Applications Useful stuff

The new Dropbox is a compelling alternative to both Evernote and Google Drive

Why thoughts about switching

All of what I’ve explored below is premised on me wanting to migrate away from Evernote and Google Drive. I don’t have a particularly strong desire to move away from either service, although there are reasons for me to have a Plan B in mind if it becomes necessary to make the moves:

  • Evernote seems to be struggling to maintain momentum, and although recent Behind the Scenes videos show some encouraging directions, I have invested a lot in Evernote and want to make sure I have another option for my data if the company runs into major trouble;
  • Google is, well, Google. I’m mostly comfortable entrusting Google with my data, and practically everything I do in some form or another, but who knows what lies ahead in the future.
  • Lastly, and totally superficially, I like cool new things. The new Dropbox looks pretty interesting, and I’ve been using it (albeit passively) for quite some time. Moving to Dropbox would simplify some workflows for me.

How I’ve been using Dropbox and Google Drive

I haven’t actively used Dropbox for managing my files for many years. At the same time, I have a number of background processes, mostly using IFTTT, that capture things like tweets, app data, and so on into my Dropbox folders.

For the most part, I’ve been using Google Drive as my shared file system. I keep various documents there that I share with my wife, and access using various devices. I recently upgraded my personal Drive account to the Google One account where I have just over 200GB of storage space for about $3.50 a month. Before that, I was paying for a 100GB upgrade.

The idea was to make this space available to my family to use, too, but they’re using G Suite addresses on two domains I own, so they can’t join my Google One profile.

Still an Evernote user

I also still use Evernote to capture stuff. “Stuff” is a pretty broad category. I’ve been capturing information that I may want to reference into Evernote for about 11 years, and I have almost 28,500 notes. Most of those notes are containers for documents, photos of interesting things, and other documents.

I don’t really use Evernote for plain text notes. For that I create, well, plain text notes with Markdown syntax, and my personal directory for those notes is a synced folder on Dropbox. I then sync that with another folder on my laptop that I push to GitHub to a private repo. I’m all about the multiple, redundant backups.

I’m using the Evernote Premium plan that costs me $69.90 a year (about $5.84 a month).

The new Dropbox

I saw an announcement that Dropbox has been updated with some interesting collaboration features. Here’s the announcement video:

It was interesting, but more of a curiosity for me until I watched the video from the launch event, here:

The event is pretty similar to any other launch event these days (“I’m excited to announce the new <insert name>. It’s the best <insert name> we’ve ever made …”), but it’s worth watching the demos in the second half of the event.

What makes the new Dropbox pretty compelling for me is how I can still use Drive documents, add in integrations with Zoom and Slack, and add shortcuts to other links that may be helpful. It looks like new Dropbox is using a white labelled version of Google Drive to enable users to create Docs, Sheets, and Slides that use the Google Drive apps, but save on Dropbox.

Microsoft Office users will also be able to use the Google Drive apps to view and edit their docs on Dropbox too. In this sense, the experience is probably pretty similar to just using Google Drive natively.

One of the areas in which Evernote has an edge, at least for me, is that I can use Evernote notes to add a combination of text, media, and documents to a single note. This enables me to maintain a coherent context for my information that relates to that particular topic.

You can create a Google Doc, but the format isn’t that easy to use, and there isn’t a convenient Web Clipper like you have with Evernote to capture stuff on the Web into a Google Doc. I poked around in Dropbox Paper, and it’s the closest I’ve seen to what Evernote can do, and surpasses Evernote in some respects. Here’s a demo where I added a couple items to a Dropbox Paper document:

What I didn’t demonstrate here is that you can also add a YouTube preview to your note that plays inline. I was a little disappointed that this isn’t possible with Evernote, and then realised that Evernote needs to take into account offline and mobile screens too. That said, if I view a Dropbox Paper document with embedded videos on my Android phone, the embed is available there.

What I don’t see just yet is something like the Evernote Web Clipper for Dropbox, so capturing stuff from the Web isn’t as easy with Dropbox.

Switching costs

Leaving aside the Evernote Web Clipper, I can see the new Dropbox being a pretty effective replacement for both Google Drive and Evernote (well, you’d still potentially be using the Google Drive apps to access many of your documents, just not on Google Drive itself). The Dropbox Plus plan is $11.99 a month (if you pay monthly), and you receive 2TB of storage space. The equivalent Google One plan costs about $11 (converting from my local currency).

If I compare the costs of a Dropbox Plus plan ($11.99 if I pay monthly) with the combined costs of my Google One and Evernote Premium plans (about $9.34, although this is a blend of annual pricing for Evernote, and monthly for Google One), it’s not far off.

If I paid for an annual Dropbox Plus plan, the monthly breakdown is around $9.99.

Worth switching to Dropbox?

