Dropbox.com - Dropbox Fiasco

Posted on Monday, January 27th, 2014 at 8:10pm CST by Email U.

Company: Dropbox.com

Location: US

URL: www.dropbox.com

Category: Computers, Software

I've been using (and promoting) Dropbox since the company launched. I currently have a Professional Dropbox account with more than 100 GB of storage but sadly, have watched their customer service gradually degenerate to its present state.

I am an IT consultant currently working with a major international bank, and require many writing and graphics utilities that are not permitted on their corporate laptops. But, because Dropbox can be installed on almost any PC regardless of admin rights or lack thereof, I am able to create the output my employer requires on my own PC and then sync it with the corporate one, where it can be emailed or posted on SharePoint. Compliance types might howl about the security issues, but my alternative - at more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies - would have been to quit and look for another job. The work samples for which I was hired could never have been produced on their PCs.

I seldom have required support from Dropbox in the past but, whenever I called for help, it was always forthcoming. Recently, without any warning or notice, they seem to have abandoned any pretense of support.

I have been using a Dell E6520 for the last 2 years (see my CNET article about my dealings with Dell at http://forums.cnet.com/7723-13974_102-556950/purchasing-a-dell-latitude-e6520-it-was-the-worst-of-times/). This PC has a 32-bit OS, which I needed at the time to accommodate the many important legacy utilities I was using, which were not yet available in 64-bit versions. Now that most of those utilities have been updated, I purchased another E6520 as a backup PC, this one with a 64-bit OS.

I immediately installed Dropbox, of course, and this is where the fiasco began. When I tried to sync my work files, they were all DELETED - not only from the Dropbox site, but from the other 2 connected PCS, as well. Moreover, they did not even appear as "Deleted Files" on the Dropbox site. I didn't have any other backup, because Dropbox and my other 2 PCs WERE (I thought!) my backup! This could have ended my relationship with my client!

In shock, my first impulse was to call Dropbox Tech Support, which had always been there for me previously. I quickly discovered that there were NO support numbers posted anywhere; even the GetHuman number led to an announcement stating that phone support was no longer offered. I went back to the Dropbox site and learned that phone support was, in fact, available only for Business Accounts, at $75/month or $795/yr. (on their current sales site). OK... I was ready to pay, and there was a phone number! I called the number and another announcement informed me that I had to send an email and wait for a response.

I went back to their Tech Support page and filled out a ticket, explaining what had happened, and begged for someone to reply ASAP. The page promised that a tech would contact me "within 24 to 48 hours". Three days later a tech emailed me. I replied explaining what had happened, and begged him to call me - at ANY price. I never heard from him again.

I now realized that I was absolutely on my own. My pulse rate eventually returned to double digits, and I began to analyze what had happened.

I discovered that, on all 3 PCs there is a folder named ".dropbox.cache" under the Dropbox folder. This folder was never visible on my 32-bit E6520, regardless of my folder settings; I found it by searching for it by name with Explorer++, and then created a shortcut to it. On each PC, the folder contained several dated child folders; i.e., my current .dropbox.cache folder contains folders for today, plus the last 4 days. On one of the PCs, this folder contained copies of every missing file (in some cases with the name truncated), appended with a 32-character hash code - more than 450 files in all. There was no hint of a tree structure, but I figured that I could at least identify and retrieve my current work (and not get fired!)

Searching the Web, I discovered that a utility named "Python" was supposed to be able to restore all the files in this folder to their original tree structure. I downloaded it and followed the instructions, but it failed to work - presumably because it was intended for an earlier version of Dropbox.

I eventually learned what had caused the disaster. I noticed that, when I viewed my Dropbox site from the 64-bit PC, many folders were completely absent, but were present when accessed from the 32-bit PC. This suggested that the folders weren't visible to Dropbox on the 64-bit PC.

I immediately realized what had happened. I have been in the habit of placing 1 or 2 leading underscores before the folder name of my current client company in Dropbox so that it would appear at the top of the folder tree by default. This has never caused a problem in all the years I've been using Dropbox. But, in the 64-bit OS, Dropbox totally FAILED TO SEE any folder named with 2 leading underscores, although it saw folders with a single leading underscore. I searched on the Dropbox FAQ for any such warning, and found only the cryptic message, "Dropbox doesn't always play nicely with different file systems".

To remedy the situation I first paused syncing on all 3 PCs. Then, on my main PC - the original E6520 - I moved the parent folder for my company out of Dropbox and created a new one, eliminating any leading underscores. I backed up the good .dropbox.cache file and, one by one, copied the files to their correct locations, renaming them along the way. I then copied the repaired file tree back into Dropbox. When I turned sync back on, everything worked fine. I'm now back up and running - no thanks to Dropbox.

Lesson learned: If you have a critical business need for Dropbox's sync functionality, you'd better steer clear of Drobox and look to some other service, like DrivePop or Tonido, for example, where customers matter and telephone support is available - either free or by subscription.

Postscript: Today, 4 days after my first contact with Dropbox Tech Support, I received some instructions from a support agent that may have been helpful if received sooner. I learned that an Events Log at https://www.dropbox.com/events displays every recent change that has taken place in your account. I was able to see the disaster event in the log and might possibly have been able to UNDO it. Another page, located at https://www.dropbox.com/help/400/en. shows you how to locate a specific event. This information would certainly have been helpful if delivered within the promised interval. But responding only after 4 days shows that Dropbox Tech Support is hopelessly out of touch, and useless for professional users.


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