Why I Dropped Dropbox

Productivity May 25, 2015

Let me start by stating that for what’s available on the web today, Dropbox is by far the best at what it does. I’ve tried many competitors and always came back to Dropbox.

Then, one might ask, “why on earth are you dropping the service?”

While Dropbox may be the best service for syncing files across the web, the business of syncing files on the web, simply doesn’t work for my workflow. That is—at least how it works currently. Here’s Why:

Disk Space Overload

On the average day, I work with a pretty large chunk of files. A single project can include dozens of images and multiple Photoshop files each in excess of 300 MB. Dropbox itself is more than generous in its allotment of an entire terabyte a subscription—so that’s not an issue.

The problem, however, is that when you’re taking advantage of that allotment, actual computer hard drive space fills up fast. For example, My MacBook Pro has a little over 700 GB of total hard drive space. So, as you might imagine, as I began to fill up the Dropbox on one computer, the other became maxed out.

The Endless Task of “Downloading File List . . .”

When it comes time for a bigger, memory-intensive project, you can bet I’m squeezing every ounce of free memory I can. That’s especially the case when Google Chrome continues to consume resources at a stunning rate. When I check memory usage and see it eaten away by a Dropbox process that’s “Downloading File Lists” for hours at a time, I begin to contemplate the “Force Quit” button.


Another individual fed up with the ambiguity of the dreaded “Downloading file list . . .” issue, put it this way:

I’m on the latest Mac OS X using the latest Dropbox client (v3.4.4). It has been stuck in “Downloading file list…” mode forever.

There is no visual indication of progress. No clue about any ETA. No system logs. No detailed activity window.

It’s just sitting there, wasting CPU cycles, leaving me completely in the dark as to what it’s actually doing and how long it’ll take.

Finder integration shows green icons for folders that haven’t synced at all. Others are marked as in progress but completed a while ago. That doesn’t foster a trusted relationship.

It’s a mess and when it comes to your data, it’s one you can hardly stand.

Not to mention how CPU hungry the little sync client gets from time to time.

I Just Need to Share A Couple Small JPEGs!

I work up a lot of comps in a given week. From book cover designs to website mockups, I’m constantly firing off Emails to a wide variety of individuals. In each case, the recipient needs to be able to simply, quickly, and effectively view the work I’ve readied for them.

The problem with using Dropbox in this regard is that it can take up to a half an hour (or more) for it to finish its latest run of updating the file lists. As you might imagine, this simply doesn’t cut it when you just want links to a couple 1 MB PNG files.

Eventually, I ended up signing up for an account with CloudApp which has all but filled this void.

Less Is More

After some experimentation, I eventually settled with a couple of standard external hard drives I setup within my internal network. I also, set up a second 3 TB external backup drive (in addition to offsite backup).

External Hard Drives
A collection of simple, external, USB hard drives.

The result has been like a breath of fresh air. No more awaiting files to hit the Dropbox servers before jumping over to another computer. They simply all access the same drive and leave the backup to Time Machine.

If working remotely, it’s just a matter of grabbing the external hard drive and heading out the door. There’s a couple of extra steps to get the networked drive solution up and running, but in my experience, it has created a much more seamless, pain-free daily workflow.


Admittedly, the solutions I’ve mentioned in this article won’t work for everyone. When it comes to teams, an external or networked hard drive isn’t always an option—especially if the team isn’t in the same building.

My hope is that Dropbox will address some of the concerns mentioned by creative teams using the service and create a more usable, seamless experience. Until then, it’s external hard drives for me.

What has been your experience with Dropbox? Does it work for your particular workflow? Feel free to leave a comment on this article to share your thoughts!

12 thoughts on “Why I Dropped Dropbox

  1. I totally get a lot of this. I think the key is turning off the syncing to your desktop. That way, you can just use the web browser to find the files you need since it’s rare you’ll need everything you have stored. But it’s invaluable to have access to the files regardless of the device I’m using.