At a fairly high level, it may be worthwhile switching to the new Dropbox from Evernote and Google One. That said, there are a couple challenges to resolve:

  • Can I coherently migrate my Evernote notes to Dropbox? Sure, I can export all of my content, but how accessible will it all be when exported into HTML documents with attachments in folders?
  • Can I migrate my Google Drive documents across to Dropbox? More specifically, if I move them across to Dropbox, will they open on Drive, or in Dropbox? I suppose this may not matter as Google Drive documents aren’t factored into Drive storage, as far as I remember. Also, it looks like this type of migration is possible.
  • Moving away from Evernote means giving up the Web Clipper. Is there an alternative for Dropbox? I’m not sure about that.
  • Another disadvantage of moving away from Evernote is that you lose OCR for your documents. That option is only available with the Dropbox Professional plan that costs $16.58 a month, if you opt for annual billing (so you’re paying about $198 upfront). Google Drive and Evernote both provide OCR for your documents, in varying degrees.
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Applications Useful stuff

Why is Evernote offering a free Dropbox Pro trial?

Evernote is offering a free Dropbox Pro trial to new Evernote users (or Evernote Basic users) and who are also not Dropbox Pro members …


Dropbox and Evernote have been implicitly targeting each other’s users for quite some time now. Dropbox has even developed features that challenge Evernote directly on some features that only Evernote offered previously. Here are two examples I noticed along the way:

This is very strange. These two services may not be explicitly competing but they certainly offer competing services in broad terms so why are they collaborating like this? So why is Evernote offering a free Dropbox Pro trial to new users of both services? Surely those are the most vulnerable users to target?

Is one buying the other out? Will we see Dropbox integration coming to Evernote to boost available storage? That doesn’t seem likely.

What is going on here? Is it April suddenly?


The many reasons you should use Flickr to store and share your photos

Update (2015-05-28): As many predicted, Google has spun off Google Photos as a standalone app. Taking Flickr on pretty directly!

Flickr recently updated its Web and mobile apps with features that make it one of the most compelling photo sharing and storage services available today. It is so good now that using its competitors would probably be a waste of money.

I’ve been using Flickr since about 2004 and, admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention to Flickr until recently. Until then it was a service I sometimes paid for (I opted for the paid Pro version for a few years for the additional storage) and then loosely used as a backup storage space for my photos. Three significant changes brought Flickr to the foreground as my primary photo storage and sharing service:

  1. All accounts being upgraded to 1TB for free,
  2. The updated and excellent Flickr Uploadr, and
  3. The most recent updates that just made Flickr so much more useful.

I have a lot of photos in my archive that go back over a decade. My photos are a growing record of our lives and experiences. When I look at the photos that have survived from my parents’ earlier years and from our ancestors, I see fewer and fewer visual records of earlier times and a relatively poor historical archive. Digital photos make it possible for us to create rich historical archives of our lives and to store those archives pretty inexpensively.

Granted digital also means we probably take way too many photos of stuff we don’t particularly need to document in quite so much detail but, on balance, I’d rather have a richer archive.

My journey

Anyway, I have used various combinations and solutions over the years to archive and share my growing photo library. I’ve used 500px (great service but I didn’t see the point in paying when I had Flickr for free), Dropbox (paid and free), Google Photos (including Google+ Photos), Google Drive, local external drives, Amazon S3 storage, iCloud and Flickr.

My current archive runs to about 128GB. It is derived from iPhoto library exports and edited photos from Lightroom. I don’t think it includes most of my RAW archives so that size will increase when I consolidate those archives fully. The first challenge with a photo library of more than a few gigabytes is that you have to start paying for storage and you have to decide between a variety of photo storage options and how you want to also share your photos.

What I did for a while (and still do to a degree) was to store my photos in a dedicated storage space and share more limited and selected collections on Facebook, Google+ and Dropbox. Actually, Dropbox doubled as a storage and sharing service so it is pretty useful but accommodating my collection means subscribing to the Pro Dropbox service at about $99 per year. That may not sound like much but I had to contend with a pretty hefty currency conversion rate at the time and it wasn’t the only paid storage service I was using.

I also don’t want to trust my collection to a service which could drop me without much notice because of a bug or policy change so its all about redundancy and managing costs overall. I started using Amazon’s S3 storage service a few years ago too. The cost of storage large amounts of data on Amazon’s servers is pretty low and considering that Dropbox uses S3 for its back-end, I didn’t see a lot of point in relying so heavily on Dropbox when I could just go to the source and upload all my data (including my photo archives) to S3 for longer term storage and use something else to share my photos. The challenge, for a few years, was uploading my massive archive to S3’s servers on South Africa’s very limited broadband plans and data transfer limits. It required a lot of patience so I basically uploaded bits and pieces over a few years to get started.

