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5 April, 2013

The sad unreliability of Ubuntu One

I started using Ubuntu One more or less when it was first released. Admittedly it was pretty slow in the beginning, but they seemed to improve their speeds a lot and eventually I began to pay for extra space and use Ubuntu One exclusively for all my cloud syncing – some 3000 files from my entire Documents folder, and around 1,500 pictures. I used two Ubuntu machines and I thought U1 worked pretty well in making sure that I always had the most recent versions of everything on both machines.

I first noticed a problem with the syncing when by accident I noticed a that a folder which showed up on the U1 web interface was not on my computer. I tried various things to get this to work, trying all the command line options to u1sdtool, restarting, stopping/starting syncing etc. Eventually I wrote about it on Ask Ubuntu, and ended up getting in touch with U1 support. Their solution was to essentially clear all the cached syncing info on my machine and start again. Admittedly, this worked (although it did require that U1 scan and compare every single file again). I got the missing folder to sync, and everything seemed OK.

Things seemed OK for a few months. The a few weeks ago I got a new machine, a MacBook Pro. I still use Ubuntu at work, and since there is a U1 client for OSX I thought there should be no problem in continuing to use Ubuntu one for my syncing. This is when things really started going downhill. The initial sync on my Mac worked fine – I mean essentially it’s just downloading everything, pretty straightforward. But then I began to notice that some changes made would not get noticed by U1. Say I would delete a file from my Mac, but it would still appear in the web interface even though the U1 client would tell me that everything was up-to-date. This is really when I began to stop trusting it. Again I would try all the command line options for refreshing the sync folders, nothing. When I contacted U1 support again, they just had exactly the same solution – delete the caching data and re-sync. I did, it took it’s time to re-check every single file, and again things seemed OK again. But then I would add/delete some other file and notice that again that Ubuntu One would fail to notice them. There are things you can do to force it to notice the changes, like restarting the computer or un-checking and re-checking the “Sync locally” checkbox inside the client. But that defeats the whole purpose.

To make things worse, I’m also starting to notice this same erratic syncing behaviour from my Ubuntu machine too. And now I have absolutely no idea if there even exists a single complete version of all my files, anywhere. It feels like every computer I used U1 has some copy of my files, but is never 100% complete/updated. It’s a mess. There’s just too many files to check manually. I have backups, and I hope that when I look for a file and find that Ubuntu One has lost it, I can find it by digging into these backups. But that’s hardly a solution.  I absolutely cannot trust Ubuntu One anymore.

But I still want a cross-platform syncing solution. iCloud doesn’t have an Ubuntu client (and I haven’t heard good things about it anyway). Neither does Google Drive, although they keep promising one “soon”. Dropbox has clients for both and is starting to look like a real viable alternative now. I guess it’s popularity compared to U1 will mean it’s more reliable. But it’s going to take some work to move everything over, and I really want to avoid switching.