The Dropbox Service and Ways to Get More Space for Free
What Is Dropbox?
Dropbox is a great program for backing up files and synchronizing them between different electronic devices. The program needs an Internet connection in order to do its job. When someone saves a file in the Dropbox folder on their computer, the file is automatically backed up on an online file server. It's then available on all of the person's other devices, including their mobile ones.
The process also works in the opposite direction. Files can be created on a mobile device, backed up on the online server, and synced with a person's computer. I've found that the process generally works seamlessly in both directions and is very useful.
The Dropbox company offers both free and paid plans. In general, as more storage space is offered, the cost of the plan increases. There are ways to significantly increase space in the free plan without spending money, however.
The Dropbox application is available for the Macintosh, iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux operating systems.
How Dropbox Works
When someone places a file in their Dropbox folder on their computer, a blue icon appears on the folder to indicate that the file is being uploaded to the online server. The icon becomes green when the file has finished uploading. The server then delivers the files to the person's other devices if these are connected to the Internet.
On a Macintosh computer I can choose to save files in my Dropbox folder from the File menu or the Export menu of applications. The sync speed depends on the speed of my Internet connection and the size of the file. Many files sync almost instantly. Large files like high resolution photos and videos sometimes take longer to sync but still transfer rapidly.
On my iPad, I create documents that I want to sync with Dropbox in one of the Microsoft Office apps. This works well once the Office app has been linked to Dropbox. The linking process has to be done only once. Once this simple task is completed, uploading to the server is automatic.
Another useful feature of Dropbox is the fact that it enables people to collaborate on documents. User-created folders can be shared, allowing different people to access the files in the folders and change them. The shared folders appear on each person's devices in their Dropbox folders.
If a person wishes to share a folder with other people, an email invitation is sent to the people concerned. They must accept the invitation in order for the shared folder to appear inside their Dropbox folder.
When referring to disk storage, 1000 megabytes (MB) equals one gigabyte (GB). 1000 gigabytes equals one terabyte (TB).
Some Ways to Increase Storage Space
The initial storage space in the basic (free) version of Dropbox is 2 GB. The company is understandably keen to promote its paid plans, but these may not be necessary for everyone. Once you've created a basic account via the company's website and are logged in, you can do extra jobs to obtain more space. Some of these jobs have changed over time.
Jobs That Were Available for Me (and May Be For You)
- Take the online tour of the service. (In addition to taking the tour, I had to complete four of the jobs listed below to get 250 MB of extra storage.)
- Install Dropbox on your computer.
- Save files in your Dropbox folder.
- Install the program on other computers that you own.
- Share a folder with other people.
- Invite friends to join Dropbox.
- Install Dropbox on a mobile device.
I was also offered some jobs related to social media, which have been eliminated.
- Complete the "Getting Started Guide". (This may involve the set of jobs described in the list above, but I can't be sure. The relevant link on the Dropbox website currently requires people to sign in to read the information. Once I do this, I'm shown the jobs that I did or could have done while completing the process and the space that I earned. I don't know whether the jobs and potential storage space are the same for new users
- Refer family, friends, and coworkers to the service. (The basic account currently provides 500 MB per referral and allows the user to earn up to 16 GB of space via referrals.)
- Contribute to the community forum for 1 GB of added space. (This award doesn't seem easy to receive because it relies on someone else's decision. Simply posting a comment in the forum is not enough. If you help someone else with a great solution to their problem, a member of the Dropbox staff may award you a "Mighty Answer" badge, which will give you the extra space. The badge is awarded at the staff member's discretion.)
Refer People to Dropbox for More Storage Space
Gathering referrals could be the way to gain the greatest amount of extra storage space. A referral is someone that you attract to the Dropbox service and who refers to your name when they download the software. Each referral will give you an extra 500 MB of storage space.
A maximum of 16 GB of extra space can be obtained by getting referrals if you have a basic account. If you have a plus or professional account (which have a fee), you can get 32 GB of extra storage space via referrals.
Since a gigabyte contains 1000 megabytes, 32 referrals are needed to get 16 GB of storage. A nice touch is that while you get 500 MB of extra storage for a referral, the person that you are referring also gets some extra space. At one point, this space was 500 MB. I don't know what it is now.
The online section of your account enables you to send email inviting friends to sign up for Dropbox. The friends must click the referral link in the email message that they receive in order to give extra storage space to the person inviting them and to gain extra space for themselves.
The Mailbox App
Until 2016, people could earn 1 GB of extra space on Dropbox by downloading an email program called Mailbox. Mailbox was created by a company called Orchestra and was already a popular iOS app when it was acquired by the Dropbox company in 2013. Unfortunately, in December 2015 the company announced that it was going to shut down the Mailbox app on February 26th, 2016. The app is no longer available for download.