Along the way I also started using Google+ Photos to upload my archives. I subscribe to Google’s 100GB storage plan which became a lot more cost effective about 2 years ago when the price dropped to about $2 per month for 100GB. Coupled with Google+ Photos’ really good image recognition and the ability to find stuff easily, it didn’t matter that people never really caught on to Google+ as a primary social network. It was great for simple storage and personal reference. I still have a sizable chunk of my archive in Google+ Photos (about 45GB).

Dropbox and Google+ Photos introduced something which has become essential with so many devices being repositories for our photos: sync. These background sync services run on our desktops and mobile devices and aggregate our photos from these various sources in our cloud services. It is really useful because it means you don’t have to set aside time to backup or upload your photos. It just happens behind the scenes.

The challenge with Google+ Photos (and, more recently, Google Drive because they share the same storage capacity and are slowly become more integrated) is that I started to reach the 100GB limit and the next step up from there is 1TB for $9.99 per month. As much as I like using Google services, I’m not ready to hand over everything to Google either so I maintained my S3 backups and kept looking.

iCloud Photos
For a while I started using iCloud Photo Library (initially on my iPhone and iPad until the new Photos app brought that capability to my Mac) but at $0.99 for 20GB and $3.99 for 200GB of storage, Apple’s storage service really isn’t competitive when it comes to pricing and being limited to the iCloud ecosystem isn’t particularly appealing to me. What if my next phone isn’t an iPhone and what if not all my laptops are Macs (my office laptop is a Linux laptop)? I stopped using iCloud Photo Library and downgraded my plan to 20GB to make sure my iOS devices could still backup to iCloud.

Back to Flickr

Flickr, a Yahoo! company, started to shake things up about 2 years ago when it announced a redesign and a new free storage option: 1TB. Yes, one terabyte of free storage, albeit with ads initially. You could pay $50 to remove ads and $500 to double your storage (that option always struck me as a “well, if they want to pay $500 to double their storage, what the heck!” option) but 1TB was (and remains) far more than any other free storage plan so I started uploading more of my library to Flickr even if it was more for personal storage.

I’ve had the Flickr apps on my devices for a while now and I’ve enabled the auto-upload feature almost since the beginning. That meant that Flickr has also been uploading photos from my devices to my Photostream in the background on and off for a couple years. A couple months ago, Flickr released a beta version of its new Uploadr app for Mac OS. The app basically watched folders I told it to watch (including my iPhoto library) and quietly and quickly uploaded my albums to my Photostream. Our connectivity here in Israel is pretty fast and unlimited so I just left my Mac to upload overnight over the course of a week or two and, eventually, my Flickr collection was complete.

Visit my Photostream
Finally, Flickr announced a series of updates and redesigns a few weeks ago which included an updated Uploadr and both general design and mobile app refreshes. One of the newer features I really like is the Camera Roll which was probably copied from Dropbox’s Carousel app. It’s a great perspective on your uploads and your photo timeline.

The Uploadr worked even better than I thought. It organised my photos based on time-based metadata so my collection is organised chronologically. There is some duplication between albums I uploaded manually beforehand and the automatic uploads, at least where Uploadr didn’t realise they were duplicates. At the same time, Uploadr didn’t upload albums it recognised as duplicates and all the automatic uploads are marked as “Private” so they are only visible to me until I share them.

I love that I can selectively share photos within albums. I don’t like sharing photos of our kids publicly so I tend to create two albums where I have a photoset that includes photos of our kids and photos to share publicly. With Flickr, I can use one album and selectively share photos of our kids with Friends, Family or Friends and Family while others remain Public. The disadvantage here is that I have to designate contacts as Friends, Family or both for them to see the photos. That means those contacts need to be Flickr users and be logged in to see the photos. At least, that is generally the case.

I realised that the most recent updates include a very cool sharing option. It looks like I can use Flickr’s sharing tool to create a link that gives everyone who has the link the ability to see the photos I have shared (except for Private photos which remain hidden) even if they could not ordinarily see the photos if they just browsed to my Photostream.

The Flickr share dialogue
That seems to extend to other services I share on, such as Facebook. I haven’t seen an explicit confirmation of this in Flickr’s documentation yet (I haven’t really looked) but it seems to be confirmed in the Flickr blog post about some of the updates:

So now you can easily upload, organize, and navigate your photos. But to what end? To share them of course! We’ve overhauled our sharing experience to make it lightweight and incredibly simple to use by bringing you bulk sharing! You no longer have to create an album in order to share a batch of photos. Simply swipe across your photos to select a few from your Camera Roll and click “Share.” You can grab the link, share via email, upload to Facebook, and more.

This is a great feature because it means I can share an album of photos of my family on Facebook with a subset of my Facebook friends without making the Flickr album Public just to facilitate that. At least I am pretty sure this is how it works. What this means for me is that I can really use my Flickr albums as my primary photo storage and sharing service and drastically reduce redundancy in my photo sharing processes.

