Dropbox on Linux: a tale of poor customer relations

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge fan of GNU/Linux (Linux to its friends) and I’ve used it almost exclusively as my main computer operating system for both home and work since the early 2000s.

I’ve also been a loyal Dropbox customer for as long as I can remember and a paying customer since 2014, partly on the strength of their great support for Linux.

So like many other Linux Dropbox users, I was dismayed when they announced a few months ago a new extremely bizarre policy: specifically, that they needed your Dropbox folder to be located on an ext4 partition.

For those who don’t know, Linux allows you to choose the filesystem of your disk partitions. A filesystem is the way the actual 1s and 0s of your files and their indexes are laid out on the disk. Linux has dozens to choose from and they all have advantages and disadvantages for different use cases, although they all serve basically the same purpose.

ext4 is a very popular filesystem, but it’s by no means universal. For example, Ubuntu uses btrfs by default, and people like me who don’t want to encrypt their whole disk but want to encrypt just their home directories use eCryptfs.

Dropbox announced that all those users would become unsupported on 7th November. Effectively they said “if you don’t use our favourite filesystem you will need to reformat your disk to keep using Dropbox.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds of users have complained about the decision and questioned Dropbox’s motives for it. This is where they had the opportunity to do a stellar customer service job and be transparent about their reasoning, but instead they responded with a comment about xattr (extended attribute) support, which made no sense: btrfs, eCryptfs and many other popular filesystems also have the same xattr support as ext4.

That message was the last anyone heard from them on the issue. I and perhaps many others held out until the final day, hoping they’d understand the concerns and backtrack on their decision, when we received this email:

So that was that. Unless I “move Dropbox to an ext4 drive”, I no longer have service from this product I’ve been a happy customer of for many years. I would never hold another company’s business decisions against them: ultimately they’re in it to make money, right? But the way they’ve dropped Linux customers, with a bogus explanation and no apology — just an expectation that we’ll all be reformatting our drives for them — leaves a very bitter taste.

Thankfully, Linux users have other options, among them Insync: an amazing sync client backed by Google Drive that I’ve been using for business for a while. Looks like they’ve just won themselves my custom for my personal files too.