Managing overlay icons for Dropbox and TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit

I imagine like many involved in web development, I rely heavily on a number of version control applications: I use Dropbox, Subversion (SVN) and Git.

For years I’ve used the TortoiseSVN client for Windows. It integrates with the Windows Explorer shell making it quick and easy to manage your version controlled code within Explorer.

I like that I don’t need a separate full-blown application that acts as an interface between the code on my PC and the SVN repository; I like that I don’t need to use a command prompt; but I love that TortoiseSVN adds overlay icons to tell me the state of each file (is it up to date, changed, added, etc.?).

These folders are all up to date, and in sync with the SVN repository.
These folders are all up to date, and in sync with the SVN repository.

Recently I’ve started using Git at work and so I’ve also installed TortoiseGit which does something similar.

This is the Bootstrap repo cloned to my PC.
This is the Bootstrap repo cloned to my PC.

And of course Dropbox does the same: it shows you which files have been synchronised with the cloud, and which are in the process of uploading.

My Dropbox folders are up-to-date, synchronized successfully with the Cloud
My Dropbox folders are up-to-date, synchronized successfully with the Cloud

The problem

The problem, though, is that each of these applications uses multiple overlay icons but Windows only uses the first 15.

TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit both use the same nine icons:

Nine folder, each has an icon on top of it such as ticks, crosses or pluses.
TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit both use nine icons.

Dropbox uses eight icon overlays. If you have OneDrive installed (which you will if you use Windows 8 or above) then it uses three. And Windows itself uses a few to indicate offline files or enhanced storage.

That’s 22 icon overlays, and like I said: Windows only uses the first 15.

So, inevitably you end up with some icons missing, and depending on which these are it can make life just that little bit harder when trying to figure out quickly whether a file is in sync or not, or whether it’s not even been added.

That means you need to make a choice about which icons you want to use and which you don’t.

How to fix it

The most straight-forward way to do this is by editing the Windows Registry.

The icon overlays can be found in the following key:

Computer \ HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers

It turns out you can safely rename the folders which will reorder the icons. The folders are just containers for the real information contained within them.

1. Backup

Export (backup) the ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers folder in its entirety, in case you need to restore it later.

2. Prioritise which icons you need

My current preference is for the following:

  1. 1TortoiseNormal
  2. 2TortoiseModified
  3. 3TortoiseConflict
  4. 6TortoiseDeleted
  5. 7TortoiseAdded
  6. 8TortoiseIgnored
  7. 9TortoiseUnversioned
  8. DropboxExt1 (green Synced)
  9. DropboxExt2 (blue In progress)
  10. DropboxExt5 (red Sync problem)
  11. DropboxExt7 (grey Folder not synchronizing)
  12. EnhancedStorageShell
  13. SkyDrivePro1 (ErrorConflict)
  14. SkyDrivePro2 (SyncInProgress)
  15. SkyDrivePro3 (InSync)

You can use whatever naming convention you prefer. I rename the original folder names with a number prefix and an underscore, e.g. 01_1TortoiseNormal. Folders that I want to drop to the bottom I prefix with a simple x, e.g. x5TortoiseReadOnly.

UPDATE: Some users are reporting that they prefix with a space as this appears to be the trick that OneDrive/SkyDrive has used.

In regedit it looks like this, with the unprioritized icons dropping to the bottom of the list.

List of registry keys
List of registry keys

3. Restart Explorer

  1. Close any Windows Explorer windows.
  2. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager.
  3. Look for Windows Explorer listed under “Background processes”.
  4. Right-click it and select “Restart”.

Your taskbar will disappear a couple of times as the Explorer process is restarted, but you should now see all the overlay icons you want within your folders.

(Currently I’m having issues with OneDrive — formerly SkyDrive — but as I don’t rely on it for too much I’m not that bothered, to be honest.)

Great-looking interface on Mover.io

The Mover add credit dialog is styled like a till receipt

While using Mover earlier this week—an online service for transferring files from one cloud storage host to another—I investigated how much it would cost to buy extra bandwidth (the first 10 GB is free).

The answer was US $1.00 per GB, after a minimum of 10 GB.

How did I know that? Check out their user interface. I love it! It’s been styled like a store till receipt: a perfect example of using a real-world example in an online environment to immediately communicate meaning.