Yet another update which doesn’t usually have as much sex appeal as the design stuff is a bulk download option. This is a big thing for me because it means that I have an exit option if Flickr ever stops working for me. I have over 86 000 photos in Flickr’s servers and I need to be able to get those out. Now I can:

No cloud home for your photos is complete without the ability to download them easily. For the first time, we’re bringing you bulk download. You can pick a selection of thousands of images from your Camera Roll and download them in zip format.

There are other enhancements which include improved image recognition and search capability, as well as a somewhat controversial auto-tagging feature. I suspect the bad results are a consequence of a system that is still learning. Google’s systems do this a lot better and it seems Flickr has a lot of catching up to do but, in the meantime, it is better than it was and I like the changes overall.

So, for now

For the time being, my workflow is much simpler. Uploadr automatically uploads my photos to Flickr when it notices exports from Lightroom. My exports actually go into a Dropbox folder but that is more of a temporary way-station for some ad hoc sharing until I am more comfortable with switching completely to Flickr for that or run out of space on Dropbox (I have 22GB of free space after a series of space bonuses). My longer archives are in my S3 buckets and I update those manually using Panic’s excellent Transmit app. I recently completed my archive upload to S3 so I have a complete copy of my photo archives along with other data in Amazon’s servers and it costs me around $16 a month (give or take).

I used to upload photos to Facebook to share with family and friends but I’ll just use Flickr sharing for now and see how that works. It seems to be a pretty effective option.

I’ll leave my photos in Google+ Photos. Google has its annual IO conference coming up this month and there is always the possibility they will announce some amazing update to Google+ Photos that will prompt a rethink. Even if they don’t, there is no big need to remove those photos from my Google storage spaces.

Between the Flickr apps on my iPhone and iPad and the Web view, Flickr has become a pretty complete photo management option for me. It is very easy to add new photos from different devices, share them with whomever I want to share them with and access them when I need them without needing a lot of storage space on my devices. It isn’t perfect and some apps and services do some of what Flickr does better than Flickr but, when I look at Flickr holistically, it is a winner.

You really should give Flickr another look if you are serious about your photos

Flickr isn’t the cool kid on today’s Web but it has a solid history and a great set of updates that make managing photos so much easier. The layouts are really clean and features like Magic View are fantastic. I get the feeling that these features are a little rough and will improve even more but they could really change your perspective on how you currently store and manage your photos.

Like TheNextWeb’s Amanda Connolly, Flickr has prompted me to all but abandon Apple’s Photos app as my primary local photo management tool. Photos is nice but it became a lot less relevant when I considered Apple’s iCloud storage plan pricing, the disadvantage of being locked into the iCloud ecosystem and Flickr becoming such a great primary photo storage and management option.

That said, Flickr’s Organizr could really use some updates (I’d like to have an option to dynamically create and update albums automatically based on tags or locations, for example). It works well enough for now though, especially considering it is free.

There are many really good photo sharing and/or storage services on the Web today and you have probably picked one (or a few) that work well for you. If you haven’t thought about Flickr for a while (or at all), you should take another look. You might find it has everything you need and more. Worst case, you receive a free 1TB for whatever you do decide to upload.


Dropbox is convenient but how secure is it?

This question is driving me a little nuts lately:

A potential security lapse and possibly misleading statements are plaguing Dropbox, a hugely popular file-syncing app. What are the issues and is concern justified?

I migrated all my client data off Dropbox and into SpiderOak but it seems SpiderOak doesn’t offer Dropbox-like sync between my team members.

I’ve been testing out BitTorrent Sync but it also have a few challenges and probably isn’t feasible for now (no remote wipe is a problem). I have been using JungleDisk for secure backup to Amazon S3. It has a sync function which works a bit like Dropbox but it could be a real pain to implement.

I am wondering if I am being a teensy bit too paranoid about Dropbox so I am looking forward to reading this article. My concerns about Dropbox are that I don’t control the encryption keys; that there have been a couple really bad security exploits lately and I will never know if some government agency wants access to the data we hold.

One option, I imagine, is an OwnCloud installation but I’m not too sure what the security implications of that are. Is OwnCloud inherently secure or does it depend entirely on the server capabilities?

Useful stuff

Secure your Dropbox with 2-factor authentication

Dropbox has added 2-factor authentication to help users protect their accounts even better:

Two-step verification is an optional but highly recommended security feature that adds an extra layer of protection to your Dropbox account. Once enabled, Dropbox will require a six-digit security code in addition to your password whenever you sign in to Dropbox or link a new computer, phone, or tablet.

The trade-off is a bit of a hassle when accessing your account at times but if you keep important information in your account, this isn’t a bad idea at all and worth doing.