This was a decision it took me a long time to arrive at, and was taken with some hesitation, but now it’s done, I have no regrets. I’d persisted trying to use Microsoft OneDrive for a long, long time, and it had made good sense to use it. My family and I have had an Office 365 Home Subscription for a couple of years, to provide us all with access to the various Microsoft Office products at a reasonable price across our various devices, and platforms – several Macs, several PCs and many iOS devices. And that includes a reasonably generous 1 Terabyte of OneDrive storage for each of our 5 family members.
For me, I professionally use Windows predominantly in my software development roles. But, by choice, for personal and other activities, such as video editing and other activities, including virtualisation, I use Mac OS X, and so I have a foot in both camps, and also have iOS based phone and tablet devices into the bargain. So once again, an Office 365 subscription should work well, as should OneDrive’s 1 Terabyte of storage that can then synchronise data across my personal Windows, Mac and iOS devices.
And that is where my issues began. On my primary Mac machine, a well equipped 2016 MacBook Pro, I’ve never found the OS X implementation of the OneDrive client to be “reliable”. The synchronisation, of what is admittedly a fairly significant amount of data I choose to replicate, just never seemed to work well. And when I say significant amount of data, I’m talking about a constantly growing set of files of around 600 GB in size. This consists of both documents, but also photos, videos, and some documents of considerable size.
By unreliable, I mean that I found working on and saving documents directly within the locally synchronised copy of my OneDrive folders just didn’t seem to work for me. The only way I could get things to work sensibly, was to work on the remote OneDrive copy of my documents – that is those files located in the OneDrive cloud – or copy finished versions of documents directly to the OneDrive cloud via the web interface – and then let OneDrive take care of downloading these new or changed documents to the local replica of those files. And if I was ever disconnected from the Internet, and made “off-line” changes – that is on my Mac – these changed files became orphans on my Mac … The Synchronisation processes just didn’t seem to work things out well … BTW, I should point I did not have synchronization of Office documents via Office enabled, so it isn’t anything to do with Office documents getting “internally” out of synch in any way. It should all have simply been working on the basis of which file was “newer”.
And to be fair, under Windows, OneDrive seems to work much, much better. It was reliable, speedy and never seemed to miss a beat. The sort of “synchronization” issues I’m describing above didn’t seem to happen. But under OS X, with what I do understand is a large volume of data, it just didn’t seem to cope. And I also should emphasise that I tried a number of things to get OneDrive to work reliably under OS X on my Mac, including:
- Uninstalling and reinstalling OneDrive – including re-downloading my entire OneDrive data contents from my Cloud based repository again – the same problems returned
- Using the “Reset OneDrive” Script embedded within the OneDrive application package – as suggested in a Microsoft KB Article.
And my reluctance to move was the fact that with the volume of data I wanted to store in the cloud being quite considerable – as I said I’ve got around 600 GB of data I want to synchronise between devices, and essentially backup – I need a tried and tested, proven product, and I was certainly going to have to pay for storing this volume of data.
I looked around at various Cloud Storage providers, and reviewed a number of articles that compared the various providers. But for me, there were several key requirements that had to be met:
- Cross-platform accessibility: As mentioned above, I need to access my cloud based files on a variety of platforms, including Windows, MAC OS X, and iOS, but I would like to see the provider of my cloud storage have as wide a list of platforms supported as possible.
- Selective file synchronization support: Obviously, on Windows and MAC OS X clients you’d commonly choose to synchronise the majority, or a larger number of the cloud based files. While on mobile operating systems, such as iOS, you’d choose to sync fewer files. However, if you’ve just got a whole folder full of the latest photos from your most recent holiday, it may make sense to have them synchronised to your mobile device for showing off as well. And to be able to do that selectively.
- Microsoft Office Integration: On Any of the platforms I work on, I’d like the cloud platform provider I work with to provide easy and tight integration with Microsoft Office.
- Reliability: And in the light of my experiences with OneDrive, and whether that has been just my bad luck, or something others using OneDrive on Mac OS X have experienced, I want my Cloud Storage Provider to “just work”, and work reliably.
After reviewing the options available, I settled essentially on two of the larger players in the market:
- Google Drive: Would have been ideal, as I already have a significant relationship with Google and a drive account. The drive account I have is limited to the same 30 GB quota that I have for my current mailbox.