I love their attention to detail too, right down to the crinkled paper effect in the top left corner. Good work Mover team!

Dropbox vs SkyDrive vs Google Drive

For the last few years I’ve been using Dropbox, a service that offers online file storage (often called ‘cloud storage’) and synchronisation. But in the last few weeks two new services have been launched by a couple of big names: Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive.

I’ve been looking into these two services and trying to decide for myself whether I should move away from Dropbox or use SkyDrive and/or Google Drive in addition to Dropbox.

For me the important things are:

  • Storage space for the price
  • Speed of synchronisation
  • Ability to choose which files to synchronise on which devices

I am assuming here that the terms and conditions of each of these three services is similar. And as that linked article to The Verge concludes: “what’s most important is how much trust you’re willing to give away as your data moves to the cloud”.

Here are a few of my findings and thoughts.

What is cloud storage and synchronisation?

For those who don’t already understand what Dropbox, SkyDrive or Google Drive are. A brief explanation.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFb0NaeRmdg]

So, if I save a file in my Dropbox folder it automatically gets uploaded to an online account From any web browser I can then log in to my Dropbox account and download any file that I’ve uploaded. That’s the ‘cloud storage’ bit.

Not only that, any other device (such as my laptop or work PC) that is connected to my Dropbox account automatically downloads that file into its Dropbox folder. That’s the ‘synchronisation’ bit.

Comparisons

Dropbox

Dropbox

Storage Month Year
2GB+ Free Free
50GB+ £6.25 £75
100GB+ £12.50 £150

(All prices are in US dollars, converted using Oanda, and rounded to the nearest 5p.)

Earn extra space: Dropbox users can earn more space for free by referring new users to Dropbox up to (I think) 32GB.

File limits: Files uploaded to Dropbox via the desktop application have no file size limit. Files uploaded through the website must be 300 MB or less.

Speed: When I drop a new file into my Dropbox folder it takes only a few seconds before the sync starts. Synchronisation time is fairly quick (you can customise whether bandwidth is limited or not for both upload and download).

Dropbox also supports LAN sync, which is brilliant! Basically, it speeds up synchronisation across computers on the same network by transferring files across the network rather than downloading them from the Dropbox servers.

Customisation: Which folders and sub-folders are synchronised can be fully controlled, which for me is essential. Dropbox calls this “Selective Sync”.

The desktop client offers a lot of options and tweaking. It is rather a joy to use, as is the website interface.

Integration: There is no built-in office application support with Dropbox. But there are a number of online apps and browser extensions that will sync with your Dropbox account.

SkyDrive

SkyDrive

Storage Month Year
7GB (or 25GB†) Free Free
+ 20GB £0.50 £6.00
+50GB £1.33 £16.00
+100GB £2.66 £32.00

(All prices are in GB sterling, paid yearly; monthly prices are shown for comparison.)

† Existing SkyDrive users were given the option to keep their existing 25GB when the service was revamped and relaunched in April 2012.

File limits: Files uploaded to SkyDrive via the desktop application are limited to 2GB. Files uploaded through the website must be 300 MB or less.

Speed: When I drop a new file into my SkyDrive folder it seems to take quite a while before the sync starts, noticeably longer than either Dropbox or Google Drive. Synchronisation time is fairly quick (you cannot customise bandwidth limiting).

Customisation: The only options that the desktop client offers are “Make files on this PC available to me on my other devices” and “Start SkyDrive automatically when I sign in to Windows”. When my PC first starts up it seems to take ages for SkyDrive to go through its initial checks and synchronisation.

Selective synchronisation is not available, which means that whatever you upload will always be available on each computer you synchronise with. For me this is a problem, I only want certain files to be available on my work PC, for example. Perhaps this will be made available in a future release.

Integration: What is really nice about SkyDrive is that I can open, edit and create Microsoft Office files (including OneNote) directly within SkyDrive using the Web app versions of Microsoft Office, which makes the experience feel familiar.

Google Drive

Google Drive

Storage Month Year
5GB Free Free
25GB £1.50 £18.00
100GB £3.15 £37.80
200GB £6.25 £75.00
400GB £12.50 £150.00

(All prices are in US dollars, converted using Oanda, and rounded to the nearest 5p.)

File limits: Files uploaded to Google Drive via the desktop application are limited to 10GB. Uploaded document files that are converted to Google documents format can’t be larger than 2MB.

