Every new app and service these days dangles the promise of nearly unlimited free “cloud” storage in front of us. It’s a tantalizing promise in a day when smaller SSDs are the norm. After all, when’s the last time, prior to the MacBook Air’s coming out, that you would have considered a computer with 64Gb of storage? Right, I thought so.
Cloud storage has failed us, though, if freeing up our hard drives was what it was supposed to do. Instead, every document you add to iCloud, Dropbox, or Evernote takes up extra space in your cloud storage and on your hard drive.
My Files is a new app that aims to fix this problem, giving you a way to easily store files online and find them again quickly, all without having to take up extra space on your Mac. Let’s see if it lives up to its lofty goal.
Saving Local Storage
See, there’s actually one way to use cloud storage without using up storage on your Mac: only use the cloud service through its web app. If you only use Google Drive in your browser, and don’t install the Mac sync app, then it’ll never use up extra storage space beyond a tiny bit of web cache you can clean up. With Dropbox and Skydrive, you could either use them solely from your browser, or you could selectively sync only certain folders, leaving others residing only in the cloud to save local storage.
The problem is, that keeps your files stored but not very accessible. You’ll need to remember where you saved them, and will need to login to the cloud storage service’s site to search for files or download them. It might work for archival – I use non-synced Dropbox folders to store old eBooks and photos, personally – but isn’t the nicest for stuff you might need on a semi-regular basis.
My Files aims to fill the gap by bringing your non-synced cloud storage files closer to your Mac. It lets you sign in with your Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive, SugarSync, and Box accounts (only one account per service, though) and view all the files and folders you have stored online in each of those services. It sounds perfect, but the app is buggy and basic enough to keep it from really shining.
A Glimpse of the Cloud…
There are great things about My Files. First off, it has you access each storage service through the service’s own app authentication, so you don’t actually put your passwords directly into My Files. You instead authenticate My Files with the storage services, much like you would authenticate a mobile app with Dropbox on your iPhone. That way, you don’t have to trust the app itself with your accounts.
Once you’ve added your accounts, you can browse each storage service and see every file and folder in them. You can also search across all of the services through the search bar at the top of the app, though it’ll only search for file and folder names. Once you’ve found the file you need, you download it to your computer, double-click to open the file, or share it via email or iMessage. Or, depending on the service, you can copy a public link to the file to share directly, without having to download anything.
You can also create new folders and upload files, though you’ll have to do that through the menus in My Files as there’s no drag-and-drop support for now. There is also no way to quickly go back to the home screen to see all of your services, but there is two-finger swipe to go back and forth, which makes it decently easy.
…That’s Slightly Foggy
So far so good. You can upload files and get a link to share them online, find files you’ve already saved, and search across multiple services together. Not bad at all.
The problem is, My Files is buggy enough that it crashed at least once a day while I’ve been testing it. It’d occasionally have trouble logging in with one of the services, and you can’t use the app at all until it’s logged into everything you’ve authenticated.
Then, it gives you no way to sync changes. If you double-click on a file in My Files, it’ll open in the default app on your Mac (unless it’s a document in Google Drive; then it’ll show an error, since you can’t open Google Docs files locally). But, the file you’re viewing is just a copy saved in your Mac’s cache folders, and any changes you make won’t be saved to the cloud. You’ll need to save the file as a new copy in, say, your Desktop, then re-upload it via My Files to get the changes saved to the cloud.
My Files is a neat concept, one we’d love to see done well, but the current version falls far short of what you’d need from a mission-critical app. If you are using non-synced Dropbox folders, say, to save your old eBook and music library that you don’t need that often, My Files might be worth downloading to give you an easy way to search for files when you need them. It even gives you a decent way to add new files to those non-synced folders.
Beyond that, though, it’s far from the best way to use cloud storage, and for the most part, you’d be better off just logging into the cloud storage websites to find files you’ve saved there. It’s a niche app as-is, but one that could be useful to most of us if it was improved.
Imagine drag-and-drop uploading and downloading, synced file changes, multiple accounts per service, and a nicer interface that tied together cloud storage like this. That could be a game changer. It’s yet to be seen, though, if My Files will be the app for that task, or not.