How to use iCloud like a Dropbox or Google Drive-style cloud store

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While Apple never meant iCloud to work like Dropbox or Google Drive, if you don’t mind polishing up your ninja-skills you can get it to do just that!

There’s no shortage of online storage solutions — Dropbox, Box.net, SugarSync, Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple’s soon-to-be end-of-lifed iDisk, and now, Google Drive. Apple’s new iCloud isn’t meant to be online storage at all; it’s designed to abstract away messy concepts like file systems and folders and tuck everything away neatly behind apps.

But that doesn’t work for everybody. Now, like my colleagues here at iMore, I think Dropbox is currently the best cloud storage solution for iPhone and iPad users. However, Dropbox gives you a measly 2GB of free storage and charges a pretty hefty premium for more.

iCloud, on the other hand, gives you 5GB for free and if you are a prior MobileMe user – you should currently have 25GB of storage space available to you. Like Dropbox, you can always buy more space if need be.

iCloud is great for automatically storing your device backups, keeping all your personal information – contacts, etc. and for uploading Word, PowerPoint and Excel files (see our ultimate guide to iCloud for detailed instructions on how to do all of that and more).  Did you know, however, that you can also (with a little tweaking) upload movies, audio files and pictures to store in iCloud for safe keeping?

Sure, you could get an extra 5GB of free storage with Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, or by combining other accounts, but if you’re already an iCloud user, you may not want the extra hassle of maintaining multiple accounts. You might just want to have your iCloud cake and eat it to. So here’s how.

Note: These directions are for Mac OS X users, we’ll do a Windows version soon.

How to use iCloud like Dropbox or Google Drive

First, make sure that iCloud is up and running on your Mac.

  1. Launch System Preferences on your Mac.
  2. Click on iCloud.
  3. Make sure Documents and Data is checked.
  4. Close System Preferences.
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Make sure Documents and Data is checked in the iCloud settings

Next we have to go to where iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud live.

How to create aliases for Documents in the Cloud folders.

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Use the Go to Folder command to find the hidden library folders

  1. Launch the Finder
  2. In the Menu click on the Go menu and then down to Go to Folder (or use the keyboard shortcut, CMD + SHIFT + G)
  3. Type ~/library/ and click on Go
  4. Double click on the folder called Mobile Downloads (if it isn’t there – don’t panic, we will show you how to create it below).
  5. Find the folders that store your Documents in the Cloud, namely:
    1. Com~apple~pages
    2. Com~apple-numbers
    3. Com~apple~keynote
  6. Double click on the com~apple~pages folder.
  7. Right click on the Documents folder.
  8. Select Create Alias, which will put an alias for that folder on your desktop.
  9. Repeat this procedure on all Macs that use your iCloud account.

How to create the Mobile Documents folder

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Find the Documents sub folder in the com~apple~pages folder

If you don’t see the Mobile Documents folder, you can actually create it:

  1. Launch Finder.
  2. In the Menu click on the Go menu and then down to Go to Folder (or use the keyboard shortcut, CMD + SHIFT + G)
  3. Type ~/library/ and click on Go
  4. Click on File in the menu and then New Folder.
  5. Name the new folder Mobile Documents.
  6. Double click the new folder and make a series of new folders called:
    1. Com~apple~pages
    2. Com~apple-numbers
    3. Com~apple~keynote
  7. Double click on the com~apple~pages folder.
  8. Right click on the Documents folder.
  9. Select Create Alias, which will put an alias for that folder on your desktop.
  10. Repeat this procedure on all Macs that use your iCloud account.

How to use iCloud alias folders

Now that you have your Documents in the Cloud folders aliased to your desktop, all you have to do is drag and drop files into them. Drag Word and text documents into the Pages folder, Spreadsheets into the Numbers folder, and Presentations into the Keynote folder.

If everything is properly set up and working, dragging a file into the folder on one computer will automatically put it into the folder on the other computers that use your iCloud account, just like Dropbox!

How to use iCloud to store music, movies, photos, and other files

Now, this is great if you are using Office files, but what if you want to use your iCloud to store movies, audio files or pictures?

Fortunately, there is a workaround to upload any file to iCloud – not just documents.

This method works with images, videos, audio files – even full directories and stores them in your iCloud account for later retrieval.

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Click on the iWork icon from your iCloud app

  1. login into iCloud.com
  2. Click on the iWork icon
  3. Click on Upload

You’ll see that you can only upload Word or Pages documents, Excel or Numbers documents, PowerPoint of Keynote documents or text files. That’s where this gets tricky.

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Click the gear icon and then upload and you see you are limited in what you can upload to iCloud

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Here I'm going to right click on the Dark Knight file and select Compress

  1. Navigate to any video, image or audio file (or even folder)
  2. Right click on it and select Compress from the contextual menu
  3. Add .txt to the end of the file the extension.
  4. Agree to the file extension warning to confirm you want to make the change.
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Warning about changing the extension of the file to a .txt extension

Now, go back to iCloud on your computer

  1. Click on the Gear button in the upper right hand corner
  2. Click on Upload Document
  3. Select the file you just compressed and changed the extension for.

Now, when you go to Pages, you will see the file (it will look like a text file) and it should show up on every device you have connected to the iCloud account.

To retrieve the file from another computer, just repeat the process in reverse.

  1. login into iCloud.com
  2. Click on the iWork icon
  3. Download the file
  4. Go to your Downloads folder.

And there’s your file. Just rename it back to .zip, uncompress, and voila!

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Our movie file – renamed to a .txt file is being uploaded to iCloud for safe storage

Yes, as hacks go it’s really ugly and really inefficient, but if you understand how the iCloud and Mac filesystems works, and ever really need it in a pinch, it’s there for you. (Unless or until Apple changes things — that’s the risk of using any hack.)

More on using iCloud like Dropbox or Google Drive

So, that’s how you can take advantage of your free iCloud storage to store more than just the music and movies you buy from iTunes and your personal information.

Is newfound cloud storage helpful to you? Share you experiences in this forum thread.

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