Some good news as reported by 9to5 Mac. I’ve been using Maestral for months now as my Dropbox replacement client and I have no complaints. I’ll cover Maestral in more detail later, but the short review is: Fewer features. Less nonsense. No problems.
Unrelated, I also am hearing from sources that Dropbox is divesting from its substantial investment in buggy-whip factories. They’ve decided that the horseless carriage might be here to stay.
Last month I wrote about my attempt to abandon Dropbox. I had a few good reasons for that. First, I don’t like the way Dropbox installs itself on my Mac. Dropbox goes way beyond a typical Mac application with its install, including an entirely separate file manager. Second, Dropbox prices are going up while my usage is going down. So it seemed like a good idea to see if I could get by without it for a few months and hopefully make the right decision about renewal.
Well, I’m keeping it. But not for the reasons you are probably thinking.
iCloud Drive and sharing have not failed me. On the contrary, they have worked better than I expected. I have kept a lot of data on iCloud, and I have not had any show-stopper problems. I am currently working on a new edition of the Paperless Field Guide. I am running the entire editing workflow through a series of shared iCloud folders, and it has worked exactly as expected. Granted, there is still plenty of work to do with iCloud Drive, but it is working well enough to handle sharing when I am in control of sharing.
The trouble is those instances where I am not in control. For example, I have many clients who have never heard of iCloud Drive and do not own Macs. They have, however, all heard of and installed Dropbox. When you work in a service industry, adopting a technology that requires your clients to change their technology never works. Also, I make three separate podcasts that invite guests who also sometimes do not have access to iCloud. In the end, I am keeping Dropbox—not for myself but for others.
Somewhat related, I did not install the Dropbox app on my laptop but instead use their web interface when I need to access my Dropbox storage. It cuts me out of a lot of automation, and it is generally slower, but I can avoid its intrusive install this way.
All that said, Dropbox still has many features that sure would be nice in iCloud, like a much better implementation of version history and deletion recovery. I was hoping we would get some more functionality for iCloud Drive this year at WWDC, but we didn’t. I was hoping I could throw Dropbox overboard. One less service and one less thing to pay for sure sounded nice.
Now that Apple can share files and folders, I’m sorely tempted to let my Dropbox subscription expire. I’m generally not a fan of apps that embed themselves in the underlying operating system the way that Dropbox does on the Mac. Indeed on my laptop, I didn’t install the Dropbox hacks. When I need to upload a file there, I trigger a Keyboard Maestro script that gets me to the Dropbox website, and I drag and drop into the browser. Also, I don’t want to give another pile of money to Dropbox.
A few reasons are holding me back at the moment:
iCloud Doubt Dropbox has always been rock-solid and fast. I’m not aware of ever losing a file through the Dropbox cloud sync, and I’ve always been impressed with Dropbox’s synchronization speed. Is iCloud up to that? It has been stable for me in terms of file and sync integrity. It’s definitely slower than Dropbox.
Non-Apple People In the day job, I often have people I share files with that don’t own any hardware with a fruit logo. Historically, iCloud sharing has not been useful outside the Apple ecosystem. That is getting better now, but is it good enough yet?.
Apple could make this decision a lot easier for me later this month if they add additional features for iCloud sharing at WWDC. While I’ve got some time left on my annual Dropbox subscription, I’m keeping it as a backup, but I’m also trying not to use it. If I can get by a few months without having to resort to Dropbox, I’m probably good. Ideally, one cloud storage service is enough for me.
This week Dropbox announced a new individual tier, Dropbox Professional. For $20 a month you get 1 TB of storage, which is the same amount of storage with the Dropbox Plus plan at $10 a month. However, there are some additional features like smart sync, which lets you access all of your Dropbox-stored files without necessarily keeping them on your device and full-text search, which lets you search the contents of your files stored on Dropbox.
The sharing and collaboration tools also include some additional features including shared link controls which lets you manage access and visibility of shared documents.
At this point, I have largely divested myself of Dropbox except for some of its sharing features as I’ve been continuing my iCloud experiment. If iCloud didn’t exist, I probably would upgrade to the professional plan. The additional features are useful, mainly if you’re running on a laptop with limited storage. I do wish however that for $20/month they provided more storage than the same amount you get for the $10 tier. Dropbox has a page outlining the differences between the various individual plans.
Dropbox has long been an essential service for iOS power users but you wouldn’t know that based on their app. Today that changed with the release of a new version with several substantial new improvements including:
1. PDF Signing
You can now sign a PDF document right inside the Dropbox application. It’s not a substitute for a quality PDF application but in a jam, it will get the job done.
2. Messages Support
You can now link a Dropbox file from right inside messages instead of having to go back to the application for a link.
3. Widget Support
There’s now a Dropbox widget so you can create, view, and upload files from the widget.
4. Notifications and Lock Screen
Dropbox supports notifications including letting you know when someone saves a new version of a file. This is another feature that will make Dropbox-based collaboration easier.
5. Picture in Picture
I’ve got a lot of media stored on Dropbox. I’ve long waited for this feature that lets Dropbox become an iOS media player.
The feature I want most in iOS Dropbox, split screen, sadly isn’t part of the update but Dropbox promises it is coming soon.
Edit in Place?
Another feature I’d like to see Dropbox support is true “edit in place” functionality. Currently, if you want to edit a Pages document or PDF file stored in Dropbox, it gets sent out to the third party application where it makes a copy and then you have all the shenanigans that result from multiple copies of documents. Dropbox does support edit in place with Microsoft Word documents and PDFs (if you’ll edit them in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat) but that is far too limiting. iCloud actually does a better job at this part of the equation than Dropbox. Hopefully more robust edit in place support is on the horizon.
Dropbox just continues to get more useful every day. At this point, I believe it is mandatory for anybody who wants to get work done on an iPad. If Dropbox’s own developer API, letting you load and save documents to your Dropbox space from iOS devices, wasn’t enough, you can now turn your Dropbox storage into its own WebDAV server. Using DropDAV, I now have the ability to access my Dropbox storage through any Webdav enabled application. Most importantly, this opens all of the iPad iWork apps to Dropbox storage. I’ve been using it a few weeks without a hitch.
You still need to save the work back to Dropbox when you are done but at least it lets you thumb your nose at the iPad iWork team for not enabling Dropbox access. The services is free with a 2GB Dropbox account and $3/month with a 50GB account. You could also use this to sync your OmniFocus database. If any readers have ideas for other uses of a WebDAV connection to Dropbox, sound off in the comments.
iPad owning, Dropbox using geeks rejoice. My friend, Don McAllister, wrote up the new version nicely.
Dropbox is acknowledging a problem with syncing metadata heavy files like those in Scrivener. I’ve been syncing Scrivener files over Dropbox for sometime with no issue. Before, when I used SugarSync, I experienced this problem and it ultimately drove me to Dropbox. Regardless, I am taking new steps to keep local copies of all Scrivener files and encourage you to do so until Dropbox sorts this out.