- Dropbox: Once again, I already have a Dropbox account, but have only used it infrequently.
To evaluate them further, I looked at both in much greater detail, and these were the pros and cons of each:
- Google Drive Pros:
- Slightly Cheaper – 1TB = $125 AUD Annually, 2TB = $25 AUD Monthly, 10TB = $125 AUD Monthly
- Part of my “existing” relationship with Google for GMail
- Google Drive Cons:
- Poor / Non-existent integration with Office iOS Apps
- Web Interface is a little clunky
- Dropbox Pros:
- Excellent integration with Office Apps for iOS, Windows and Mac
- Strong synchronization across all platforms, Windows, Mac and Mobile clients (i.e. iOS) – i.e. Offline use
- Dropbox Cons:
- Slightly More Expensive – 1TB = $153 AUD Annually, 2TB = $31 AUD Monthly / $307 AUD Annually
After reviewing these characteristics, and how they affected my potential use, and exploring both products further using my existing accounts to evaluate them “hands-on” in more detail, I finally decided to go with Dropbox, with probably the key feature that swung the decision in Dropbox’s favour being Google Drive’s relatively poor integration with the iOS versions of the Microsoft Office products.
I’m still in the throes of “transcribing” my rather significant volume of files up to Dropbox, which as you’d imagine across a “standard” cable connection is taking a reasonable amount of time. But I’m already very pleased with the behaviour of the Dropbox application across all of my platforms, and how it integrates with both the operating systems I use, and the applications I use.
With regard to the upload of files, I’m doing it from my MacBook Pro, and I’ve done it by simply copying the files I wish to move to the Cloud into my local DropBox folders. Dropbox is then taking what I’d call a very “intelligent” approach to the upload of these folders and files, which I assume is “standard” Dropbox behaviour. You might wonder what are some of the largest files that go to making up some of that 600GB to be uploaded? Well there’s some significant videos, of sporting events, such as great football games, and last year’s Super Bowl, when the Philadelphia Eagles won, and some great family videos, some great technical videos, and some excellent basketball coaching videos etc., etc. So as you can imagine, there’s some very large files waiting to be uploaded.
And yes, what’s interesting about the way Dropbox is choosing to upload things, is that it is doing the upload of files in ascending size order. So, when the upload started last week sometime, there were 35,000 files to be uploaded … Now this evening, there’s only 466 left, but it is still quoting that it will take many, many days to complete, because the files remaining are the 466 biggest files.
But that doesn’t worry me, because I’ve got all these files in at least two locations locally, and for the vast majority of my files – all my cherished photos, the majority of my critical documents, the vast majority of working technical documents – they are already safely up in Dropbox. And additionally, the vast majority also reside in OneDrive which I’m esentially “manually” keeping up to date as a backup!
So the approach Dropbox has taken to the upload these files, in ascending size order, seems perfectly sensible to me. And as I’ve seen the uploading process is perfectly “interruptible”. When I shut the machine down each night, and start it again the morning, it simply reconnects to the Dropbox server the next morning and kicks off from where it was and begins uploading the files from where it left off.
I should also say how pleased I am with the Dropbox iOS client. It’s exceptionally sophisticated. For example, here’s a folder with some recent photos.
Note that you can see which documents – in this case photos – have been downloaded to the device for “offline usage”. And if you click on the + symbol at the bottom left hand corner of the application, you’re able to add documents to the current folder in a variety of ways:
You can add photos from scanning, taking photos, adding a new folder or creating new files in a variety of ways, as demonstrated in the next screen shot.
Here, the high level of integration with the Microsoft Office suite is demonstrated very well, but the iOS client has a whole range of additional features, which I’m very impressed with. The information symbol at the bottom right hand corner, particularly when viewing images like this one, displays extensive information about the file, and in the case of geo-coded images, includes a map. So in summary, I’m very happy with my move to Dropbox, and I’ll follow up with a review in a few months time, once all of my files are moved over, and I’ve been working with it for a while, across all of my platforms.
I’ve yet to work closely with its version control, or the retrieval of inadvertently deleted documents and the like. So let’s see how we go. But in the meantime, all seems good in the Dropbox cloud!