Cloud storage is anything but a panacea for small SSDs. You might have 25Gb of iCloud storage, or 100Gb in Dropbox, but you’ll need that much space free on your Mac to take advantage of it. Run out of local storage, and cloud storage will stop working for you too. On a mobile device, sure, you can use Dropbox without it taking up tons of local space, but on your Mac or PC, it’s either store everything locally too, or resort to using cloud storage from your browser.
It’s the failure of cloud storage, one that’s surprisingly not talked about that much. Evernote, Dropbox, and iCloud — even your email if you use a native mail app — all take up local storage, something that can become quite an issue if you have a 11″ MacBook Air with a 64Gb SSD, or even the more spacious 128Gb SSD that’s rather standard across the board these days.
The freshly released ExpanDrive 3, though, is at least a partial solution to this problem. It lets you mount Dropbox and other online storage services, and treat them like an external HD. All the cloud storage goodness, without taking up extra local storage on your Mac.
ExpanD your Mac
ExpanDrive’s been around for quite some time; our former editor David Appleyard reviewed it back in 2009, and we even looked at it again just last month. In essence — until now, at least — ExpanDrive let you connect your FTP accounts to Finder, so you can quickly upload files to your site without having to switch over to another app. Nice and useful, though a tad geeky and something that just everyone wouldn’t necessarily need.
Fast-forward to today, though, and ExpanDrive just turned into something that almost anyone might want to use, since the new ExpanDrive now lets you connect to Dropbox, and will also very soon let you connect to Google Drive, Skydrive, and Box.net. That’s in addition to supporting more of the techie cloud storage services — sFTP, WebDAV, Amazon S3, Rackspace Cloud Files, Dreamhost DreamObjects, and OpenStack Swift — than ever before. If you use cloud storage to do anything — share documents, backup photos, or host your website — ExpanDrive is the app that’ll make cloud storage as simple to use as an external HD.
You’ll just authenticate ExpanDrive with your Dropbox account, connect, and then open Finder. You’ll see a new “removable drive” on the bottom of the left sidebar with your full Dropbox ready for you to use. You can browse through folders, open files, drag-and-drop files between folders or upload files from your Mac, and anything else you’d expect. It’s just like an external hard drive, except it’s in the cloud.
And you’re not limited to just one, either. You can add multiple Dropbox accounts, something you can’t do with the official Dropbox app. You can also add your FTP and Amazon S3 storage accounts, and soon, you’ll be able to connect to Google Drive and Skydrive the very same way.
It’ll be a bit slow — it took around 2-5 seconds to show the contents of a folder the first time I opened it, in my tests — and the contents of your Dropbox won’t show up in Spotlight search (again, at least not in my tests). Apps also won’t be able to save previous versions of your files as they would with local storage, so you may end up with some warnings. That’s not such a bit deal, though, especially with Dropbox since it stores previous versions online itself.
Beyond that, it worked great. Accessing Dropbox in ExpandDrive was faster than accessing files on my server via FTP, and with it integrated in Finder, it is just as easy to use from any app as the normal Dropbox folder. You can even see how much free space you have on Dropbox through Finder’s info pane, but oddly it showed the wrong total size of my account even though the free amount was correct.
So… Dropbox Without the Dropbox App?
With FTP and Amazon S3 storage, ExpanDrive makes obvious sense if you want to access your files without resorting to opening Transmit or another file transfer app. But with Dropbox — or Google Drive and Skydrive — it’s not quite as obvious of a solution, especially since using those services’ native apps would let you access the files with no delays, and you’d be able to find files via Spotlight.
But let’s assume you have a 100Gb Dropbox Pro account, and a 128GB SSD on your MacBook (like me). If you’ve got, say, Photoshop, Office, and a dozen App Store apps installed, plus a couple movies and a vacation’s worth of photos, your SSD will start feeling cramped pretty quick. That 100Gb of Dropbox storage won’t all be useable, since by default Dropbox will store all of your Dropbox files in the cloud and locally on your Mac. You can selectively sync folders, keeping some in the cloud only, but then your only way to access them is through your browser.
ExpanDrive gives you another option by letting you use Dropbox as pure cloud storage directly from Finder. All your Dropbox files are only stored online, so you’ve got extra free space locally, and can still use Dropbox shared folders and other features. And, you can use more than one Dropbox account at the same time, which is great if you have a work and personal account.
That makes it worth trying out, especially if storage space is at a premium for you, and you’re working online most of the time.
And a Special Discount
Best of all, we’ve got a 50% discount for our readers. If you buy a copy of ExpanDrive 3 this month, you can use the coupon code APPSTORM to get ExpanDrive 3 for just $19. But hurry; it’s only valid for the first 25 purchases. Or, you can download the free trial for a week and see if it’s what you need to tame your cloud storage.