A couple of days ago, Dropbox added their app to the Windows Store for use in the Modern UI of Windows 8. Before this app became available, I had been using Box File Provider to access my Dropbox files via the Modern UI.
If you are using an RT version of Windows, a Modern UI version is critical, as the desktop function is severely limited on the RT versions of Windows 8. There is always the option to access your files stored in Dropbox through the web browser interface, but I find that to be kludgy and not as easy to use, personally.
Because my ATIV500T Windows 8 tablet is running Win8 Pro, I have no trouble installing most software to the desktop, but I have a very small amount of memory available to me on my device, so memory management is critical! My cloud storage in Dropbox exceeds the memory on my ATIV many times over. I could selectively sync which folders to sync, but I really need to be able to access ANY of my files quickly and easily, so the full Windows desktop app isn’t a good solution for me. I need a Modern UI app to allow me to preview and download on demand any file I may need, without filling up the little bit of available space I have on my device.
INSTALLATION & AUTHENTICATION:
Box File Provider: after installation needs you to authorize it to connect to Dropbox and you are required to log in to Dropbox. Once that is complete, you can see all of your folders and files.
Dropbox: is 1 step easier and only requires you to log in, or create a new account if you don’t already have one. I understand that the Dropbox app does allow you to use their 2-step authentication, but personally do not use that feature.
WINNER: Tie – both are easy, but with a slight edge to Dropbox if you are using 2-Step authentication
VIEWING AND ACCESSING YOUR FILES AND FOLDERS:
For comparison purposes, I am going to use 2 types of files, a 1GB movie and an Excel Spreadsheet and open/download both types of files with each app.
Box File Provider: The files themselves are represented by an icon that matches the program that will open that file type. (Spreadsheets show an Excel icon, etc.) This makes it easier to identify multi-format versions of documents. I often have a Word document and a matching PDF that have the same file name, and I can easily see which is which by the icon displayed. The files open with the corresponding default app for the file type.
EXCEL: Downloading the Excel file took seconds and brought up my file and I was able to enter straight into editing mode. Clicking save after editing did not prompt me to save a local copy. I assumed this meant that my changes would be automatically updated into Dropbox. Sadly, this is NOT the case. The changes to your document may be saved in the file cache someplace, but it does NOT save your file locally in an easily accessible place, and does not upload your changes into Dropbox. You must remember to save a local copy of your edits, and then manually update the file back into Dropbox.
MOVIE: An Mp4 video file of 1GB took about 5 minutes to download. Once downloaded, the file opens automatically with your default video player.
Dropbox: Individual files are a placeholder icon that looks like a little piece of paper with a folded over corner, but open with the default program for whatever type the file is. Visually, it’s not as appealing as Box File Provider.
EXCEL: Opening an Excel file immediately lets you know that you must proactively Enable Editing before you can make any changes to your document. Once you have completed your edits and click Save, your are told that your document is Read-Only, and that you must save a local copy of your document. With Box File Provider, you are not reminded to take these steps, and having lost my edits, I have to say that I prefer the prompts so that I don’t lose my changes.
MOVIE: Downloading the movie file itself took about 5 minutes. But after the download completed, there was an additional 5 or so minute delay before the file could be opened after the download progress indicator had gone away and my file indicated that it was “synced.” If you try tapping on the file before it finishes whatever it is doing in the background, you are told that Dropbox is still downloading the file and to please wait. Once it has finished completely downloading, the movie opens with your default video viewer.
From this standpoint, both apps seem nearly equal, with a slight edge to Dropbox for prompting me to both enable editing and reminding me to save a local copy of my work. I much preferred the way that Box File Provider displayed the icon for the app that will open my file. It just looked nicer.
WINNER: Tie, based on which is more important to you – visual style or prompts to remind you to save your work
Currently neither app offers you a tool or setting for you to be able to clear out the cache of downloaded files, and when it comes to movies, clearing them out after your are done watching is a MUST.
Searching for the file locations sent me on a bit of a quest. Neither app makes it clear where they store their files, for you to manually delete them. In fact, the only way that I could even try to locate the files was through Windows Media Player, and then right-clicking on the movie, and then clicking on the Properties to tell me the file location.
In order to even FIND the file caches, you must enable viewing hidden files and folders through Windows Explorer. To get to the file cache, follow the correct string for the app you’re using:
BOX FILE PROVIDER: C://Users/NAME/AppData/Local/Packages/4737VitaliyLeschenkoCo.DropboxClient_rt4gm7pfmw0sj/TempState/
From this point, there are now large differences. Inside the Dropbox cache, there were 153 individual folders (all created in the 24 hours I had the app installed!) and all with ridiculously long character stings for folder names. Finding the one that has your movie file in it is a huge challenge! There were 109 of these folders created at the time I downloaded the movie, so even trying to use the date and time to sort to find your file isn’t going to be much help. The best bet is for you to select all, and delete all of the folders.
In the Box File Provider cache, I could again see the icon for the matching file type. There were also only 14 files in the cache, and 3 folders. This matched up 1 to 1 with the files I had downloaded, so it wasn’t hard once you followed the correct file path to know where to find whatever you’ve downloaded and delete the correct file.
It is easy enough once you know the location of the cache folder to make a shortcut on your desktop to it for you to be able to manually delete the cache, since memory management on a Windows 8 tablet is pretty critical. I reached out to both developers, and both have indicated that they intend to update their apps with a way for you to clear the cache, without going through all of these steps.
But, I ran into a wholly unexpected issue while searching for the Dropbox movie, and I believe that it goes back to that additional delay before opening the file, because it was saving not 1, but 2 complete copies in 2 different locations on my device! This means that my 1gb movie file was now taking up 2GB on my device memory! I have no idea why that would be, and I do know that one file was not simply a shortcut pointing to the first file, because I was able to move both copies to the recycle bin independently, and after emptying the recycle bin, regained 2GB of storage on my device.
WINNER: Box File Provider – their file cache is simple doesn’t involve hundreds of file folders and only copies 1 version of a movie file.
Box File Provider appears to have an upload tool for you to easily create a new folder and upload files. Unfortunately, the tool itself does not seem to work properly, and any attempt to upload a file returns an error saying that there is a problem with your internet connection. I was able to make a new folder, but once I had made the folder, it would never refresh and show the contents I had uploaded to it from a different computer.
Dropbox currently offers no option to upload files through their app, although that feature is intended with a future update.
WINNER: Neither! Both apps need to be updated to include a working upload tool
At this point, neither app is a crystal clear winner, but I have chosen not to use the Dropbox version of the app until the double download issue is addressed and the cache is easier to locate files. I actually deleted it, but reinstalled it so that I can get a notification through the Windows Store when there are updates available to the app.
Both apps are available in the Windows Store. Dropbox is free, and Box File Provider has a free ad-supported version, and an option to remove the ads for $1.49.
This is my Dropbox Referral Code: http://db.tt/hFqJgew If you are new to Dropbox, and use this link, we both get an extra 1GB of free storage space.