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.