Cloud Storage Forecast Unsettled, with Possible Storms

Originally published at: Cloud Storage Forecast Unsettled, with Possible Storms - TidBITS

Triggered by a conflation of recent cloud storage issues, Adam Engst examines the real-world experience surrounding cloud storage and explores a variety of quirks, irritations, and gotchas with Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and OneDrive.

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Just two little bits to add to @ace’s nice and comprehensive article.

You can get around Dropbox’ 3-device limitation (at least on Mac) if instead of their bloated client you use the nice and sleek Maestral. It’s free and open source. I’ve been using it for a while on my M1 pro MBP and I love it. Lightweight and gets the job done without all the useless bloat Dropbox added over the years (in fact, Maestral looks/feels kind of like the ~2015 Dropbox client).

Howard Oakley just today wrote a piece on recent iCloud woes and how for most people it would be advisable to view cloud storage as complementary to rather than replacement for local storage.


Strong agreement with Simon. I’ve removed from most Macs, leaving it only on a work iMac which needs its proxy support (not available in Maestral, at least when I switched). Dropbox iOS/iPadOS clients don’t count against the 3-device limit, so I’m only using 1/3 slots. Unfortunately work blocks iCloud Drive too, breaking various Apple sync services, so Dropbox is still important to me…

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Ooo, I’ve been meaning to check out Maestral, but I didn’t realize that it worked around the three-device limitation. That’s a game-changer for me.

I didn’t realize iOS devices didn’t count against the limit—I wonder if that changed, since I thought I’d had some arguments with Dropbox on my iPhone.

Unfortunately, that’s the only benefit to the app, in my opinion. You actually lose some important functionality.

From the Maestral website:


Currently, Maestral does not support Dropbox Paper, the management of Dropbox teams and the management of shared folder settings. If you need any of this functionality, please use the Dropbox website or the official client.

Maestral uses the public Dropbox API which, unlike the official client, does not support transferring only those parts of a file which changed (“binary diff”). Maestral may therefore use more bandwidth that the official client. However, it will avoid uploading or downloading a file if it already exists with the same content locally or in the cloud.

Thankfully, I don’t need any of these things. I just need my files to sync properly. My internet isn’t metered, so slightly more bandwidth is fine with me.

I don’t use Maestral to avoid paying for DB - I use it because the Dropbox client keeps trying to get me to give it admin rights with every app update that I don’t want it to have. Maestral in my experience also uses quite a bit less RAM than the stock DropBox client.

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I downloaded Maestral and it crashes immediately on startup, and then puts up a window apparently unable to load something to report the reason (?). Does it require anything else installed first? I’m Big Sur, latest version.

Dropbox has the benefit that it actually works. Without any babysitting. On my Air iCloud stopped synching from one day to the next. Error messages or anything: no dice. I just tried to turn off iCloud drive and back on. Now I can’t put anything in the iCloud folder.

My scrollbars are set to show always. The listbox in System Preferences → Apple ID → iCloud doesn’t show a scrollbar.

I switched from Dropbox to Sync back when Dropbox seemed to always be installing large updates and forever asking for more permissions. Sync is fully encrypted and doesn’t seem to continually demanding attention.

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My problem with iCloud Sync is that the Desktop and Documents folders in iCloud Drive refuse to stay on. I check the box, I close the window, I reopen that window and the checkmark is gone. Very frustrating. The actual syncing seems to work but I need to put aliases of the folders on my desktop.

I’m using odrive as a unified front end to Dropbox, Google Drive and (sometimes) OneDrive. I like the use of distinct empty place-holder files, since I can see and control what is and isn’t sync’ed, although this might be less of an issue depending how smart the new macOS feature is. No mention on the odrive forum of the impact of this latest change though.

… experienced several instances where syncing gets stuck, either for a single file or everything. An indication that this has happened is a cloud icon next to a file that never goes away…

This has been an ongoing issue on my '21 M1 Mac for the last 6+ months. Any file (even a tiny one) I create inside the iCloud Drive refuses to upload (the cloud icon and the “waiting to upload” message). Restart and resetting iCloud has not helped.

