Small Differences Matter: Cleaning up with FileBrowser and the Dropbox App

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I really meant to finish reorganizing my home office last month. I like things orderly. I pulled everything out of my office closet with the intention of throwing just a few things away. Not a good idea. Now my treadmill is stacked with random boxes and unmatched luggage. My stationary bike has become a temporary home for my displaced leashes, coats, and sweaters. My desk is in there, cleverly hidden under uprooted technology, Braille magazines, and cables galore. I do not dare bend over to look for a lost shoe, or even a lost child, because I could easily hit my head on a step ladder, trombone case, or my assortment of retired white canes. Maybe it is time to finish Spring Cleaning.

I have a really good excuse though. I am reorganizing something else. I recently shoveled more than 100,000 of my personal files into nearly a terabyte of Dropbox storage. The mess included hundreds and hundreds of poorly named folders with duplicates and triplicates of files with incomprehensible names of their own. Rather than sorting through the contents from my closet, I chose to sit in a different room and focus on my digital litter.

In yesteryear, on the rare occasion that I would have both the time and inclination to look at ancient data, I would engage the Mac Finder. However, times have changed. My iPhone is now my primary computer and I really want to be able to access and organize my Dropbox holdings from the comfort of my living room chair, or the car, or a cafe. Anywhere but my office.

For quite some time, I have been using the iPhone Dropbox app, currently version 4.2.5. It is stable, mostly accessible, and lightening fast when performing searches. Although I do pay for the full terabyte of Dropbox storage, all new accounts and the mobile apps are free. Dropbox initiates accounts with 2GB of free storage, which may be sufficient for many users. The Dropbox app is often all that I need. It is a wonderful tool that gives me quick and easy access to my precious memories as well as the many documents that I will never read again.

Sometimes scissors are just the right thing. Other tasks require hedge clippers. Because I recently needed to make big changes to my massive dataset, I became aware that the Dropbox app was not quite suited for the job. I needed a chain saw. This was illustrated with the error message I received from the Dropbox app when trying to move scores of files from one packed folder into another. If, heaven forbid, one of the many files I was trying to move had the same name as a file in the destination folder, the Dropbox app would taunt me with the following message:

"Move failed. One or more items had conflicting names."

Dead in the water. Nothing gets moved. I would then be presented with an "OK" button. OK? No, not OK! That ranks up there with "Your pants are on fire! OK?" A button labeled "Sorry" or "Too bad for you" might be more appropriate.

I wanted more options for managing and organizing a large file store. I craved more detailed data about my files and folders. And, I itched for even more clever enhancements that would take full advantage of what my iPhone had to offer.

I decided to revisit an app recommended by several folks on AppleVis. I reloaded FileBrowser, version 7.6. Some months ago, when I first bought it for a few bucks, I was a bit underwhelmed by this application from Stratospherix. My initial impression had been that it was under-documented and overly complex. And, the learning curve was steep. However, once I managed to secure my footing and figure out how FileBrowser worked, I thought I might have discovered another great file management tool.

FileBrowser said all the right things when I moved multiple items into a destination folder where there were some conflicting filenames.

"File 'Grandin.txt' already exists. Do you want to replace it?"

I was presented with five friendlier and far more useful buttons. "Replace this file," "Replace all files," "Leave this file," "Leave all files," and "Cancel." Of course, if there was more than one file with a conflicted name, FileBrowser would offer the same options as it progressed through the move. This was what I needed.

There are other differences. Although the Dropbox app might slam on the brakes during a large move operation, it will accelerate right through the light when doing a copy. Naming conflicts? No problem! Unlike its move operation, the Dropbox app will keep racing along during a copy. The Dropbox app will keep both the original and copied files in the new destination folder by incrementing a digit at the end of the incoming filename. It is splendid that you will not accidentally overwrite a more recent copy of a file, but it can result in a whole lot of unnecessary duplicates. FileBrowser sticks to its multi-option dialog, which gives you more control.

FileBrowser and the Dropbox app each have their strengths, but I wish they would both offer more detailed file listings. If two files have the same name, but their byte counts and last modified dates differ, are they identical? No, but you won't know that without the specifics. The Dropbox app rounds file sizes to the nearest kilobyte or megabyte. No decimals for you! FileBrowser shares a bit more information, but it still incorporates rounding. And, timing is everything. When you can compare the exact moment when files were last modified, it is delightfully simple to know which files are most recent. The Dropbox app gets overly informal with descriptions like, "modified 16 years ago." FileBrowser reports the date when I moved the files to Dropbox, rather than the dates they were last modified before the move. Although much of the time, I actually prefer the abbreviated reporting, I would dearly appreciate a preferences switch that lets me choose between approximate values and exact sizes and times.

