Dropbox, Zotero and other useful tools for the itinerant student

January 13th, 2010

I’ve been a fan of online backup services for a while now – in fact, I’ve been using JungleDisk to keep backups of my photos for over a year. But I was more recently introduced to Dropbox, which is similar but also different. Dropbox creates an area on your hard disk which is automatically backed up to their servers, but which is also synchronised with any other computer you have logged in to your Dropbox account. I’ve used this to allow me to bring all my work-related files with me to Ottawa. Before I left Cambridge, I copied the contents of my personal area on the file server to the Dropbox area on my work laptop. At CRC I’m not allowed to connect my work laptop to their network, so I installed Dropbox on the desktop PC there and it all synced across. Now when i work on the desktop PC during the day all my files are backed up to Dropbox and can then sync back to either my work or personal laptops when I get back to the apartment in the evening.

When I finally go back to Cambridge, I can use SyncToy to keep the file server at work in sync with the Dropbox system, giving me an additional backup. It’ll be great for visits to Leicester and for working from home, too – because all the files are locally cached, I can work with or without internet access and things will sync back when the machine next connects.

One further refinement I added today was making Zotero work with Dropbox. Zotero is a plugin for Firefox that handles citations – I use it in preference to Endnote, Refworks or CiteULike because of the ease of adding papers to Zotero’s database from within the browser. Anyway, moving my Zotero folder to the Dropbox folder now means that all my citations databases stay synchronised across all my computers, which is great!

If you’d like to try Dropbox, you get 2GB of storage free, and if you sign up via my referral link we both get an extra 250MB of space.

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