The Curious Case of Dropbox and macOS 12.3

Earlier today, Dropbox alerted its customers about an upcoming change to its Mac app:

Dropbox is actively working on full support for the upcoming macOS 12.3 (Monterey) release and will begin rolling out a beta version in March 2022.

If you choose to update to macOS 12.3, you may have issues opening online-only files in third-party applications on your Mac. As a temporary workaround, you can open online-only files directly in Finder.

Dropbox is already in hot water with some Mac users for its slow adoption of Apple silicon, and its resource-hungry nature on macOS.

This email and support document didn’t help things, and in no doubt led even more people to check out Maestral, an open-source macOS Dropbox client that has gained popularity over the last few months.

It seems that this issue, at least, is due to changes Apple is making in a future version of macOS Monterey, according to Joe Rossignol:

Dropbox did not provide any further details, but Microsoft recently said macOS 12.2 will be the last version that supports its own cloud storage service OneDrive’s current online-only files implementation. Microsoft said OneDrive will be getting a new online-only files experience that is “more integrated with macOS” and “will have long-term support from Apple,” adding that the current version is built on several technologies that are “now deprecated.”

Altogether, it appears likely that Apple has given cloud storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive advanced notice about system-level changes that will affect online-only files starting with macOS 12.3.

That Microsoft document includes this:

macOS 12.2 will be the last version that supports the classic Files On-Demand experience. For future macOS versions, this means:

  • Files On-Demand will default to on for all users and cannot be disabled.
  • Devices will migrate automatically to the new Files On-Demand as soon as they receive a macOS update. You cannot delay this update without also delaying an update to macOS.
  • Both our Standalone and App Store versions of OneDrive will have the same behavior.
  • Users running a developer or beta version of macOS will have the same experience as a release version of macOS.

I don’t know why Apple would change this feature, but it’s not hard to look at this as a move against services that compete with its own iCloud Drive feature. Given the scrutiny the company already faces when it comes to anti-competitive behavior, I’d sure like to see a better reason for this change, especially if iCloud Drive retains features similar to what Dropbox and Microsoft offer.

Update: The macOS 12.3 beta is out and includes this change, which is the removal of the kernel extension Dropbox and Microsoft were using. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that this change was announced back in 2019. Even so, I still believe all three companies could have done a better job rolling this news out. Apple should be more clear when changes coming to macOS will impact the user experience of folks using iCloud alternatives, and the likes of Microsoft and Dropbox shouldn’t be making the switch to the new file provider API at the very last minute.