Files created on other devices do download, and the same iCloud account works on other Macs in the house on the same network. Have been on and off with Apple Support, and even after multiple rounds of diagnosis and data collection, the issue remains unresolved.

This has never happened with any of the other file sync services I have used in the past (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc.), and I would love to get off iCloud at this time, was it not for the storage I need for Photos (which, surprisingly, syncs without problems on the same machine).

I have effectively given up on iCloud Drive at this time, and am gradually moving these folders to my local Synology NAS. Unfortunately, the Synology Drive software has its own issues…

Does anyone have instructions for installing Maestral to replace Dropbox? It immediately crashes for me on startup. (Big Sur)

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the term “deprecated”. It means it is not the preferred choice going forward and will not receive future updates - developers are warned to move development to newer more secure methods going forward. Deprecated in no way means abandoned, though in years hence it could be removed.

Also I have never had a synching issue with iCloud that has not involved an internet or wifi outage in general. I’d dig a little deeper to see what might be impacting you

I’d love to use, but my issue is that they have a 5 active device limit. I have four Macs, an iPad, and a phone, so I’d need to leave one of those devices off.

I think iOS things are included in Dropbox’ 3 device limit, or else I’ve still some old Mac connected. Because there is currently no Dropbox client for Raspberry Pi, this limit is not so much of a problem for me, as my employer provides the open-source Owncloud which works fine on my the Mac and my Raspberry Pi’s. Unfortunately there is no client for iOS. Like Adam, for collaboration I still use Dropbox.

Adam said:

I’d like to say that iCloud Drive has worked fine for me, but the reality is that I’ve experienced several instances where syncing gets stuck, either for a single file or everything.

In the last few months, I’ve occasionally had trouble with individual files not syncing (so, a much smaller-scale problem than Adam’s), and I found I could give them a kick by “touching” a nonexistent file (that is, with the line command /usr/bin/touch) in the right directory on iCloud.

That was on Big Sur. If it doesn’t work for you, I blame my decaying memory, or possibly the upgrade to Monterey.

Sometimes the cloud outline is darker and sometimes lighter. Please tell me the significance, if you know. Also, sometimes I have the cloud icon next to a folder, but when I look in the folder, no file has the cloud icon. What does that mean?

Thanks for the hint.

How do you identify the iCloud directory in Terminal? Is that ~/Library/Mobile Documents/com~apple~CloudDocs/ or something else? Do you need to touch the nonexistent file in the specific directory that holds the non-updating file? Do you have any similar trick if the file is not updating on an iPad?

A couple of other quirks of recent version of Google Drive:
When I wake up the computer and consult the Google Drive menu in the top bar, it reports being up to date. But it’s not. I have to pause syncing and then resume syncing to get the most recent additions downloaded to my local computer.

Also, Google Drive doesn’t store my files as individually-accessible files on my local computer, even when I’ve opted for full local mirroring. Instead it maintains its own data system on my Mac, and shows me filenames within an alias folder. Some apps (notably in my case Avid Pro Tools) have trouble re-linking to audio and video files within an alias folder. So if the file in question doesn’t reside in the place PT expects to see it, I have to use the Finder to locate that file in its aliased location, copy it to the desktop, then copy that into the location where PT expects to see it. Older versions of Google Drive didn’t have this issue.

Yes. If you use Terminal, just drag a Finder folder onto a terminal window to see its path.

I don’t use Terminal myself because I’m usually in an xterm served up by XQuartz. There I rely instead on an alias I created ‘cdf’ (cd to Finder) which does nothing else than

cdf='cd "$(posd)"'

posd is an osascript embedded in a shell script that returns the directory corresponding to the frontmost Finder window. I got posd ages ago and installed it on my Mac. Unfortunately, I don’t have the slightest recollection where I got it from.

Somewhat unrelated, but a very useful trick to do the reverse is

open ./

which will open a Finder window for the directory your shell is presently at.

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