As you may have read in my previous blog post on ExpanDrive 5, it had some great features, but some significant caveats. Now, ExpanDrive 6 is here, released almost 6 months ago (July 5, 2017) it’s had some time to release minor updates and bug fixes. So as a traveller looking to keep my local storage at a minimum while having everything backed up and readily available in the cloud, I’m excited to see what version 6 brings to the table. It comes with claims of being 500% faster and the addition of offline-sync mode. It also adds two new cloud platforms, BackBlaze B2 and Google Team Drive as well as a new user interface.
17/12/2017 UPDATE: This review was based on ExpanDrive 5. ExpanDrive 6 has been released with some big changes. Check out my review!
I started trialling ExpanDrive 5 to see if, compared to Odrive, it would be a more or less viable alternative to running all the different cloud synchronising apps for all the different cloud services I use. That includes Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, and OwnCloud. I’m also looking at it as a way of reducing the data footprint of those cloud platforms on my local machine, so not actually storing files locally is a significant benefit here. Manually removing files from synchronising with my various cloud accounts is a pain, especially since there are terabytes of data in my Dropbox and it takes quite a while to load the full folder tree.
ExpanDrive behaves like an external USB attached drive, or more accurately a series of USB attached storage. Each of your cloud storage systems becomes a drive connected to your computer. As long as you are on the internet, you can then enter these storage destinations anytime and access the files on them as you would any other external drive. Similarly, you can save directly to them just like a regular external drive. The only difference is that the speed of access is highly impacted by the speed of your internet connection.
I started trialling Odrive 30 days ago to see if it is a good alternative to running cloud synchronising apps for the many different cloud services I use. Those cloud services include Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, and OwnCloud. I am also looking at ExpanDrive as another possible option. Besides doing away with additional applications, this is a way of reducing the data footprint of cloud platforms on my local machine.
Dropbox itself uses more than 20 gigabytes on my local machine solely for its database. Then, of course, there are the files. Manually removing files from my Dropbox synchronisation is a constant hassle, especially when there are terabytes of data there and it takes quite a while to load the full folder tree. It would be perfect for the computer to cease synchronising files automatically that are not in regular use.
Enter Odrive. Odrive runs in the background, providing placeholder files and folders, synchronising the contents of all of your cloud storage systems on demand. At the time of writing, it has a free and a premium subscription version. When you first sign up, you get access to the subscription version for seven days and are then automatically downgraded to the free version unless you choose to enter your payment details and stay subscribed.
The core features are:
- Connect to multiple storage platforms at once, including most common platforms, with a single application.
- Background file transfers.
- Native file access (must be synchronised first by accessing files in Finder after which access is native in all applications).
- Local synchronisation of files.
The extra features available in the subscription include:
- Manual desynchronisation of files.
- Automatic desynchronisation of unused files.
- Localised file encryption before uploading to cloud storage.
Supported storage platforms:
|Amazon Cloud Drive||Yes|
|Google Cloud Storage||Yes|
|Social Platform File Access||
So after using it for 30 days, 7 in the subscription trial and 23 in the free version I’ve tried to cover off all the things I would use on a regular basis.
What I found is:
Odrive is partially set up through the website and partially through the desktop application. First, you sign up on their website using an account you already have with either Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Oxygen Cloud, or OneDrive for Business.
Once signed in, any clouds associated with your login account are added to your Odrive automatically. For example, I logged in with my Google account and my Google Drive was automatically added to my Odrive. Now, the local app can be downloaded, and you can proceed with connecting and authorising additional cloud storage platforms.
Almost all of your actual setup is in your account on the Odrive website. Once you are signed up you can set up your storage connections (including encryption during the trial or with a premium subscription), you can browse those storage platforms and their contents through the web interface, you can share things, set up your billing and so on. This web-based setup process has the distinct advantage of being able to configure your connections and preferences once and then install the app on all your computers quite quickly. No need to authorise each computer for each cloud platform.
Once you have the local app installed (which is a very straight forward installation), you then login using the same account you used on the website. To do this you just click the “Get Started” button from the app and it will take you to the website to login. After login, it creates your Odrive folder and makes available any storage you connect online. Simple.
The Odrive app adds a context menu to files inside your Odrive folder that allows you to sync, un-sync, share, or view a web preview if possible.
