Day: October 23, 2020

For want of a nail…

‘k, so in a previous post I wrote how I reworked my note-taking and went back to plain text. I had to make a few changes since then:

  • I couldn’t take the atrocious UI of Epsilon Notes any longer. Fucken’a. I just accessed my notes directly through the Nextcloud app and that worked well enough.
  • Vimwiki is working quite nicely, just wish it didn’t fuck with the filetype highlighting but the built-in works well enough. Better concealment of links would be nice too.

Switched out Epsilon for Markor, which is prettier and less of a pain in the ass. But trying to set it up is when I started running into an issue with Nextcloud:

It does not support bidirectional folder sync. At all.

The way Nextcloud syncs everything means you have to access your files through the Nextcloud app instead of being able to use your usual app to open a file. It’s not that much of a change but it does prove annoying because that change is forced on you by the application instead of you (the user) adjusting your workflow organically. People have been requesting this ability since 2016 and the app still doesn’t have it.

When I was using Dropbox as my syncing backend my workflow would be like this:

  1. Mark KeePass file as a favorite in Dropbox.
  2. Dropbox syncs the file to all devices so it’s available through the filesystem itself.
  3. As the file is now stored in a local filesystem you can now navigate to it as you usually would:
    • On desktop you can use a file manager to view the file and open it. Alternatively you can use KeePass to navigate to the file and open it.
    • On Android you can open your keepass app, navigate to the database file, and open it.
    • On iOS the same flow as Android applies.
  4. Should the file change Dropbox will sync it silently in the background to all devices. Password applications will notice the change and ask if you want to reload.

With Nextcloud it goes something like this:

  1. Mark KeePass file as a favorite in Nextcloud.
  2. Nextcloud will sync the file to desktop clients but only mark it as a favorite in mobile devices.
  3. You now have a split flow as the file will be available through the local filesystem on desktop but not on mobile:
    • On desktop you use a file manager, or use KeePass itself. Same UX as you would in Dropbox.
    • On Android you need to open the Nextcloud app, navigate to the database file and the OS will recognize the filetype and open it. You can’t use your password app directly as the file does not exist in any local filesystem. When Android terminates your password app and you then have to reload the file through the Nextcloud app.
    • On iOS it looks like you can select which folders to sync to local filesystem. I haven’t tried using the iOS app myself but if someone can confirm this is the behavior it’d be awesome.
  4. Should the file change Nextcloud will sync it silently in the background but behavior will vary depending on platform:
    • Desktop: File is available through local filesystem. Password applications will notice the change and ask if you want to reload.
    • Android: You go through the Nextcloud app, same as before. Trying to use a password app will result in the app telling you the file doesn’t exist, so you then have to go through the Nextcloud app.
    • iOS: I’m not sure what the behavior is. I’d assume it’s the same as on desktop.

To replicate the default desktop behavior (syncing to local filesystem) you end up having to use other apps like FolderSync. This way files and folders are available just like any other file on the Android device, letting you use automation or customization apps without issues, and saving you from having to configure syncronization settings for each app. Looking at you, Joplin.

My suspicion is Nextcloud developers are doing it this way to increase your awareness of the brand and the application, following the footsteps of Dropbox. For the longest time Dropbox was a rock-solid syncing application that did one thing and it did it really well, but now they’re trying to force changes nobody likes in an effort to make more money.

If this is indeed the case Nextcloud developers are learning all the wrong lessons from Dropbox’ failure to understand what it had. Instead of strenghtening its core they’re throwing a million other things at the wall to see what sticks:

  • Talk: Chat server, basically. There’s already plenty of those already available and I don’t see them supplanting IRC, Discord, or Slack. Ever. Nevermind Zoom or Jitsi.
  • Deck: Project management? There are better apps for that that are easier to configure, manage and secure.
  • Notes: There are a myriad note taking applications out there that work better. I don’t need yet another one.
  • Passwords: Again, there are better alternatives: KeePass, 1Password, LastPass.

Nextcloud has a chance to do that one thing well and do it better than Dropbox ever did— that is, file syncing. I feel they’re consciously choosing to throw it away because they want to get a bit more clout and a bit more money. If they keep at it they’re going to end up like Mozilla.