer, plus you can view it on any computer with a web browser via the Dropbox web interface. It’s extremely secure if you choose a good password and requires no special software for viewing. It couldn’t be much easier.

Note: You could also use your Dropbox to sync a Trucrypt archive or a KeePass database file, but both require additional software to decrypt the contents inside.

2. Remotely Start BitTorrent Downloads

On occasion while at work I think of an audio or video file I’d like to download via BitTorrent. In order to take it easy on our office network though, I’ll start the download from my work computer and have our iMac at home do the real work. Here’s how that works.

The Mac OS BitTorrent client Transmission includes an option to have it watch a folder for new .torrent files and then automatically start downloading their content. That preference looks like this (it’s at the very bottom of the window):

Transmission watch folder option
If you wanted, you could simply set your watch folder to your Dropbox or one of its subfolders. Then, on the remote computer, you just download the .torrent file and drop it into your Dropbox. Within a few seconds, it will get synchronized with your other computer, which will then start the BitTorrent download as soon as Transmission sees the torrent file show up in the Dropbox folder.

I added an extra step in my workflow.  I’m a user of the rule-based Hazel utility that lets me trigger actions when certain events happen. In this case, I actually have my Transmission watch folder set to a subfolder of my Downloads folder for organizational. When a new torrent file shows up in my Dropbox, I have a Hazel rule that catches this action and automatically moves the file to the watch folder. Once this happens, I instantly get feedback on my remote computer, as Dropbox will inform me that the torrent file has been removed/deleted on both computers. This lets me know my download has started on the iMac.

Hazel Dropbox rule

3. Remotely Add Music to Your iTunes 9 Library

One of the least mentioned new features of iTunes 9 is the addition of a watched folder to allow you to automatically add music to your library. Add Dropbox and a Hazel rule and you’ve got the ability to update iTunes from another computer.

For this tip, I added a subfolder to my Dropbox simply called Music. This is where I move music files on the remote computer that I want added to iTunes library on my Macintosh.

Next, add your Dropbox Music folder to Hazel and create a rule called Move to iTunes that moves any music files found by Hazel to your iTunes watch folder, found at ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Automatically Add to iTunes/

That rule will look like this:

To test it out, drag one or more MP3 files into your Dropbox Music folder on your remote computer. Once the files have finished syncing, you should get notified that they have been deleted from the Dropbox. This means that Hazel has done its job and moved them out of Dropbox and into the iTunes watch folder. After that, it takes only a few seconds for the songs to appear in your iTunes library.

So, there you go – two three clever uses for your Dropbox. There are lots of other tips and tricks too, if you’re interested.

If you don’t have one yet, now’s a great time to signup for a free account.

Music Wants to be DRM Free!

Digital music fans received some great news this morning: EMI (one of the largest record labels) is going to start offering DRM-free songs on iTunes. This is big, big, big.

I’ve written about my extreme distaste of DRM before, but I didn’t think we’d see the beginning of its death so soon. I fully expected that entertainment companies would resort to increasingly draconian means of “protecting” its content from the very people who buy it. That had been the recent trend — see Amazon’s Unboxed movie downloads and Microsoft’s Zune player.

I believe Steve Jobs’ recent essay on digital rights management and music will go down in history as the catalyst for this dramatic turn of events. Many others have been fighting DRM for years, but Steve has major clout with iTunes and the iPod — when he talks, people listen.

To have EMI’s entire digital music library for sale on iTunes is a turning point for customers. We’ll now have the choice between the current $.99 DRM’ed version, or the higher quality $1.29 unDRM’ed copy. EMI says early tests show people preferring the non-copy-protected versions 10 to 1, so I hope that’s validated in the sales numbers.

My only gripe: I don’t know, and shouldn’t have to care, who is and isn’t an EMI artist. I don’t think Apple has shown how they’ll handle the different versions in the iTunes interface, but I hope they make the non-DRM music easy to find.

That said, this is a starting point, and a good one. If all goes well, this will be a big success and the other labels will play follow the leader shortly.

Goodbye DRM: You won’t be missed.

RNC Speeches – Free from iTunes

Apple is offering a very cool and useful service through the iTunes Music Store. They are offering many of the speeches from the Republicn Nation Convention as free downloadable audiobooks in the Audible format. They also did this for the DNC back in July, but I didn’t bother downloading any since I saw most of the speeches on TV. This time around though, I haven’t seen a single minute of the convention on TV due to our moving and all of my accounting homework. Thanks Apple!

Note: As of noon today (09/01/2004), they just have Monday night’s speeches up. If you listen to only one of those, I highly recommend Rudy Giuliani’s.

Monday Night Speeches:

Update (09/02/2004): Speeches from Tuesday August 31st are now up:

Where Have All the iTunes Gone?

Here we are, one week after the official annoucement of the Pepsi/Apple promotion to give away 100 million free songs on iTunes, and I still haven’t seen any 20-oz bottles with the correct bottle tops in Grand Forks. I’m guessing the problem is one of the following: either distributors are slow at restocking the shelves of local convienence and grocery stores, or Pepsi executives think North Dakotans are simple, backwards people who haven’t discovered computers and digital music yet, and therefore have no need for free downloadable songs.

I haven’t given up hope yet that it’s a distribution problem, so I’ll make sure to let you know if and when I spot my first playable bottle in Grand Forks.

UPDATE (02/13/04): I finally found the right bottles of soda at the Target store in Fargo. So far, I’m 1 for 2! Still no idea if they’ve made their way up to Grand Forks yet – I’ll have to check when I get back.