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Thoughts from David Cornelius


Supporting a wide variety of projects using different versions of Delphi and a mix of databases, I keep several development environments alive and active. In addition to my main desktop machine, I have eight virtual machines (two just for testing, one with Windows 7 and Delphi 5), and a laptop with Windows 11. All code is stored online in either BitBucket or GitHub but there are many other files that are useful when working with these projects such as notes, sample imports and exports, contracts, and other related materials that don't fit in the source code repository. Of course, everything is backed up, but it's important to be able to quickly share a file from one machine to another, such as a screenshot taken on one machine to another where I'm preparing documentation. File syncing between machines (and through the cloud) is very useful.

Years ago, I started the inexpensive OneDrive subscription ($1.99/month) to add 100 GB of cloud storage to the free 10 GB Microsoft offers, giving me plenty of space for these extra files. It was handy, always there and automatically set up with each new Windows installation, so I started using it more and more. I started adding photos I'd take with my phone, documents for non-business related things, and so forth. It has a pretty decent photo viewer built in so when someone asked to see some pictures I took, I could just share a folder and they'd get a nice way to view the gallery. Additionally, when I worked on a Word document, I could share it in OneDrive and a colleague and I could both make changes to it, somewhat like Google Docs.

After a few years of use, I realized I had used 90 GB out of my 110 GB total space--and things were slowing down significantly. Sometimes, adding a file from a virtual machine wouldn't show up on my main desktop until I closed and restarted the OneDrive app; sometimes I had to view it online and manually download it because it just wasn't yet aware of the new file. And worst of all, sometimes OneDrive would just sit there "looking for changes" or "preparing to download" with nothing happening for hours! (I found out that sometimes OneDrive needs to re-evaluate every file to realize what is new--GAH!)

Finally, I had enough and searched for "OneDrive too slow" to see if there was a fix. I was surprised to see several blogs and forums where people were complaining about the same thing I had experienced; one Reddit thread said "OneDrive syncing is abysmally slow". There were a variety of suggestions, most of which I had already tried. The most frequent "solution" was to simply use a different file syncing service.

So my next search was "OneDrive alternatives" which yielded quite a few options. There are many different ways to sync and store files in the cloud and most companies give you a small, free account so I had a chance to test them out. Two things at the top of my list is to be able to sync from multiple places and to selectively sync (different machines need to sync to different folders; none of them need everything). OneDrive allows up to 10 devices (I think) before you need to use a different account. I found some of the free service plans only allowed one or two devices to sync before you had to pay. Many services have a different price tier for personal and business accounts--usually the business accounts are for multiple users (I only evaluated the personal or individual price plans). I was actually surprised how much variance there is between the services.

Here's a brief list of the ones I looked at and the things about them that stuck out to me:

  • OneDrive
    • 10 GB free, $1.99/month for +100 GB
    • Hook up 10 Windows machines + mobile devices
    • All files in one folder
    • Select which folders are synced to a device
    • Can share files/folders for editing or viewing
    • Offers secure folder (max of 3 files unless on Office 365 subscription)
    • Nice photo viewer
  • DropBox
    • 2 GB free, additional 500 MB for each referral; $12/month for 2 TB
    • Hook up to 3 devices with free account, unlimited with paid account
    • All files in one folder
    • Select which folders are synced to a device (paid plan only)
    • Can share files/folders for editing or viewing
    • Offers secure folder (paid plans only)
  • iDrive Sync
    • Really more of a backup solution than file sync, you buy the backup solution and get file sync for free
    • 10 GB free, $80/year for 5 TB of backup and 5 TB of file sync
    • File sync space matches backup space but is a separate service you can enable or disable on each device
    • Hook up unlimited number of machines, works on Windows, Mac, iPad, and Linux
    • All files in one folder
    • Cannot selectively choose folders--it's all or nothing if file sync enabled
  • Tresorit
    • This isn't a file-sync service but secure cloud storage; it's all about security and encryption;  included in this list because I'm also interested in a small number of folders to be encrypted (health records, business contracts, legal documents) and because with the app installed, the remote files are just as easily accessed from other devices as if they were local or synced through a virtual network drive that it sets up.
    • No advertised free plan but if you sign up and then cancel, you're left with a 3 GB free account!
    • 1 TB for $12/month
    • Hook up maximum of two devices on free plan, 10 on paid; Windows, Mac, Linux, mobile
  • Box
    • 10 GB free (I was granted an extra 10 GB for some reason); $10/month for 2 TB
    • Hook up only 1 device on free plan, not sure how many on paid plan
    • Can share files/folders for editing or viewing
    • Really difficult to ascertain specifics on the other features I'm interested in for comparison--abandoned the research on this one
  • ADrive
    • No free plan but start as low as $2.50/month for 100 GB, $6.25/month for 250 GB, and so on up to $250/month for 10 TB
    • Files are synced with SCP, SFTP, or Rsync over SSH
    • This feels like a really different kind of service, so abandoned research on it.
  • Sync
    • 5 GB for free, $8/month for 2 TB
    • Hook up an unlimited number of devices, even with the free account
    • All files in one folder
  • pCloud
    • 10 GB free, $49/year 500 GB, $100/year 2 TB
    • Only service with lifetime plans: $175 for 500 GB, $350 for 2 TB
    • Hook up an unlimited number of devices, even with the free account
    • Total control of which folders on your device get synced to which folders in the cloud
    • Can share files/folders for editing or viewing; can share links to static HTML files!
    • Video and music player for shared media
    • Can add encryption for extra cost

