Using Dropbox to access your notes from many computers

January 30, 2017 (519)

in In-depth Articles, Managing WhizFolder files

Using Dropbox with WhizFolders is the perfect solution to access your notes from many computers. I have edited this article again to make it shorter.

Here is a short introduction to Dropbox that will help you use it with any file application like WhizFolders.

  1. Install Dropbox on all computers where you want to use a note file.
  2. Keep all your note files to be shared within Dropbox in a folder that you can identify later for locating that file. For example, normally you keep your WhizFolder files in “Documents” folder of Windows. But instead, now you keep them in a subfolder of Dropbox folder, for example, in “C:\Dropbox\My notes”.
  3. Now use your program normally with the above files in the Dropbox folder. For example, open a note file in WhizFolders and change it.
  4. As soon as you close this file, Dropbox will place copies of this file on all those PCs in the same subfolder of Dropbox. It uses Internet to do that so those PCs must be connected to Internet. Now, if you open the same note file on another PC, you will see the latest changes in it.
  5. What is more, all these files are also present in the Dropbox folder on the Cloud (server) and you can see them if you login to Dropbox from a Browser.
  6. This gives you great convenience! Suppose you have a Desktop PC at home, a laptop while travelling and a Desktop PC at your office. If you install Dropbox and WhizFolders on all of them, you are good to go. You can have all your WhizFolder notes available on all the PCs in their latest state, provided you follow certain discipline as described in the Key Points below.

Read another article at the end:

Also, don’t forget to read the nice article at the end, “Using Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) with WhizFolders,” contributed by Mary Bernard, a long time user of WhizFolders.

Key points on Dropbox overview and usage with WhizFolders:

  1. Dropbox operates through Internet. It watches the Dropbox folder on all your PCs that are connected to Internet and logged into the same Dropbox account.
  2. As soon as you change a note file on any PC (change means edit and close the file), it gets the file from that PC and transfers it to all your PCs.
  3. Since for typical note files, this may hardly take a few seconds, it means your notes are backed up and instantly available across all the connected PCs as well as on Internet folder of Dropbox itself.
  4. But to get this convenience, you need to follow a discipline as described in the following points:
    A. Do not keep the same note file open on many PCs. If you do that, the file is locked and Dropbox does not consider it a change till you close the file and it can read it.

    B.  If you don’t follow the above rule, conflicts may arise when uploading files. For example, you opened a file on PC1. Then you opened the same file on PC2 and added a note and closed it. Dropbox uploaded the file from PC2 to its own Internet folder. But then when copying to PC1, it found that PC1 has this file already open and Dropbox could not replace it. This is called a conflict. Now if you change the file on PC1 and close it, it’s already out of sync with the one uploaded from PC2 and on dropbox. In this case, Dropbox uploads the PC1 file with “conflicted copy” in its file name. This is just an example. Actual process may be more complicated and may follow a different sequence but you got the idea. So you need to look in your Dropbox folder from time to time to see if Conflicted copies exist. If they do, this means you didn’t follow the rule last time. But all is not lost. You have all your changes in both the original and conflicted files. But you will need to open them in WhizFolders and do some manual work to compare and sync the notes yourself. In this case, you can take help of WhizFolders’ “View–Topics by Modified date” feature to find the notes that changed recently in a file. But this may be tedious depending on the number of changes made on each PC. In any case, it’s better to avoid this situation and follow the rule I described above. If you do, it works smoothly.

    C. Always close WhizFolders before you shut down the PC or put it to sleep. Why? Because if you changed certain files, they will be uploaded by Dropbox to the cloud as soon as they are closed as the part of shut down. But if the file is large, Dropbox may not get the time to fully upload it before the shutdown. Dropbox does not seem to hold the shutdown just for uploads because they may take too much time. To avoid this problem, if you make it a practice to close WhizFolders explicitly before a shutdown then Dropbox gets enough time to finish the upload. In fact, you can wait for it to complete before doing a shutdown. Otherwise, if Dropbox is not able to complete an upload and then you go and edit the file on another PC, the conflicted copies will be created as described above.

What about accessing your notes from other types of computers or tablets? Currently, WhizFolders only runs on Windows so it’s not possible to access WhizFolder notes from other types of computers. But we are working on a web application that will allow that. However, you can export your WhizFolder notes to Text or RTF files and then copy them to dropbox. Then you can connect to Dropbox from mobile devices or a Mac and at least view those files by any text or RTF viewer. If you make a change to them, you will need to manually copy the changes on the original PC. But still, it’s possible.

