Dropping Dropbox Part II

Looking back over my post on dropping Dropbox, I feel a tinge of shame. There is so much hope in that post. It turns out that while the pace of software development has quickened and the quantity of app alternatives is increasing, the quality of those choices might not be keeping up. Making a piece of software might be easy, but making a good piece of software remains difficult. I won’t apologize for my starry-eyed optimism, but I’ll at least relate my less-than-ideal real-world experience in searching for a new cloud storage provider.

Features I Care About

  • File history – I need the ability to recover deleted and/or mangled (overwritten) files. This is critically important as it’s something Windows doesn’t support out of the box, and it’s saved my bacon more than once while using Dropbox.
  • Server-side encryption – Along with no ability for the service provider to decrypt my files.
  • Two factor authentication – Of course.
  • Easy “no-fuss” client – This is subjective, but I want a minimum of setup, and once it’s running it should just work without manual intervention or fiddling. I edit my files, it syncs them, done.
  • Mobile app – I use Android, so that’s what I was looking for. I think all products considered had one, save maybe BitTorrent Sync.
  • Windows desktop app.

Stuff I Don’t Care About

  • Sharing – I share things occasionally, but this was never my biggest concern. I can use other services to share or collaborate if need be.
  • Multiple folders – Some people are particular about their file structures, I’m not one of them. I’m fine with a single “sync point”.
  • API availability (3rd party extensions) – Very nice to have, but ultimately I can live without add-ons and enhancements if the core service meets my needs.
  • Mac or Linux desktop apps

Evaluations

The below items I spent more than five minutes evaluating, more or less in chronological order.

SpiderOak

SpiderOak was one of the first “security-aware” cloud data providers, and sure seems like the natural choice for my requirements. I’d tried it out before, though, and my biggest complaint remains: the desktop client is clunky, confusing, and error-prone. Files that I updated would not sync up automatically in a reasonable amount of time. I think if they can get things cleaned up a bit more it might be a great option, but I had to pass.

BitTorrent Sync

A “no cloud” device-to-device option was BitTorrent Sync. Ultimately I rejected it as I do like having “off-site” syncing of my files to the cloud, and also because I didn’t like the way it handled “history” – it seemed far too easy to lose a file it it was modified or deleted on a device without a sync to another machine in the middle, which is a likely scenario when you’re on the road.

OwnCloud

Another choice that I wanted to be “the one”. OwnCloud is the most prominent open-source option. I tried out a couple of different providers and considered hosting my own, but in the end things just didn’t quite work. Again, files wouldn’t update, old versions would pop back up, and I wasn’t filled with confidence my data would be protected. The setup also includes a ton of extras I just wasn’t interested in like calendar, contacts, music, etc. I wish they’d spent more time getting the core data syncing working 100% smoothly.

Wuala

I’d never heard of this one, but I did wind up using Wuala pretty extensively in my trials. What eventually killed me was that the client has to “pre-encrypt” files before they are available. You can copy / add them to the Wuala folder, but it then encrypts them before they show up, which can cause a significant lag in getting work done. Most of the other options here just monitor the synced folder, and then encrypt the files as they are changed before uploading them to the server, which allows one to continue working on them. A second knock was that for some reason I needed an internet connection to access the already-downloaded files I had. If I was in a place with spotty wifi, well, my files were off-limits.

Tresorit

Sigh. I had such high hopes. In short, the product shows tons of promise, especially in the ease-of-use category I was looking for. I got to the point of using this as my primary data provider, and paid for a subscription and extra space. Then the problems came, and then their support team was useless.

  • More than a couple times the desktop client would re-index my entire sync folder, even though there were few changes. That might not sound serious, but of course it would always be at times I would want to leave my current work space for another, and I’d want to know the files are backed up before I pack up, and I’d have to wait an additional half hour (or more).
  • I saw times when the client would appear synced, but would in fact be “frozen” and I had to manually exit and re-start it before my changes would be sent to the server. If I didn’t notice in time, this would inevitably lead to conflicting edits in my files.
  • The mobile app a couple of times “forgot” to sync photos when I got back on my home WiFi. I had to force-quit the app and restart it for it to send the files up.
  • Most critically, I found that at my work the client simply stopped working entirely. I’m guessing this could be some sort of firewall or network issue that’s out of my (and Tresorit’s) control, but Tresorit support was no help to truly diagnose it. Not being able to use the client for over nine hours of the day is a pretty big deal.

I submitted most of these issues to Tresorit support. They are quick to send a single reply, but after that I only got complete silence. I’ve yet to hear a genuine solution or even diagnoses for any of the issues. A small, fast-growing companies can certainly be prone to an overwhelmed support team, but the complete lack of response is just unacceptable.

Conclusion

So what am I going to do? Well, if Tresorit could fix the outstanding issues and improve their support, they’d be the clear winner in my eyes. If not, then I’m almost back to square one.

  • I’d give SpiderOak one more chance, for what it’s worth, to see if they’ve improved their client further.
  • I’d consider “workarounds” like services that encrypt the data before sending it off to Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive.
  • Another option would be to split out my “sensitive” docs into something I’d store with SpiderOak (and be willing to suffer the clunky client), and take all the “who cares” stuff and use it with one of the slicker services.
  • Similarly I’ve considered splitting my cloud data usage into different services – Google Music for music, GitHub for code, Evernote for notes, etc, but this doesn’t solve the core problem of keeping my private data private in the cloud.

If only there were better tools to help people more quickly write good software.

3 thoughts on “Dropping Dropbox Part II

  1. Unlike you I needed a cloud storage service that allowed:
    – Multiple folders as I did not want to have to break my normal directory layout simply to get something to sync
    – Mac, iOS as well as Windows clients
    – API would be nice to be able to access and send files from applications on iOS
    – Automatic backup of pictures on iOS side

    I too had high hopes with Tresorit, but I did not have the serious issues you encountered. Perhaps this was because I did not get into using the service that much with my free account. I have an older iPhone and the iOS app refuses to work properly. It repeattedly crashes on my phone aka looses focus and disappears into the list. Tresorit support did contact me but did not offer any concrete information on solutions. Subsequent emails to the support thread went unanswered. It is strange that other cloud storage apps such as DropBox, MS OneDrive and SpiderOak do not have this crashing experience.

    I too am concerned on who holds the keys to the kingdom and had looked at SpiderOak but their mobile app is very limited to read only. It can not sync files let alone do automatic syncing of photos.

    I too will continue to look for a suitable service but as it stands now I have no solution.

  2. With Tresorit I had the same problem at work, but actually I think it’s a good thing. Let me explain: At my company there are fake certificates installed enabling HTTPS inspection when browsing the web. I think they do the same scanning when using apps like tresorit, forcing it to use their scanning proxy. In the end I’m glad tresorit stopped working in this setup.

    I do not have any reliability problems with the apss and are quite satisfied with the service.

    1. Hey Karlo, good point on the network / “Man-in-the-Middle”-type issues. I definitely wouldn’t want Tresorit to ignore those, either! I just wish I’d had a better messages about why the failure was happening so I could be sure. I’m also glad it’s working for you, maybe they’ve improved their product in the time since I posted this up.

      For what it’s worth, I went back to Dropbox and am now self-encrypting locally using encfs. This ends up working a lot like Tresorit in the end, but I have the reliable (for me) Dropbox client.

      Thanks for the feedback!

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