There were a few others like FreeFileSync and ownCloud, but they didn't fit my needs.

pCloud for me

I ended up keeping my free DropBox account, adding the free Sync and Tresorit services, and purchasing a subscription to pCloud. I have had DropBox for quite awhile and use it for delivering custom projects--it works well so I'm keeping that. Sync isn't very flexible but it can be installed on multiple devices and integrates well with Windows so could be useful for sharing something quickly to all machines. Tresorit's high security feature is important and I only need it on a couple of machines for a small number of files so their free service will satisfy me.

The very best option for me is pCloud. It's very inexpensive (the lifetime plan is just over the cost of 3 year's worth of service), gives me 5 times more space than OneDrive, and has unlimited device installs. But the the most important part of this product for me is it's folder-sync flexibility and control. When pCloud starts and hooks up to your account for the first time, nothing is synced to the machine initially, even if you synced folders from other machines. Instead you add sync folders from your device to specific folders in your pCloud account. That means that on my main development machine where I keep the master copy of project documents and notes for all clients, I can sync all those folders to pCloud, then on different virtual machines, I can selectively link just the client folders that pertain to the projects on that VM and skip all the rest. I can also pick and choose folders here and there instead of using one central folder for everything, allowing me to keep the organization of my files in a way that makes sense to me instead of restricted to the cloud-sharing app I'm using. For example, I keep a list of images and icons I've collected over the years in a folder separate from the business documents and can now sync that folder and the business documents folder individually rather than using two different services or putting them in the same global-sync folder.

This took some time to look at the options but I've already reduced my reliance on OneDrive by 50% and seen other improvements in how files are organized and synchronized between various machines. Time will tell how well pCloud holds up once the file count increases but I'm already happier with the options and speed I've seen so far.

Navid (not verified) Mon, 08/22/2022 - 02:36

Hi David: I've had to shut down pCloud when using the RAD Studio IDE, as it repeatedly becomes unresponsive for about 10 seconds or so (which I had heard referred to as the “flicker” bug). I hope your mileage is better. Despite this, pCloud remains my favorite.

david Mon, 08/22/2022 - 09:20

In reply to by Navid (not verified)

Interesting. I have noticed some flickering in the last few weeks but hadn't traced it down yet as it doesn't happen very often. But now that you mention it, I didn't notice it before I started using pCloud. I'll look into this more deeply--Thanks!

Navid (not verified) Mon, 08/22/2022 - 11:53

In reply to by david

In my case, it happens every couple of minute or so and I often notice the pCloud tray icon indicating activity. I assume the higher frequency is because I use pCloud as a complete backup solution in addition to synchronizing selected folders.

david Mon, 08/22/2022 - 20:40

In reply to by Navid (not verified)

I just synched a new, large folder to pCloud and started watching different apps and can see a little flicker--it's not bad  in Delphi 10.4 right now, though. In my opinion, I'd rather have a high-priority process keeping files synchronized quickly than the problems I had with OneDrive. This is critical when I need something in a hurry on a virtual machine and rely on file sync to provide it quickly.

My synchronization needs are low enough the flicker will not likely be a major problem for me. I am glad you pointed it out though--I was wondering what was causing it.

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