Interestingly, I came to know of Dropbox from an advanced user of WhizFolders, Mary Bernard. She contributed an excellent article that I’m including below. All along, Mary has been giving many nice ideas to improve WhizFolders. I’m sure this article will be useful to many users. Comments or questions are welcome but you need to send them to me by email.

Using Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) with WhizFolders
by Mary Bernard

Dropbox is a file syncing web application. The first 2 Gb of storage are free, above that there’s quite a reasonable monthly fee. So far I haven’t needed even 1 GB.

You can install the Dropbox wherever you want. I suspect it offers to install in My Documents, but I no longer remember. (I never use My Documents if I can help it.) The program has an option to change the path for its user folder, which is called ‘My Dropbox.’

You can use the Dropbox program for sharing files with others (they also have to install Dropbox on their computers), or to sync files on a home network. To do this, you have to install Dropbox on each computer on the network that you want to sync files with.

Anything you put in ‘My Dropbox,’ or one of its subfolders, propagates to the ether, very fast. If I put a file in ‘My Dropbox’ on my desktop computer, and walk across the room to my open laptop, the file has arrived in the laptop’s ‘My dropbox’ folder by the time I get there.

You can drop files into the main ”My Dropbox’ folder or into user-created subfolders (which will also sync across the network.

You can sync manually or automatically.

Manual Syncing

You drag files or folders from anywhere on your hard drives into ‘My Dropbox’ (copying or moving, as you wish). You then, in another computer on the network, go to Dropbox, select the files, and drag them wherever you want them on that computer.

One example: When I download a program or an update to one of my computers,  I drag a copy into ‘My Dropbox,’ then run it my other computers the next time I open them, and save a copy to the folder where I keep the downloaded files after installing them. When I’ve installed the program in all 3 computers, I delete it from the dropbox.

Automatic Syncing

You can store your data files in ‘My Dropbox’ or user-created subfolders. I have one called “WhizFolders,” and I have told the program to store all my WhizFolder files there. It’s a wonderful luxury. I add things to various WhizFolders just about every day. Now I don’t have to remember to copy the changed files to my laptops.

I’ve begun to use subfolders of ‘My Dropbox’ as the location for the data files for my most-used programs. For instance, I use Macro Express. The file that stores the macros, ‘macex.mex,’ is now in the Dropbox. I’ve only begun this process, because it takes time: changing the path for data storage in each program–and figuring out how to do it. I haven’t yet tried to make programs like Word and Outlook use the dropbox for customization files such as spell checkers, templates etc.

Nor, as yet, can I use  ‘My Dropbox\WhizFolders’ as the default folder for my customized WhizFolders spell checker and the .wzfgrp files that hold my Document Group settings. (note from WhizFolders support: we’re looking into improving this).

Tips:

  1. It’s very easy to drag files into the Dropbox from the same drive, thus moving them when you only want to copy them.
  2. ‘My Dropbox’ has 2 folders pre-installed: Photos and Public. Unlike the main folder, or user-created subfolders, they and their contents are visible on the web by default.
  3. The usefulness of the Photos folder is vitiated by the fact that, if you want someone to see your photos, they have to install Dropbox. This is a serious limitation, since  computer-savvy people are usually leery of installing extra programs just to look at pictures, and non-computer-savvy people get flustered at the very idea of installing programs.

After reading this article, a thought popped up in mind as a developer–to use this properly, you need discipline too to take care not to edit the same file on two computers at the same time.

Here is a question I asked Mary: “Does this mean you keep  your WhizFolder data files in DropBox all the time and you update directly from in there? Or do you copy it out, edit it and then put it back? The reason is that WhizFolders has the file open Exclusively while you are editing it. All this while, DropBox can’t really get its data. So if you happen to edit a file on one computer while you have its copy open on another computer will put these files out of sync because both will have new data. In other words, this would need a little discipline. Same would happen with MS Word because it opens the file exclusively. Is there a way around this problem?”

Mary answered:
“Yes, the WhizFolder data files are now in the WZ subfolder of My Dropbox, permanently. (The backup folder is different in each computer.)”

“I don’t ‘update directly from in there’, if by that you mean ‘copy the files to another folder on the computer in order to open/use them’. I open them directly from the dropbox, and they are saved/updated directly to it.”

“It had occurred to me that if I wandered from computer to computer, opening the same Whizfolder file and saving it, I could be in trouble –but so far I’ve managed to have enough wit to avoid that. You’re right that it needs a little discipline–but less than it does to remember to copy my recently used WhizFolder data files to 2 other computers.”

Also see:

The tips on “Cloud” drives at the end of the article What are WhizFolder files.

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