The app also adds a taskbar icon where you can set things like auto-downloading, auto un-sync, bandwidth throttling, trash behaviour and large file behaviour. From the taskbar, it also provides links to the website for modifying your storage connections, upgrading your account and so on. It’s important to note though that these are links so it will open your browser and you will have to log in before you can perform these functions.
Inside the Odrive folder, the app creates all the placeholder files you need for each folder’s contents as you synchronise it. Until you sync a folder, it doesn’t contain anything, in fact, you can’t even enter it until you synchronise it. Once you do it is full of placeholder files that represent the files and other folders contained within that folder. As you begin to sync files, clicking the taskbar icon will show you their progress.
I find this most useful while uploading files. Like Dropbox, Odrive also adds little synchronisation symbols to files in the Odrive folder. These symbols help by showing the sync status of each file and folder that is presently in an active transfer state.
Files seem to upload or download just as fast as Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Drive’s applications. The noticeable difference though is that you have to double click a placeholder file or folder and wait for it to download before it opens. In contrast, the dedicated applications for Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Drive all download files in advance, so they are ready for you when you want them. The advantage of Odrive’s approach is that it is not taking up space with files you aren’t using. Online need one file from an entire folder? That’s ok, just sync that file. When you combine this with the auto desynchronisation feature of the Odrive subscription, it keeps your local storage needs to a minimum by only downloading what you need and automatically removing things you haven’t accessed in a while.
The cost of doing this is that it uses data every time you need to download something which could end up using a lot of data unexpectedly and could be a problem if you are without an internet connection. What I found most frustrating with this approach though is when you have a big file. For example, I have some super high-resolution tiff graphics that I’m working on which are about 3.5gb in size. That takes a while to synchronise, so you have to double click your placeholder and then do something else for a while until it is downloaded. Alternatively, you can use the manual sync options. These options let you keep certain folders permanently synchronised, so they are always ready to be used.
This kind of manual synchronisation is something that I still have to plan for using Dropbox, so functionally it doesn’t have an advantage here. The advantage is more in how it treats everything else. It just means, as with Dropbox I have to make sure I synchronise anything large in advance. In practice, the only reason this is an issue for me is that I already have 900gb synchronised from my Dropbox. Odrive I am still working through and synchronising it as I use it. The more files that become synchronised, the more natural it seems to be. It’s just that initial stage of getting my most common things synced that makes it seem inconvenient.
Now two things I noticed with the file sync from placeholder files are:
- It appears to cause some unexpected behaviour in Finder. When synchronisation of a folder or file is complete, every Finder window seems to blink off and then on again, kind of like Finder has crashed and then restarted itself. I believe this is happening because Odrive is refreshing the folder to show the new contents in place of the placeholder file. As far as I can tell, though, Finder is not crashing, it is just behaving like it.
- There is not much to indicate what is happening. As an example, if I double-click a placeholder file to begin synchronising it nothing seems to happen. It’s not a big deal for small files as they sync quickly, but for big files that take longer the only indication you clicked it correctly is by going to the taskbar icon to see if it is on the list of things synchronising. Having a notification indicating synchronisation has begun of the file/folder would help. I’m thinking similar to the “x files have been added” pop-up notification displayed by Dropbox.
Within applications, data access is native as long as the files and folders you need are already synchronised. So if you have accessed them through Finder, it is fine. If you haven’t though, they will not sync using the file browser in an application. Synchronisation MUST occur in advance either through Finder or by manually synchronising a folder in the app. So, you have to make sure to sync the folders you will need before you need them. For example, say I want to save a graphic from Photoshop into an existing folder in Dropbox via Odrive. I will need to access the folder in Finder first to make sure it is synchronised. If I don’t, then I won’t be able to open it in Photoshop. The reason for this is because the placeholder files are just files. So until a folder is synchronised, Photoshop only sees it as a file type that it can’t do anything with since it doesn’t recognise it.
It is a little inconvenient to have to remember to synchronise the folder or file beforehand, but it is still more convenient than dealing with Dropbox directly where you may have to tell it to selectively sync the folder, a process which could take a while. When using Dropbox with terabytes of data, I often find myself using the Dropbox web app to download the files I need and then manually reuploading them afterwards. It’s not the most convenient, but I just can’t keep all that data locally without an external drive. So the way Odrive synchronises files does help to improve the process.
