January 15, 2013, 8:00 AM — This content is excerpted from "Dropbox In 30 Minutes" by Ian Lamont, part of the In 30 Minutes™ family of technology guides.
Here's a common scenario. You're working on an important file on your desktop computer in your cubicle. Let's call it "NCAA_Office_Pool.xls". But you're traveling next week, and want to take the file with you on your laptop to continue your "work". Up until now, you may have transferred NCAA_Office_Pool.xls using the office network or USB drive, or even emailed the file to yourself to download and open up on the laptop.
Dropbox handles things differently. It's nearly effortless. As long as the Dropbox application is installed on both computers and linked to the same Dropbox account, the transfer takes place in the background, thanks to *automatic synchronization*. Setup is explained below.
How To Do It
1) Make sure the Dropbox app is installed on both computers (Note: For office computers, check with your IT department to determine whether Dropbox is a permitted application).
2) Log into the same Dropbox account from the Dropbox app on both computers.
3) Create the file and save it to Dropbox on the first computer.
4) Make sure the automatic sync takes place on the first computer (look for the green check mark on the Dropbox icon in the Windows System Tray/Mac Menu Bar).
5) Turn on the second computer, and check to see if the automatic sync has taken place there as well (the Dropbox icon in the System Tray or Menu Bar will have a small check on it).
6) You can now open the file on the second computer!
Any edits you make on the file will be updated on Dropbox as long as you are connected to the Internet. This means you can immediately shift back to working on the same file on the first computer, without having to manually update the file. If you add a third computer to your Dropbox account, a copy of the file will be created there as well.
There's not much else to say about transferring files between multiple computers, except to make sure the *automatic syncing* takes place on the second computer. This is a real concern if you're traveling, because you may not have easy access to a fast Internet connection to sync the latest version of the file(s) you want to edit.
More tips on using multiple computers with a single Dropbox account is explained in Chapter 2 of Dropbox In 30 Minutes.
Ian Lamont is an award-winning journalist who launched the In 30 Minutes™ book series after graduating from MIT Sloan. Follow him on twitter at @ilamont.