Dropping Dropbox

Dropbox Logo

Dropbox LogoDropbox has been in the news quit a bit lately, first a minor rewording of their policies to clarify that they could access files when needed generated some buzz. Then they screwed up an upgraded and completely removed password protection for about 4 hours. Then they again reworded their policies and had to tweak them after a backlash.

Now I never considered anything in Dropbox as private or secure. And their privacy policies simply re-iterate what I already assumed to be true. (Although their latest change seemed to be a little far-reaching in order to protect them and relied on a “buy we’d never do it” attitude and that’s what they backed off on.) Anything I put “in the cloud” I assume will be public unless I encrypt it locally before I send it up and only I have the key.

Any company can have a bad run (re: Sony) but it is possible to avoid these types of things. Dropbox seems to have entered the mode of “do first, ask forgiveness later” which also seems to be the strategy of Facebook and others. It just seems to me that it’s time for this attitude to have consequences. In addition to unanticipated access to the files to get information, I wonder how log it will be before someone uses Dropbox (or a similar service) to distribute malware?

I’d been a paid Dropbox subscriber but switched back to the free account even before these events.  It’s not like Dropbox will suffer any by losing my account.

So what replaces Dropbox:

I started off by uninstalling it from my mobile devices just to make sure there wasn’t a forgotten use for it. Then I stopped Dropbox on all my PCs. I moved my files to locations that made sense, since they no longer needed to be in the Dropbox folder structure.

Once the files were were I wanted I set up synching with Microsoft Live Mesh. I’d already been using Live Mesh across all my computers and it was working well. All my synching is computer to computer and Mesh handles that well. There is the Skydrive option if needed. I like Live Mesh because it can avoid the internet altogether and doesn’t require a pre-defined folder structure.

The lost features include mobiles device support and deleted file history, neither of which I use. Plus, Dropbox just worked and other developers were tying into it. That made it so easy to use (and potentially easy to but info out there that should be encrypted). I looked at SugarSync awhile back but had problems with it. But it looks like Windows Live Mesh will work, as long as I don’t come up with a need for mobile device sync.

Syncing Software

File Syncing tile

File Syncing tileI’ve been a fan and longtime user of Dropbox. I even paid the the 50GB plan. That subscription coincided with my increased iPad usage and Dropbox was a great way to get files to it. That subscription is going to expire in May and I’d rather not renew it and save the money. So it was time to see if I really needed the 50GB and if there were alternatives. I’m not tied to a single solution and it’s a good time to see what my options are.

My Sync Requirements:

  • There needs to be some sort of cloud sync so that I’m not always required to have to have my devices running at the same time.
  • There needs to be computer-to-computer direct sync so I don’t ding my ISP usage cap for files that don’t need to leave the house. Plus, computer to computer will be faster than up to the cloud and back down again.
  • Mac & PC
  • OS X’s file bundles (for example, my Bento database is a file bundle) could be especially troublesome. The syncing software needs to maintain the attributes OS X needs.
  • iPhone/iPad & web access to the files, at least the ones stored in the cloud.

What’s not a requirement:

  • Backup – when I got the 50 GB plan I figured it would be a good place to stash files. It’s not that it’s a bad backup solution, but syncing clashes with the simplicity and reliability I want in my backups. Dropbox ended up being a dumping ground for stuff “I might want someday” and was out of control. Not really Dropbox’s fault but I won’t be changing my natural tendency towards being a pack rat.

How Much Space?

The first thing I did is go through the Dropbox folder and delete everything that didn’t need to be synced. My Windows Home Server provides a nice central repository so all I really needed was files I’d need on my iDevice or on my MacBook Air when I’m out.

So after the cleanup I was down to 600 MB, well under 2 GB. And even some of that can go once I get a chance to review it.

But Dropbox couldn’t meet all my needs, such as computer to computer sync, so this is what I’ve ended up with…

How & What I Sync

I started with the two pieces of software I was already using a familiar with – Dropbox and Windows Live Mesh (formerly various other names) as I figured between the two of them I’d be covered.

There are two main differences between the two. The first is that Windows Live Mesh (WLM) is designed for disparate folder locations while Dropbox uses it’s own folder structure. A second difference is WLM can ignore the internet completely and just do LAN syncing. Dropbox does do LAN syncing for it’s speed benefit, but files still go to the internet.

I use WLM to sync directories that can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be moved from their location, such as the draft directory for Windows Live Writer. I can (and did) stop writing this article on my desktop and moved to the couch with my laptop and picked right up again.  I also use it for moving my large Video files around which would cause all sorts of problems going to the internet as the gigabytes of video added up.

I have had problems with WLM on my Macs. I had to re-install it on two Macs as it began to crash on startup. If also has a habit of shutting down and requiring that I start WLM again. So for most of my data file syncing I’ll use Dropbox, with WLM handling the computer-to-computer stuff. Most of my data is on the server so this is mainly for stuff I want on my iDevice.

Alternatives?

I looked at SugarSync which gets generally good reviews. I liked it and their 5 GB free was more generous than DropBox. But I’ve had problems with it on my Macs. It’s had to be re-installed on each Mac at least once and it still fails to run on my MacBook Air. And it’s more than just a re-install, it’s an uninstall and then make sure all traces are gone before the re-install. But not being able to run on my Air is a show stopper. It may be something unique to my Macs, but it’s already turned me off to using it since I can’t count on it.

I’m pretty happy with the way the Windows Live Mesh and Dropbox combo are working, but is there anything else I should be looking at?