I thought this function would be a given. It turns out though that in the free version of Odrive there is no actual desynchronize or “un-sync” option. While my trial subscription was active, I found files or folders could be explicitly told to stop synchronising, or it could automatically happen when they are unused for a period such as a day, a week or a month. While I knew beforehand that the automatic options were only available in the subscription version, I was very surprised that all the options to manually un-sync, when used, began telling me that they are a premium feature, including those in the context menu when you right-click a file.
After some searching around I discovered that as odd as it seemed, desynchronization is not a part of the free version at all. It took a while to find a clear answer, but I did eventually find this question on the Odrive forums with a reply from Odrive. It states that the only way to remove files in the free version without removing them from the actual cloud storage provider is to unlink Odrive from your account and re-link it in a different location. At which point anything you do want to have synchronised you will have to synchronise again.
So while possible to work around, in practice, desynchronization is not a feature of the free version. If you want to stop syncing files you have to go with the subscription version. While other features, like encryption, make the upgrade worthwhile, this one is the number one for me. This missing feature severely limits the practical use of Odrive, especially when dealing with large files like I do.
It’s frustrating, but it is a smart move on Odrive’s part.
Encryption is setup using the web interface and behaves in much the same way as any other cloud storage location. When you set it up, you tell Odrive what location on which of your existing cloud storage systems you would like to be encrypted. For testing, I created a folder on my Amazon Drive called “Secrets”. Once configured in Odrive, it then appears in your Odrive folder on your local computer just like any other cloud storage. I’ve got Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Drive setup. So with my “Secrets” encrypted destination my Odrive destinations now show up as:
- Amazon Cloud Drive
- Google Drive
Anything I copy into the “Secrets” folder is accessible from within that folder on my computer just like any other file or folder on any other drive. Odrive creates placeholders when files are desynchronised, and I can access them without having to worry about any encryption keys, it all just works. You do however have to set your encryption key when you first access the folder being encrypted.
However, this “Secrets” folder is actually in my Amazon Drive. So if I open Amazon Drive, I can see a folder there called “Secrets”. I can open that folder on Amazon Drive directly, but the contents of that folder do appear garbled. Since these files are encrypted, this is what I would expect.
One thing I noticed though during the process of synchronising a small document to the encrypted destination is that after Odrive had reported the file synced, it took about 30 minutes before it appeared on Amazon Drive at all. I even logged directly into Amazon Drive through their web interface to make sure. Regular files appear immediately, and after testing about 20 files of different sizes and types, it became evident that it was consistently a delay in the appearance of encrypted data. So clearly the encryption process is doing something that delays it. My understanding is that files are encrypted locally before transmission to the cloud. So if they are synchronised, this to me means they have been encrypted and transmitted. It seems though that perhaps either the process takes longer in the background than the app suggests, or there is something unadvertised happening. Another thought I had was that perhaps it is Amazon, but Arq encrypted files do appear instantly on Amazon Drive.
Something I didn’t think to check regarding encryption before my trial ran out is that if you are connected to the encrypted destination through the same Odrive account on another computer, can it also open the encrypted files?
Memory and CPU usage
Now, if you’ve ever watched your CPU and RAM usage when running Dropbox, particularly while synchronising large files you will have noticed that sometimes it can use a lot of memory and CPU time. However this does seem to fluctuate, and when it isn’t doing anything, it doesn’t use much.
After running Odrive without rebooting the computer for one week and just leaving Odrive running, I observed it using an enormous amount of RAM, causing other programs to freeze and the computer to run very slowly. In this test scenario I used the computer as normal, but with Odrive running in the background. I synchronised a few small files up and down each day to both Amazon Drive and Dropbox, generally below 50mb of data. At the end of the week, I observed it using 6gb of RAM even though the last file synchronisation completed about 12 hours earlier. As I rarely restart my computer and I don’t like being forced to restart an application just to free up memory, this is a concern. I don’t know if this means there is a memory leak, perhaps a problem with garbage collection, but it is not something I would want to be having to deal with all the time.
Other things of note
One of the extra little things Odrive does is connect to an assortment of social media accounts, allowing you to access your photos and videos directly, rather than having to go through your accounts and manually download them all the old fashioned way. For example, you can connect your Facebook account and then access all your albums right from within Finder. The caveat here is that at this time it only works for personal Facebook accounts. It does not work with Facebook pages, unfortunately.
