iCloud promises much. Apple build the service not only to store your content, but to ensure that content is available on whatever device you’re using at the time. It gives you an easy way to keep app settings and the documents you’re using synced between your devices using the same apps, but since iCloud syncs files specifically for each app, it makes it hard to use documents in other apps.
This can be frustrating to experienced users used to moving between apps for different elements of their work. Here, the simplicity of iCloud can frustrate more experienced users by hiding some of the complexity of cloud storage. Some apps allow ways to move files out of iCloud and to your local device, but it would be nice to be able to do this from Finder directly. Plain Cloud is a simple and free app that promises simple access to your iCloud in Finder. Let’s see if this is the solution we need to solve iCloud’s complexity.
Installing and Using Plain Cloud
Plain Cloud is a simple app that shows you all of your iCloud files from all of your apps, so you can easily open them in any app of your choice. It’s actually just providing easy access to the iCloud information already on your computer.
When you turn on Documents and Settings Syncing in the System Preferences for iCloud on your Mac, the data from iCloud is stored locally on your computer. Your Mac keeps the files and data in a folder under your home directory at ~/Library/Mobile Documents/. The files aren’t apparent in Finder by default, but if you open Finder, click the Go menu and then select Go to Folder and enter ~/Library/Mobile Documents/, you can see the data for each of your iCloud enabled apps. The names of the folders can be a bit obscure, but the iCloud data is here.
What Plain Cloud does, then, is makes this data easy to access and understand, in a way that seems a bit more iCloud style than searching through obscure folders in Finder. It shows a list of all of your iCloud enabled apps, and the number of files they have saved in iCloud on your Mac.
The interface to Plain Cloud is simple, but effective. You’ll find all of the apps that can support iCloud (including built-in OS X apps), even if they don’t have any files stored in iCloud. You can then click on the app’s name to open its files in Finder. Do note that some of the files may not be ones you’ll be able to easily use, such as settings files that are being synced by iCloud, but if you have, say, text files in your notes app that you want to open in another app, you’ll find them here easily.
If you want to copy or move a file from iCloud to another folder on your Mac, then you can do so by moving it from here. You Mac will provide a warning that doing so will remove it from iCloud and no longer allow it to sync to other devices. You can also move files from your Mac into the appropriate folder and they will then be available through iCloud on other applications. Right now there is really no way to share files between applications within iCloud other than manually moving them between folders in this manner, but this does give you a lot of ways that you can make iCloud files feel a bit more useful.
Overall, Plain Cloud is simplifying something you can already do on your Mac. It’s handy to have a quick interface to the folders, and since it’s free, it’s worth a download if you’d like more control over your iCloud experience.
There are limitations, though. It only works with Documents and Data items and you cannot see anything that is not synced over to your Mac. For instance, there are several folders in my iCloud that are only available on iOS devices and the folders are empty on my Mac. If a program stores nothing in documents and data, then it will not appear in this list.
iCloud makes working with documents across devices easier, but can be frustrating when you want to work outside of the limitation. Plain Cloud eases the access to the files on your computer and can help with this frustrating. Now Plain Cloud only lets you more easily access data on your computer and only Documents and Data in iCloud. This application is a nice start, but I’d like to see more functionality added to work better with Photo Stream and other iCloud data. But for that, we might have to wait for Apple to open up iCloud a bit more.