I keep both FileBrowser and the Dropbox app on my iPhone's Home screen. They compliment each other. Although the Dropbox app generally feels more intuitive and polished, I find myself spending more time with FileBrowser. Small differences do matter.

FileBrowser can connect you to your Mac, PC, NAS drives, and other cloud-based services. You can also read, write, and list files in the FileBrowser folder of your iCloud storage. You can even zip files inside of FileBrowser before moving them. These differences are not so small.

With the Dropbox app, you are limited to sorting files by name and date. With FileBrowser, you can rearrange the file listing by name, date, size and type. You also have the option to create the listing in ascending or descending order. Sorting out your mess is easier when you can sort in different ways.

I love FileBrowser bookmarks. I use Bookmarks all the time for keeping track of important folder locations in the cloud. What a time saver! Whether I am moving files around and just want to keep track of originating and destination folders, or wish to easily jump to a folder where I keep regularly accessed items, I can transport myself immediately to my preferred destination from the ubiquitous Bookmarks button.

FileBrowser also allows me to create Home Screen icons that link me directly to folders in the cloud. From the Entertainment folder on my Home Screen, there are icons linked to folders of books and audio files that I regularly visit. Creation of a Home Screen icon is a bit like following bread crumbs. First, traverse your way through the FileBrowser listings and open up the folder you wish to pinpoint. Click on the "Menu" icon at the bottom of the FileBrowser window and then click on "Create a folder link." Now, click on "Add to Home Screen." Voila! You are now in a Safari window. Click on the "Share" icon in the Safari toolbar. Again, choose another button labeled "Add to Home Screen." Remember, this is not for the faint of heart. Be brave! From there, you can change the name of the proposed shortcut and then click the "Add" button to create that handy icon. The journey is long, but the rewards are sweet.

I enjoy my iPhone 6S Plus for its 3D Touch capabilities. This is cool! I can modify the 3D Touch menu that appears on my Home Screen when I press firmly on the FileBrowser icon. I can choose up to three locations where I would like FileBrowser to take me as soon as the app opens. If you try to add more than three destinations, the oldest will roll off. To add a location to your 3D Touch menu, first find your way into the desired folder in FileBrowser. Click on the "Menu" icon at the bottom of the screen and then select "Create a folder link." Finally, select the "Add 3D Touch Quick Action" button and you are done. Now, push!

FileBrowser and the Dropbox app are both excellent tools for your iPhone. There are some limitations and idiosyncrasies, but I remain hopeful that these gaps will get future attention. Both FileBrowser and the Dropbox app have given me greater freedom to do all of my file management tasks from anywhere at any time. It's more power to the pocket.

Now, if I could just find comparable tools to help me finish reorganizing my office...

*** Morgan is the author of other AppleVis blogs, including “Small Treasures”, “Big Is The New Small”, and ”Think Small”. He gratefully welcomes and appreciates your comments and feedback.



Submitted by TJT 2001 on Friday, February 12, 2016

Wow, you must have a lot of stuff that you need to clean up. What an amusing article!

Submitted by TJT 2001 on Friday, February 12, 2016

I am considering getting File Browser, but I am quite happy with an app that I already use.

Two questions about File Browser:

1. Can it connect to my Windows computer, allowing me to transfer files through windows Explorer?
2. What features does the full version provide that the lite version does not provide?

Submitted by raaj on Saturday, February 13, 2016

Hello there Morgan,

To be honest, I usually read the beginnings of the articles and if that was boring or if I feel that it's not useful to me, I'll just skip that. But your way of presentation made me to read this entire post and I love to read more of your articles. Kindly keep posting.


Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Saturday, February 13, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear TJT 2001,

Thanks for raising good questions. Although part of the FileBrowser feature set includes Windows file browsing capabilities, I do not know your exact configuration or use case. However, I downloaded the FileBrowserLite app for my iPhone this morning at no charge. It appears to be fully functional, but I could not quickly test it with any rigor and have only seen one reference to its limitations. One Web page mentioned upgrading to avoid "adverts," but I am unsure if there are other things to note. Still, the price for FileBrowserLite is perfect for checking it out. The FileBrowserLite app is free. I wish I could be more definitive, but I wanted to get back to you as quickly as possible.

Of course, if you found FileBrowserLite compelling, I find the small charge for the regular FileBrowser version to be very reasonable and a great way to support future development.

Perhaps someone reading this response can share their own recent experiences with FileBrowser and their Windows computer.

I would like to note that I have had a wonderful experience with the Stratospherix support team. During my testing over the last month, I sent one letter to them requesting several bits of specific information. I received a very thoughtful and and accurate response within hours. I was impressed.

Thanks again for writing!