By the time an application reaches version 7.0, users anticipate fewer whiz-bang new features as developers focus on refining core functionality and required compatibility updates. The question then becomes, has the software improved enough to justify buying an upgrade to the latest and greatest version, often on an annual basis?
Such is the case with ExpanDrive, a venerable macOS utility that mounts cloud and network-attached storage in the Finder so you can more or less use them like locally-attached volumes. Despite a recent focus on eye candy, it’s what’s under the hood that makes the latest update worth a look.
New look, new problems
ExpanDrive 6 ditched the traditional compact user interface in favor of a free-floating, expandable window opened by clicking a familiar menu bar icon that clutters the top of your screen. The revamped user interface introduced a built-in file browser allowing users to view, download, rename, move, or delete without mounting services in the Finder. There’s even shareable link support for services like Google Drive.
ExpanDrive 7 is an iterative upgrade, but a step back in several ways. Once a connection is mounted, for example, there’s no way to edit it without unmounting. That may not sound like a big deal until a connection becomes unresponsive due to spotty internet or service outage. When that happens, there’s no way to disable it, short of force quitting and manually removing the offending service from a preference file.
Even when the edit option is available, you can’t adjust the width of the Connections pane, so volumes with long nicknames overlap buttons on the right-hand side. Gone is the “Check for Updates” button in Settings—users have to trust the automatic updater or enable “Show in Dock” to manually initiate this option from the ExpanDrive menu.
Although the new UI is more visually pleasing, there’s little in the way of visual feedback when something goes wrong. Case in point: FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV servers unable to connect display an endless “Mounting Drive” message, rather than any indication of what might be happening.
Faster, more versatile
On the plus side, ExpanDrive 7 is faster than ever. The previous version boasted up to a 500 percent boost in transfer speeds thanks to a multi-threading StrongSync engine, and the latest edition ratchets things up yet again to fast and furious levels, particularly with larger files. Best of all, browsing remote connections in the Finder is finally as peppy as accessing native hard drives.
Such performance improvements can largely be attributed to intelligent caching, and ExpanDrive 7 addresses one longtime limitation by allowing users to change the location of such files to any volume, rather than consuming precious internal resources. The software also plays nice with Spotlight, so search queries now show results from remote volumes alongside local drives.
The most useful new feature is offline sync, allowing important files and folders to be saved locally for when internet connectivity is spotty or absent. Everything else stays in the cloud, available anytime while taking up little or no space. Microsoft Office fans can also rejoice, because ExpanDrive finally respects lock files, allowing read-only access for all but the person currently editing a document.
Last but not least, support for Azure Storage, Nextcloud (a fork of Owncloud), and Wasabi services have been added, but the biggest news isn’t even for Mac: ExpanDrive 7 now works with Ubuntu, Mint, CentOS, Redhat, and other Linux flavors, noteworthy after cloud storage provider Dropbox abandoned most support last year.
The user interface may be a work in progress, but ExpanDrive 7 delivers where it counts with performance improvements that almost make you forget you’re using remotely-connected storage.