Bento Tip: Syncing A Database Between Macs

Bento for Mac Tip tile

Bento for Mac Tip tileI use Bento a bit and I’ve been using a symbolic link to point to the database in a Dropbox folder. This has worked pretty well, except occasionally the symbolic link would break. I recently eliminated the symbolic link and it seems to be working well.

To set this up you’ll still need Dropbox but then you can skip the symbolic link.

  1. Decide where you want the database in Dropbox. I want mine in /Dropbox/data.
  2. Move the existing Bento database(s) to the new location. By default the default database is created in [UserHome]/Library/Application Support/Bento and is called bento.bentodb.
  3. Start Bento while holding down the option key so that the following dialog appears:
    bento_selecteddb
  4. Click the choose button and browse to the database you just moved and select it. It should now be listed as the selected database as shown below:
    bento_selecteddb
    Note that in the above screenshots I checked the “Show This Dialog” option so this dialog always shows and I don’t have to hold the Option key down. This is useful if you have multiple Bento databases. I do but don’t want them all in Dropbox. Bento will continue to open the last database selected unless told to do otherwise.
  5. Click OK and the database will open.

Words of warning. Bento isn’t designed to be opened by multiple PCs at the same time so while the database will sync, be sure to only have it open on one computer at a time. Be sure to keep backups in case the syncing causes bad things to happen. I’ve been syncing this way with Bento 4, although Bento 3 does have the same database selection dialog.

Links: Tech Links for Saturday Dec 18th

Tile for posts in the Links category

Tile for posts in the Links category

There was news this week that Yahoo would be slimming down, both in people and products. On the product side only the Delicious announcement caused me to perk up. I use Delicious pretty extensively. Later there was a Delicious blog post saying that Delicious would live on outside of Yahoo, although details were lacking. Lifehacker, among others, posted alternatives to Delicious along with how to export the bookmarks. A lot of my Delicious bookmarks are cruft that I no longer need. Guess it’s time to clean them up, no matter what I do.

Dropbox left long-term beta and released Dropbox 1.0 (actually now 1.0.10). I found that my Dropbox client was still on version 0.7.110, which is pretty old. I downloaded and installed the latest version from the Dropbox website.

FlexRAID has been getting a lot of attention as a drive extender replacement for Windows Home Server v2. MSWHS has summary of why FlexRAID seems promising. I’m still heading down the Ubuntu Home Server path myself. In a couple months we should have a better idea of Microsoft’s commitment and plans for Vail.

Scott Hanselman has first hand experience as to why it’s so important to have a backup & recovery strategy.

I’m still trying to decide how to get media to my TV so I was happy to see Ars published their HTPC guide. Lifehacker’s popularity contest for Personal Media Streaming tools also provides a list of software for me to look at.

As someone who uses both Mac and Windows PCs and Ubuntu on servers it was interesting to read Harry McCracken’s Confessions of an Operating-System Agnostic.

The OS Quest Trail Log #33: Potpourri

It’s been a pretty dry couple of month for blog posts so far. But there’s still a few things worth mentioning and rather than a couple small posts I decided to put them all here to make them easier to ignore.

WordPress 2.6.2 was released and I upgraded this site. It’s a security release so considered required although the developer blog indicates it’s mainly a concern if open registration is allowed. I decided to upgrade anyway. I have to admit, I’m getting a a bit lazy with these minor upgrades. I just check that the latest backups were done and do the upgrade. No installation in a test environment or other testing. Eventually I’ll get burned and mend my lazy ways.

There’s been some web site updates on some of the static pages. I’ve updated the hardware list on the What I Use page and also updated it to include more information about the software I use from Wakoopa. I’ve used the widgets Wakoopa provides to pull the information in real-time (well, as real-time as they want it to be). I’ve also updated the Mac Software page – removed software that I no longer use and added some new software.

New & Updated Software

There’s been some new software joining the quest. DropBox went public and no longer requires an invite code. It’s still in beta, but it’s no longer a private beta. I’ve been using it a couple of days and found it easy to use and set up. It integrates better with OS X than SugarSync did, in my opinion. A 2 GB DropBox account is free while 50GB accounts are $10/mth or $100/yr. Unfortunately there’s nothing between 2GB and 50GB. The good news is it already supports Windows, OS X and Linux. So far I’ve only used it on OS X. Syncing between two macs was quick and clean.

IZarc became my new file archiving software of choice for Windows due to it’s ISO support. Of course, being Windows it doesn’t get much use, but IZarc2Go has now found a home on my utility flash drive.

While not exactly new, I’m back to using Jungle Disk. It’s been dormant for awhile so it seems new. I installed the latest version and have been archiving some files off to Amazon S3.

Google Chrome is also out. I’ve used it briefly and it felt fast. But since it’s Windows only I’m not going to be using it a lot or dive into the features.

I still haven’t installed iTunes 8 or the associated Quicktime update. I haven’t wanted to deal with the problems that seem to accompany every software update these days. The new features haven’t excited me either so I’m in no rush. I like iTunes but it seems to be entering the realm of bloatware.

Drobo

I’m still using the Drobo, performance hasn’t been great but it’s acceptable. In short, performance seems to suffer greatly if there’s a lot of file opens/closes in a short period of time. Total disk I/O drops if I copy a lot of small files. ChronoSync also seems abnormally slow when using the drive. I haven’t done much testing since writing about it. Once commentor recommended rolling the software back to the earlier version but I haven’t done that. There’s supposed to be a firmware update just around the corner so I’ve decided to wait for that.

Odds & Ends

Other things that have been occupying my Quest time is my continued education and testing to get WordPress running on my own server. It’s up and running but I’m still working on security and trying out different things.