As many of you surely know, Dropbox and Ubuntu One are applications to keep files on your desktop in sync across multiple computers, and backed up in the cloud. After using Dropbox for a year or so on Ubuntu, the Ubuntu One project came out and I thought I'd move over to it. I assumed it would be easier to set up, being pre-installed, and could integrate better with the file manager and other applications, being made specifically for Ubuntu.
After about 6 months of using Ubuntu One, I found it to be too much of a regression compared to Dropbox and switched back. I thought I'd detail why here for the usefulness of others and to hopefully provide some constructive criticism to the Ubuntu One team which overall is doing good work. So here's why I went back to Dropbox:
Better Nautilus integration
The nautilus (file manager) integration in Dropbox feels very mature and polished. Normally I'd say this is to be expected since Ubuntu One is much younger, but since the nautilus aspect of Dropbox is open-source, there didn't seem to be much of an excuse for the Ubuntu One team to not use it as a starting point or at least as inspiration. Whenever I added files to my Ubuntu One folder, no matter how large or how many, they instantly had the checkbox emblem which implies to me they are in sync, even though they couldn't possibly be uploaded that quickly. In Dropbox, the files show an animated progress emblem until they are actually uploaded, and show this again when they are being updated. I wasn't able to trust the status of files with Ubuntu One, and that wasn't a good feeling.
Sharing files in Dropbox is also a lot easier via Nautilus, but that deserves it's own point.
Easier file sharing
In my typical use cases of file sharing, I want to go from having a file in mind to someone else seeing that file as quickly as possible, be it in an instant message, chatroom (IRC/Jabber), or email to a friend or two. Dropbox makes this a breeze; drag a file into the "Public" folder in your Dropbox directory, and right-click on it and select "Dropbox > Copy Public Link". Now you have a publicly accessible link to your file in your clipboard!
I never quite figured out how to do this in Ubuntu One; it seems you have to share files with specific people who also are running Ubuntu One (which really compounds the non-cross-platform issue) via the web interface by typing in an email address. This is a cool idea, but seems way over-engineered as a starting point. This was even brought up at the last UDS in an Ubuntu One session but was brushed off; they sadly seemed more interested in engineering complex sharing UIs than getting feedback to ensure they were solving actual problems.
I think bug 462747 is what ultimately drove me to drop Ubuntu One. It notifies you not once but twice for every file you change; once to tell you it is syncing the file and another to tell you it is done. Regarding the first notification, I probably already know that I changed that file; regarding the second, if I'm really curious about the status of the synchronization, a quick glance at the applet should tell me what I need to know. This was mildly annoying as is, but it does this for hidden files like vim swap files too. Every time I would open or save a file in vim (and I save early and often), I got two notifications about syncing the hidden swap file!
Dropbox was much more sane regarding notifications; whenever I would turn on or sit down at a computer, it would show one notification telling me how many files it synced from other machines or, if there was just one changed file, the name of it. Beautiful!
Better web UI
The web user interface for Dropbox felt a lot easier to use, and I often had problems where the Ubuntu One web view would show deleted files or not show files I knew were there that were added days ago. Sometimes I had to collapse and expand a folder a time or two to get it to show the right contents. This led to a similar problem that I mentioned with the nautilus integration; it wasn't a UI I could trust to be accurate as was therefore essentially useless. The Dropbox UI was always accurate, and had some nice extras which could prove to be lifesavers like getting past versions of files.
I also experienced some other issues including bug 498444 which caused Ubuntu One applet to start up with the exclamation icon, giving the impression of not syncing files. If I wanted to edit or view a file that might have changed remotely, I had to manually tell the applet to try syncing again after startup to make sure the file was latest version (or else I could silently end up with .u1conflict file, but that's another issue). Additionally, although the transparency is praiseworthy, all these tweets about recent issues or downtime do not inspire confidence.
That being said
Ubuntu One does have a few things going for it, however. It is installed by default which means it is the easiest cloud sync/backup solution to get started with for an Ubuntu user. And thanks to CouchDB and a package manager, Ubuntu can ship applications that make it trivial to sync their data with Ubuntu One out of the box. If I can tell all the applications I care about to sync with Ubuntu One (bookmarks, notes, podcasts, basic OS settings/appearance) from one configuration UI, that's going to be pretty compelling.
While I currently can't in good conscience recommend Ubuntu One to a friend (and plenty of my friends don't even use Ubuntu), I do have high hopes for the project; it is young and if they can work out some of the above issues, many of them being personal show-stoppers, while providing application and OS integration, Ubuntu One (and perhaps Ubuntu itself) could become too compelling to not use for many people. For now however, Dropbox is the solution which stays out of my way, allows me to solve my problems, and just works.
If you are using Ubuntu One or Dropbox, certainly chime in on what the critical features are for you and why you chose one over the other!