A few weeks ago I blogged about setting up ownCloud on my Raspberry Pi. It was a fun exercise, but after completing it I was a bit uncertain as to how I’d use it. Let me explain why.
Last year I upgraded the new MacBook pro with retina display. It is, without a doubt, the best computer I have ever owned. The only drawback is the relatively limited storage. I haven’t had to be conscious of the amount of storage on my computer for quite a few years, but there is just no way to keep all my data on this computer. I needed network accessible storage to share some of the load. While I love services like Dropbox, and even iCloud Drive, they don’t help with my particular problem as it syncs data with a directory on my device. Whatever I store in those aspects of the cloud continue to take up the space I’m trying to save.
At first glance, ownCloud was an ideal solution to this problem. While ownCloud can be used in much the same way was Dropbox, it also allows it to be mounted as a remote drive using the webDAV protocol. I was ready to get moving. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Finder, Apple’s file manager, doesn’t get along with webDAV.
The way OS X handles file-transfers over webDAV doesn’t play nicely with a lot of default web server setups. Finder uses a “chunked” transfer encoding, which isn’t frequently used. This type of encoding allows Finder to send large files without having to know how big the file actually is, and it makes a lot of web servers choke even though it is a legal request. Apache with mod_php works just fine, but on a lightweight computer like a Raspberry Pi it tends to overwork the system. Other web servers work better on the Pi, but have real difficulty with chunking. There are solutions, but I could never get them to work. Any time I’d try to put files into ownCloud when it was mounted via webDAV Finder would spit out an error. The dropbox-like client works fine, and the web-client works well, but neither worked the way I needed it to. Eventually, as I continued to read, I noticed a pattern of struggles people had using Finder as a webDAV client – people felt it was slow, a bit unstable, and had odd quirks. I ended up putting ownCloud on the back burner.
This past week, however, I began to wonder if there might be alternative webDAV clients for the Mac. I found two I have enjoyed, one of which is going to stick.
The first is Forklift 2 by Binary Nights. This is a beautiful-looking application, with a elegant two-paned interface. All sorts of cloud storage options can be connected via the application and, in the non-App Store version, can even be mounted as network drives. I did have some issues with file uploads timing out when uploading to my ownCloud dive, however, and that led me to continue my explorations.
This past week I was made aware of a software bundle from Cult of Mac. Included in this bundle was an app called ExpanDrive. I installed it this evening, and knew I’d found my tool. ExpanDrive is billed as like having cloud services plugged into your computer as though they were a USB drive. The number of services which can be connected is as extensive as Forklift, but way it’s used is completely different. Any connected service automatically shows up as a network drive, but it avoids the issues that plague Finder connections. Instead, ExpanDrive processes transfers separately, and syncs files seamlessly in the background. I’ve thrown some large files at the connection to my ownCloud drive and had no issues whatsoever. It’s pretty fantastic.
While I’ll won’t be working with my photo library or video projects through ExpanDrive connections, I can see myself using this application for writing projects and even presentations. I can even mount my Dropbox through the app if I so choose, saving that much more space on my computer.