I thought that Mailbox was a nice program. It obtained email from a mail server and enabled it to be easily managed. The app aimed to let uses simplify their mail by quick swipes with a finger on the screen. The swipes moved an email message to a specific folder. The idea was to have only mail that needed to be dealt with in the present or in the very near future in the inbox. Any other mail was quickly "snoozed" until a chosen time, added to a list, archived, or put in the trash.
When a new email message was being created, photos from the device's photo library and documents stored on the Dropbox server could both be added to the message.
The video below shows how the program worked. Based on the reviews that I've read, the app's features seemed to have been popular. Perhaps another company will incorporate some of these features into its own email program.
According to the email that I received from the Dropbox company, Mailbox is being shut down because "we realized there's only so much an email app can do to fundamentally improve email". On the Mailbox website, the company said that it wants to concentrate its resources on other areas of development.
The Carousel App
I received 3 GB of extra space by downloading and using an app called Carousel. Carousel was a photo and video viewing, sharing, and backup program created by Dropbox. Unfortunately, like Mailbox, Carousel has shut down and can no longer be downloaded in exchange for extra storage space. The downloaded app ceased to work on March 31st, 2016. The company has incorporated most of the features of Carousel into Dropbox so that people can work with their photos online.
Carousel backed up photos from a person's mobile device. This was useful in case the photos were accidentally lost from the device. It was also useful if the device ran out of storage space and photos had to be deliberately deleted from the device. The app allowed photos and videos to be saved on the Dropbox server even if they were deleted from the mobile device. It also allowed people to send photos to other people accompanied by messages and to share photo albums.
I don't miss the Carousel app because it had limited abilities. Incorporating these abilities into Dropbox itself seems like a wise move to me. The company says that photos that have already been backed up by the app will remain on their server. The current upload feature of Dropbox backs up photos from a computer or a portable device. The uploaded photos can be shared with other people from Dropbox.
Delete Files or Leave a Shared Folder to Save Space
Although extra space can no longer be obtained by downloading Mailbox and Carousel, there are other ways to gain storage space on Dropbox. Previous versions of files and deleted files don't contribute to the storage quota, but shared folders do. Unnecessary files can be deleted and shared folders can be left if they are no longer needed in order to gain space.
A shared folder can be very useful if you're working on a project with someone else, but it takes up storage space. If you don't need a file in the folder, delete it or ask the person who created it to delete it. Leave a shared folder if you no longer need to access it. To leave a folder, click on the sharing tab from the left of the web interface in your account. Then click on "Options" to the right of your chosen folder. The box that appears on the screen will allow you to leave the folder. Once a shared folder is left it will disappear from your Dropbox folder.
While Mailbox and Carousel have gone, Dropbox Paper has been added. This free product is a solo or collaborative document creation and editing service that allows members of a team to work together. At the moment, the storage space for the documents doesn’t come from the allotted Dropbox space, though the company says that they reserve the right to change this.
Dropbox paper has text formatting tools, as would be expected, as well as the ability to import images, videos, and Dropbox files. It also has the ability to create:
- code (with automatic language detection and syntax highlighting)
- to-do tasks (which can be assigned to specific members of a team)
- calendar events
- invitations asking people to contribute to the document, which can be done in real time
The application is available to people with all Dropbox accounts, including the basic one.
When any service stores people's files or information on their computer (or computers), security is a big concern. When a file is on only one individual's computer, that individual can make decisions about how best to keep it secure. Once it's uploaded to or created on someone else's computer, the individual has to trust other people to protect their data.
The Dropbox company says that they use strong security measures. On their website they state that they have a team dedicated to maintaining security and that a user's account login "is protected by many layers of security". The files are backed up as well as being stored securely. The company claims that they use modern encryption methods to store and transfer data. Their software is "constantly being hardened to enhance security and protect against attacks".
Staff members are prohibited and technically prevented from viewing users' files, except for a few members who must be able to access files in case they're asked to do so by legal authorities. Nevertheless, no cloud storage system is perfect, including Dropbox. Problems have occurred.
Users should think very carefully before sending private or sensitive data into the cloud. Even personal photos may be inappropriate for cloud storage.
Types of Dropbox Plans
I like Dropbox and use it for backup. I also use it instead of removable media and email when I'm transferring files. I don't use it for storing or transferring private data, though. At the moment, the basic account plus the extra space that I've earned is enough for me.
There are currently four paid Dropbox plans: a plus and a professional one for individuals and a standard and an advanced one for teams. The current prices and details of the plans can be found on the company's website. The plans differ in cost, storage space, and other features.
The paid plans provide more file storage space than the basic plan and have some other advantages, but they also have a monthly or annual fee. It's a shame to pay a fee before you've tried to increase your free storage allotment. You may find that with or without bonus storage the free version of Dropbox is all that you need.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2013 Linda Crampton