Then there is also web access. You can log into the Odrive website and access all of your cloud accounts through your Odrive account. So you are not just limited to using the Odrive app for access, just log in on the website, and you can then browse your Dropbox and your Amazon Drive, even your Facebook albums all from the one web interface.
In practice, I’m not sure if this is something I would ever use. It does mean you only need to login to one site to access your storage, but at the same time, the interface is not as functional as some of the dedicated app interfaces. For example, the Dropbox interface can open many more file types within the web browser.
Now, I must admit, once the 7-day premium subscription trial ended, I found Odrive a very pointless application (at least for me). If I use it, it adds data to my local drive (something I don’t want), with no way of removing it except to remove Odrive or my cloud connections. After those seven days, I found that I could only really keep experimenting with smaller files or my hard drive would be full.
That said, Odrive has a lot of very promising functionality available with an active subscription. The way it synchronises and automatically desynchronises files, in particular, is a perfect balance of local caching and remote access that you can tweak to your individual needs. There is the cost of inconvenience of having to double click files for the first time or choose to synchronise folders explicitly.
The inclusion of encryption functionality in the premium subscription is also a big plus, especially given it just happens in the background without the need for any user intervention. Add to that quick transfers with a huge range of connections to different cloud storage providers, and you have an excellent all-around package for combining all your cloud services into one handy application. Or at least in my opinion you do.
The minor downsides are the somewhat clunky file access method and the unexpected Finder behaviour. The more significant disadvantage is the memory leakage. For me, that is a possible clincher. The fact that Odrive can grind my computer to a halt, just from being open for a week is a real killer of what is an otherwise very promising application. I know I can just quit and restart Odrive every few days or every time it seems to be consuming excessive amounts of RAM, but that isn’t an ideal solution, particularly if it decides to happen in the middle of something important.
In my opinion, the local app is not particularly polished. In part because of the memory issue, in part, because the taskbar menu is just basic drop-downs with much of the setup and configuration through the website. That said, perhaps the app doesn’t need to be more polished. It does everything it needs to do. Having to switch between it and the website depending on what exactly I am configuring is a bit annoying, but that is only during initial setup and when changing my storage configuration. Otherwise, it is primarily the local app getting used. So the minor nuisance is just during the initial setup and figuring out how it all works.
Given the negative aspects of Odrive can be worked around, and frankly are things that I would expect fixes for in future updates, I don’t think they are enough to cost Odrive a place in your cloud arsenal. If it weren’t for a competitor worth considering in Expandrive, I’d be signed up to an Odrive subscription straight away and do away with my Dropbox sync that I have to carry around an external 2TB hard drive to fit.
That said, depending on how it stacks up against Expandrive I just might be going ahead with Odrive! I will be posting a follow-up blog shortly on Expandrive and how it behaves and performs, then a direct comparison of the two with my verdict on which one I’m going to choose and why.
If you use or have used Odrive, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below. I’d particularly like to hear if you found some of the same issues and whether you could work around them, or if you encountered anything that I didn’t.
17/12/2017 UPDATE: This comparison was based on ExpanDrive 5. ExpanDrive 6 has been released with some big changes. Check out my review! I’ll be updating this article soon to represent a comparison between Odrive and ExpanDrive 6
That is the question I am presently trying to work out, but to what end?
Well, Odrive and ExpanDrive both provide unified access to your cloud providers as though they were local drives on your computer. What this means is that you can do away with file synchronisation and the need to store local copies of files.
As an example, a typical Dropbox setup would have your Dropbox folder on your computer where you store everything. If your local hard drive gets full then you need to look at what you can remove by selectively synchronising the files you need and not the ones you don’t. The downside of this is that when you do need some of those files you chose to stop synchronising you have to either re-sync them or download them from the web interface, neither of which is ideal. Odrive and ExpanDrive take this and say ok, how about we just synchronise the files we need as we need them and until we need them they live in the cloud, thus freeing up lots of local disk space. In addition to that, they enable access in the same way to multiple cloud storage providers such as Amazon Drive, Google Drive, Amazon S3, OneDrive, Box and more.
Which one is better, though? I don’t want to fork out cash for something I don’t use in the long run, and ultimately I’d like to use it across a few computers without paying extra.