    1. Good point on the non-desktop approach to using Dropbox—infact—I might actually do this for photos. While there are many pros to using the app (like having files on all devices), for me, the cons outweighed the pros, unfortunately.

  2. I never had a Dropbox account. Now, I could have one; I have two Android devices with the opportunity to have Dropbox on each because of Google’s lack of support for offline storage. My issue is that I have second hand experience of what a data hog it can be even when it’s not synced, and when your broadband has been artificially capped to 500MB a month by your mobile network provider…

  3. Agree with everything above. My Dropbox desktop is on pause nearly all the time I sync overnight. Dropbox is now a great offsite backup but as a real time collaborative file sharing environment for over 10k+ files forgot it. I now really on mu Mac Time machine. It Apple could put Time Machine the Cloud I’d switch immediately. But al least it’s not too expensive.

  4. My experience is that same. I use Dropbox to sync work files between my home and office computers, but as the number of files I store has grown Dropbox has slowed to a crawl. I literally turn Dropbox off during the work day, since it sucks so much CPU and is constantly hammering the hard drive. After saving 1 tiny file it is typical for Dropbox to be “downloading file list” for 15 minutes. Sometimes it is stuck “downloading file list” for hours.

    I’m sure Dropbox is great for sharing a few files, but when dealing with large numbers of files it fails miserably. Although the Dropbox website has an knowledge base article which admits to performance degradation with storing 300,000+ files, in my experience problems occur much sooner than that.

    I have read that the database format Dropbox uses for storing the file index scales poorly. Presumably reading/writing to that database is what slows Dropbox to a crawl. Interestingly my macbook at home (SSD hard drive) has zero speed issues, presumably because it can read and write to disk much faster.

    Another observation: In addition to Dropbox I use Backblaze for offsite backup, and its performance impact is unnoticeable. So it seems clear to me that Dropbox is doing something very inefficiently.

    1. I’m a user of Backblaze and have noticed much the same.

      Either Backblaze is highly impressive or the opposite is true of Dropbox. Right now, Backblaze backs up my entire computer and two large, external hard drives with little or no strain on my workflow.

      I can’t say the same for two or three files in the hands of Dropbox syncing.

  5. Agree 100%. Sitting here while my file list downloads after some rearranging (big mistake). I do not work with large files, but I work with many files and many computers. In addition, I use Dropbox as yet another line of defense for backing up images and movies files (I have the 1TB account). The endless syncing, downloading file list and filling up HD space on my four Macs is out of control. On all four computers I have selective sync simply to keep from overloading my hard drives. To call this “the cloud” is a little misleading. To call this a bug free well designed app and service is a joke! I would jump to use any other service, but they all seem to suck.

    1. I’m writing up a piece that I’ll be posting here on Writely Designed fairly soon about this, but you might want to check out Bit Torrent Sync. It’s free, fast, and secure.

      It works really well by bypassing the “cloud” altogether.


  6. Shoot, forgot to add this. I use apppolice, a free app for one purpose and one purpose only – limit Dropbox from hogging my CPU. Of course it makes Dropbox work longer, but at least I can use my computer while its chugging away on 10% of my CPU!

  7. Thank you for your article; as many have pointed out, this is a huge issue.

    One of the labs I work for switched to Dropbox ~2 years ago for a team of 20+ people. Some have huge data files, but most just have a ton of little files. We back up everything related to our research there.

    Our first major issue was people putting large amounts of data on shared folders without warning others first. You show up to work and everyone’s computers are out of memory all the sudden. Selective sync with offline options fixed that, as long as people know to de-sync the destination directories for those data.

    However, it seems that Dropbox still indexes all these empty files (usually ~200,000 of them), and typically 100% + of our CPU activity as reported by Activity Monitor is consumed by syncing and indexing.

    I have to wonder: with all that demand on the CPUs, hard drives, and cooling systems, what is the long-term hidden cost to a large group like ours? We must be shortening the lives of our computers.

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