An important point to note is that Google Docs (that is any file that is created as in Google’s proprietary format for documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms or drawings or is uploaded and then converted into a Google Doc format) do not count against your total storage. So, you could effectively use a 5GB free account but also have, say, 10GB of files in Google Doc format.

Speed: When I drop a new file into my Google Drive folder it takes only a few moments before the sync starts; comparable with Dropbox, which is a good thing. Synchronisation time is fairly quick (you cannot customise bandwidth limiting).

Customisation: The only options that the desktop client offers are “Make files on this PC available to me on my other devices” and “Start SkyDrive automatically when I sign in to Windows”. When my PC first starts up it seems to take ages for SkyDrive to go through its initial checks and synchronisation.

Selective synchronisation is available, but not to the same degree of granularity as Dropbox offers. It would appear from the Google Drive preferences that only top-level folders can be selected or deselected. So if I want to sync my “Reference” folder, for example, with my laptop then I need to synchronise everything within it; with Dropbox I could select which sub-folders to sync. Perhaps this will be made available in a future release.

Integration: What is nice about Google Drive is that I can convert a lot of formats into Google Docs format, admittedly mostly Microsoft Office formats but that suits me fine. I can then view, edit and print them. I can also open PDF files directly in Google Docs, and I can attempt to use OCR to convert a PDF into an editable document.

Evaluations

Based on a 100GB+ account, on price per gigabyte Dropbox is by far the most expensive (SkyDrive 32p/GB per year; Google Drive 38p/GB per year; Dropbox £1.50/GB per year). Plus Dropbox doesn’t offer any integration with office applications in the same way that Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive do.

However, Dropbox has been in the game since September 2008 and has built quite a strong reputation for its stability, its ease-of-use, its speed and the features it offers. The drill-down selective sync and the LAN sync, in particular, are very useful for me.

While SkyDrive was officially launched in August 2007 it didn’t enjoy the same level of uptake or success that Dropbox did. One reason may have been due to the lack of desktop client.

The relaunch of SkyDrive in April 2012, only days apart from Google’s launch of Google Drive may change that but as it stands I think neither Google nor Microsoft’s desktop clients come anywhere close to the polish that Dropbox offers.

It will be interesting to see if Dropbox will continue to rely on its reputation and on the quality of its platform clients (remember Dropbox is also available for iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry) or whether it will lower its prices as the competition from Google and Microsoft grows.

Limitations

Truly selective sync: What a shame is that none of these three services allow me to select which folders on my PC (regardless of where they are) I can synchronise. I can only synchronise the contents of my Dropbox folder, and my SkyDrive folder, and my Google Drive folder.

What would be really nice is to be able to say: I want to sync everything within:

  • D:\Music\
  • E:\Photos\Family
  • F:\Code\Personal
  • etc.

Maybe in the future…

Encryption: And what about encryption? Currently none of these services offer any kind of data encryption

Your files are stored somewhere out there, in the cloud, completely unencrypted. Which means that if someone else got hold of them then they could read them with the minimum of effort.

While I don’t store any state secrets on my PC, it’s still the principle of the matter: ideally, I want my data to remain only mine and for me to choose with whom to share it.

AND THE WINNER IS…

A few months ago I upgraded to the 50GB account (approx. £6.25 per month) which meant that I kept my 4.75GB that I’d accumulated from my 2GB free account plus referrals and added an extra 50GB.

If either Microsoft SkyDrive or Google Drive allowed me to select which folders and sub-folders to synchronise, allowed me some control over the upload/download throttling speeds, and allowed me to synchronise files across my LAN (I often use my desktop PC and laptop at the same time) then I would likely move to a cheaper option.

If that was the case now then I’d move to Google, simply because of the lag time associated with the SkyDrive synchronisation. If they fixed that… well, I’ve already got 25GB free with them. That would save me £1.50 per year that I could otherwise spend on… I don’t know, a chocolate bar.

I use Dropbox a lot, and for now I intend to continue to use Dropbox as my primary cloud storage/synchronisation service.

I trust Dropbox.

Dropbox offers me the combination of speed and customisation at a price that I can afford.

But I will keep a close eye on both SkyDrive and Google Drive.

What have you decided about these, and perhaps other cloud-based services such as Apple iDrive?