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Dropbox 101: Time to Dive In

By Vivian Manning

You’ve heard the hype (Drop Your Data Into DropboxThe Essential Cloud: Top Tools for Lawyers), read the warnings (Reasonable Care in the Cloud, Stepping Into the Cloud: Practice Management Tools) and have decided to take Dropbox for a test-drive. Just one problem. Even though you’re sure about the “why,” you’re not so sure about the “how”—how to sign up, how to install, how to use.

Well, now’s the time to throw away that uncertainty because you’re about to learn, in excruciating detail, just how to dive into Dropbox.

Your Step-by-Step Dropbox Guide

Not surprisingly, it all starts with your web browser, like this:

  • Head off to and start by watching that video. It’ll take two minutes of your time, but it’s time well spent.
  • When you’re ready, take a deep breath and click that big blue Download Dropbox button. Follow all the install prompts, however your computer presents them to you, accepting all defaults.
  • When the install is complete, look down at your System Tray—it’s that area on the bottom-right side of your monitor where your system clock is (or in the upper-right menu bar for Macs). You’ll see a new icon: a little blue box. When you see that icon there, it means Dropbox is running. It’s important to keep it running!
  • You might think you’re done, but you’re not. Now’s the time to head back to your browser and click I don’t have a Dropbox account and click Next.
  • Fill out the new account fields with all your own info, and click “I have read and agree to the Terms of Service.” (You either agree, or you don’t get the service!) Click Next again (and you’ll be doing a lot of that).
  • Select your Dropbox size. Stick with “free 2GB” for now, you can always upgrade later if you need the extra space. There’s that Next button again. Click it.
  • In the Choose Setup Type screen, click Typical. This will put your Dropbox folder inside your My Documents folder. If you want to change the location later you can, but it’s best to start with the default. Now click another Next.
  • If you want to link your Dropbox to your smartphone, stick the phone number in the Set Up Your Smartphone screen. Click Next again.
  • Read the “Welcome to Dropbox” message. Don’t skip this—it’s short and really helpful. Click five more Nexts as you move through each screen … aaanddd … finished!
  • Your new Dropbox folder will open locally on your computer. You’ll see that it’s inside your My Documents folder, and contains some sample files and folders, including a very valuable Getting Started file. READ THE GETTING STARTED FILE! (Yes, that’s me shouting. Read it. It’s only four pages and you’ll be glad you did.)
  • Now head into your email to see the confirmation email from Dropbox. Click on the link.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, annoy your friends and colleagues with invitations, unless you really enjoy annoying them.
It’s Playtime

Now that you have your own little Dropbox in the cloud, it’s time to play, because play is the best way to learn something new. Create a test file (a Word doc, Excel spreadsheet, PDF—the type doesn’t matter). Save it to your computer’s new Dropbox folder in My Documents. Close the file—that’s important because Dropbox won’t sync an open file. Head to your Dropbox on the web by signing in at (with the credentials you created earlier) and presto! There’s your test file. You saved it locally and Dropbox took care of syncing it up to your web Dropbox. Now delete that file from your web Dropbox and take a peek at your local Dropbox folder in My Documents and you’ll find the file is gone from there. (If it doesn’t happen instantaneously, it will happen quite quickly.)

Practice (play) until you are comfortable with how syncing takes place, but essentially it’s this: The Dropbox icon in your System Tray monitors your local Dropbox folder. Any time it senses a new, deleted or changed file, it will sync with your web-based Dropbox.

To make the syncing of files even more useful, install Dropbox on your home computer. (This time you’ll tell it that you already have an account and you’ll use your existing credentials.) When the install is complete, Dropbox will sync the contents of your web-based Dropbox with your home computer, so now you have those files in three places: work computer, web and home computer. A change made at any one will automatically sync to the other two, assuming Dropbox is running.

And, of course, there’s a mobile Dropbox app for just about every system you can think of, so you can access the same files from any device with Internet access. Just to add to the goodness, Dropbox runs on Mac and Linus, too, so all the bases are covered. If you really want to dig further into Dropbox, Guiding Tech has a good guide with helpful screenshots.

There you are! You have your Dropbox and now you can decide how you want to use it. Me? I save all my blogging articles there—that way I can work on them wherever I am, with no worry about whether I’ve remembered to bring them along. If I have an Internet connection, I have my articles. Have Dropbox, will travel!

Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office. She indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech, where she provides “tips of the day.”

Categories: Cloud Computing, Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology
Originally published November 1, 2012
Last updated April 27, 2018
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Vivian Manning

Vivian Manning retired from Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario in 2019. For more than 16 years she served as the firm’s IT manager, office manager and technology trainer. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston LLP (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with a total of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office.


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