I have been using a number of cloud-based file storage services for years, including Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, SFTP, Amazon S3, and a few others. Keeping all these services organized has been a bit of a problem. After all, each service has its own user interface, and switching from one to another requires at least a few seconds to refresh my memory of how each service operates. Now I have found a piece of software that treats each service as a separate drive on any Windows or Macintosh computer. I can also use multiple accounts on the same cloud service. If I have multiple Google Drives (say, one for me and one for my friend and one for my daughter and maybe another account for work) I can access all of them from my computer simultaneously.
ExpanDrive lets you access a wide array of remote server types as if they were local USB drives. You can then open, edit, and save files to these remote services from within your favorite programs, even when they are on a server half a world away. All of your present applications installed in your computer can transparently use that remote data.
Another use of ExpanDrive is to save space on a computer whose hard drive is getting full. I’ll explain that in a minute.
ExpanDrive offers versions for both Windows and Macintosh systems. Once installed and configured, you can open Windows Explorer or Macintosh’s Finder and see each of the cloud services that you subscribe to, listed as separate drives. You can click on a drive to open it and see its contents. You can even click-and-drag files from one cloud-based service to another in the same manner as moving a file from a hard drive to a flash drive.
For instance, I have desktop Mac computers in two different locations and also a laptop I use when traveling. You might have something similar: one computer at the office and another one at home or perhaps one at home and one at a seasonal cottage or vacation home. They might even be different operating systems, such as a Windows computer at the office and a Macintosh at home.
Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and several other cloud-based file storage services normally keep “mirrored copies” of all files on all computers. This is a good idea if you have enough storage space on the hard drives in each computer and a rather fast Internet connection that can keep lots of files in sync all the time by transferring copies of each file to each computer. However, it is not so good if a hard drive on one or more computers is becoming full, or if you are using a slow or expensive Internet connection, such as a wi-fi connection in some airports and hotels or a wireless hotspot connected to a cellular company’s nearby cell tower.
You can set up one computer (preferably one with a big hard drive) to use Dropbox or Google Drive or another file storage service in the normal manner. Then install ExpanDrive on a second computer, probably the one with the smaller hard drive. The second computer will have access to all the files in Dropbox and Google Drive and other services without requiring copies of each file being stored on that second system’s hard drive.
Being able to access a Dropbox drive or other cloud file storage service without installing the Dropbox or other app provides easy access to your synced files on remote services without the bandwidth of a full download, or even the trouble of setting up selective sync.
I especially like this when using a laptop computer with a rather small hard drive. Even though I have more than 100,000 files stored online in Google Drive and another 50,000 files in Dropbox, I can access any of those files from the laptop (assuming it is connected to the Internet) without needing to keep copies of all of them on the laptop’s hard drive. I also do not need to wait for the files to synchronize every time I turn on the laptop and connect to the Internet. Instead, I can use ExpanDrive to retrieve only the files I need at the moment.
By using ExpanDrive on my laptop, I was able to uninstall the Dropbox and Google Drive software from that laptop, as well as deleting all the files in the Dropbox and Google Drive folders on the laptop. As a result, I found the laptop now runs much faster. Its hard drive is less than 50% full; yet, thanks to ExpanDrive, I still have full access to all the files in Dropbox and in Google Drive and in a number of other services within seconds, assuming I am connected to the Internet. (I am almost always connected to the Internet wherever I travel. See my earlier Plus Edition article, (+) Enjoy Internet Access Nearly Anywhere and Anytime with a Personal Wi-Fi Hotspot at http://eogn.com/wp/?p=36691 for a description of how I accomplish that. A Plus Edition user name and password will be required to read that article.)
With ExpanDrive, all the “remote drives” also appear in all programs. For instance, my word processing program lets me save files directly to Dropbox or to Amazon Cloud Drive or to OneDrive without exiting the word processor.
Another advantage is that I can use the small amount of storage offered for free on each service. For instance, Dropbox offers 2 gigabytes of storage space free of charge. Amazon Cloud Drive offers 5 gigabytes of storage space free of charge. Google Drive offers 15 gigabytes of storage space free of charge. By using ExpanDrive to group these three together, I can have up to 22 gigabytes of free file storage space, all accessible from one “control panel,” that of ExpanDrive. Adding even more cloud storage services to the mix would give me even more free storage space. Even though ExpanDrive does cost money, it certainly helps me manage thousands of files across all these storage services.
Here is how this works. ExpanDrive creates a virtual USB drive that can connect to all major cloud storage providers such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, OneDrive, Openstack Swift, Amazon S3 or your own SFTP, FTP or WebDAV server. You need to have an account on each file storage service you plan to use so that ExpanDrive can connect to it.
NOTE: FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV are services normally used with a server you own or control. The other services are public file storage services that offer private, high-security storage space to customers.
ExpandDrive on a Macintosh
When saving files using ExpanDrive, you do not need to wait for data to be moved across a slow Internet connection. The transfer is a background service; so, you can click on SAVE and then keep working without waiting for the transfer to complete. On the other hand, when retrieving files from a cloud-based storage service, you will normally have to wait for the transfer to complete since most programs do not let you access a partially-transferred file. (Streaming video is an exception.)
ExpanDrive on Windows
I do feel there are two significant drawbacks to ExpanDrive:
First, there is no version for Android or for Apple iPhone and iPad devices. Of course, each of the file storage services does have its own app for those devices so anyone can still use the individual apps to access the files. However, it would be nice if ExpanDrive could group them all together in one app like the company already does on Windows and Macintosh. The computer world is moving away form desktop and laptop computers today and instead millions of people are using tablet computers more and more. I hope ExpanDrive offers an Apple iOS and an Android version soon.
Second, opening a folder that contains thousands of files, such as my /newsletter/articles folder, the software appears to hang for 15 to 30 seconds. I assume that is because it is building an index of all the files in that folder. When building such an index over an Internet connection, delays are increased. While the delays are annoying, the results still become available sooner than launching a separate app for each file storage service. In short, I just live with the delays.
ExpanDrive has a free trial available that allows you to use the service for up to 7 days. I downloaded the free trial and installed it. Seven days later, a pop-up window informed me that the free trial was over and invited me to pay $49.95 to continue using ExpanDrive. I realized that I had used ExpanDrive quite a few times in the previous seven days, so I dug out a credit card and paid for it.
The purchase of ExpanDrive includes a year of free software updates. After the year, the software will continue to work, but I will receive no updates. Of course, I can always renew the subscription to obtain future updates.
I consider $49.95 to be rather expensive for a software app these days. However, I am using ExpanDrive often enough to justify the expense in my mind. You may or may not feel the same, but I would invite you to try it for seven days to see if it is worthwhile to you. Once you make the decision to pay for ExpanDrive, the company sends you a short email message that contains a long serial number. Simply copy-and-paste that number into ExpanDrive, and you will then have the full version. You do not need to download a second copy.
I like ExpanDrive and am using it daily. If you want to access your cloud services easily and NOT have to keep a local, synced copy of all your data (even though it is in the cloud), this is the app for you.
You can learn more about ExpanDrive or even download the trial version at http://www.expandrive.com/.
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