This is a story I had never had any intention of writing. Dropbox updated its Mac file synchronization application last month, and the new version has an annoyance that I want to eliminate.
I thought this wouldn't be difficult, let alone newsworthy: I would contact Dropbox, explain the problem, and find out if there is any way for me to change that annoying behavior. If not, I would recommend that they make a small change to their app, and hopefully my message will be passed on to their development team, and they will eventually make a change.
Instead, I learned something both frustrating and fascinating: there are many Dropbox support staff who apparently have never used the company's Mac application and do not understand how it works. As a result of Dropbox's users Dropbox employees must explain how the Dropbox application works on Mac.
As a division of labor, it is probably sensible that some support representatives specialize in Dropbox for Windows, or Dropbox for Mac, or Dropbox for mobile devices, etc. But as Dropbox rolled out a major change to the Mac application, it had support representatives who responded for Mac users without knowing what they were talking about. I don't blame the individual support representatives ̵
Dropbox wants to be front and middle
To summarize, the problem is this: Dropbox now opens a new file reader and an associated dock icon each time it starts, even if you don't want to. If you're not familiar with Macs, the Dock application bar is at the bottom of the screen (or the page, if you've moved it in the settings), and serves the same function as the Windows taskbar. If my computer restarts or if Dropbox restarts, the new Dropbox window that I don't want to appear in the Dock will appear:
This is not a big deal, since I can quit Dropbox's new file reader and get rid of the Dock icon every time computer starts up. I'm not going to stop using Dropbox – I've paid the company $ 138 a year for 2TB of storage and in 12-month file history, which stores all deleted files and revisions in files. (It goes up to $ 158 the next time I'm billed, in February.) It's worth it to me because Dropbox still works well, while the options have always been unreliable or disappointing in other ways when I've tried them. I come into it more later in this article.
But the Dock icon and window are a big change in how Dropbox presents itself to users. Dropbox has always been the kind of applications that are there when you need it and get out of the way when you don't. Dropbox sync and file sharing features are integrated with the Finder (Mac file manager), and there is a small icon in the Mac menu bar at the top of the screen for when you need to change a setting.
But now Dropbox wants to be the front and center at all times. The company built its own file browser to replace what is already available in the Mac Finder, and it opens the new file manager every time Dropbox starts. We wrote about it last week when Dropbox started rolling it out to several users. I have had it for more than a month since I somehow ended up in Dropbox's Early Access program.
You can use the Mac's Command-Q shortcut to exit the file browser, and the new Dropbox window and Dock icon will disappear – as long as you have also disabled the Mac feature that displays recent applications in the Dock. You can solve the other major problem by accessing the Dropbox settings and selecting "Open folders in the Finder" instead of "Open folders in Dropbox." That way, if you click the Dropbox menu bar icon and then click a file, it opens in the Mac's original file manager instead of Dropbox's own file manager. You need to change the setting because Dropbox's new app automatically switches default from the Finder to Dropbox's new file browser.
Dropbox continues to sync in the background after you finish the new file manager and the useful menu bar icon will still be there. But you have to do this every time you restart your Mac or whenever Dropbox restarts. No matter what settings you choose, the new file browser and associated Dock opens each time Dropbox starts. I suspect that many will only leave it in the Dock because they may not realize that Dropbox will continue to function normally even if you "end" the file browser.
So what does this have to do with Dropbox support staff? It turns out they do not know that it is possible for Mac applications to run without the Dock icon, even though it is accurate as Dropbox worked for a decade. And they have given bad advice to users who want to change back to the old way of doing things.
Because several Dropbox employees make this mistake, I assume this is a failure at a higher level. Dropbox made a big change in how the Mac application works, but it doesn't seem to have fully explained that change to the support representatives. You would think that Dropbox would make sure that the support representatives have a basic understanding of how their Mac app works and how the Mac Dock works before they need to respond to Mac users, but that has not been the case.
Dropbox Employee Dropbox App
Check out this thread that began a month ago titled "Unable to remove the Dropbox icon from Mac OS Dock." The user who started the thread wrote:
On Mac, lately, I liked to just have a small discrete Dropbox icon on the menu bar to monitor things and then access my files from the Finder.
After a recent update of the "new" Dropbox, the actual Dropbox application now opens and flaps a large Dropbox icon in my Dock that I don't want there.
The problem is that if I choose not to open Dropbox when logging in, then the menu bar icon will not appear and synchronization will not occur at all.
How do I stop the Dock icon displayed at startup?
Quite a simple request, right? Apart from the Dropbox employees who responded, the user told that impossible for Mac apps not to have a Dock icon, although it simply does not match.
Dropbox employees replied:
hile it will be worth noting that all active programs are displayed on the Dock while they are open. Please note that it will not be possible to remove it from there without removing the app completely. From there, I've already made sure to tag your mind in my report internally, as this would be some good feedback for the team's departments.
The statement that "all active programs will appear on the Dock while they are open" is false, as many Mac applications appear only in the menu bar and work in the background. That's how Dropbox worked until a month ago that's how Dropbox's competitors are still working, and yet some Dropbox employees seem to be impossible. Many other Mac apps that can appear in the Dock or Menu bar allow you to disable the Dock icon, and Dropbox can easily do this by adding a checkbox to the app settings.
There is another strange response from a Dropbox employee in the supported thread, where the support representative suggests disabling Dropbox's ability to boot automatically when you sign in to Mac. Yes, it would prevent the Dock icon from appearing, but it would also prevent Dropbox from working at all.
I contacted Dropbox on Twitter June 13 and was told that there is no way to disable the launch of the Dock icon. It seems like Dropbox employee who answered me in that tweet but my further trials were all answered by employees who didn't understand how the Dropbox for the Mac app works.
I contacted Dropbox via email on July 9, and an employee answered the following day with the following suggestions:
If I understand correctly, the current issue is that the Dropbox desktop docking icon gets in the way when you use your device is that correct? … Since dock icons are associated with the settings on your Apple device, you can do a quick internet search to "hide dock icons" possibly providing the results you want to achieve.
Similar to Dropbox rep. In the support thread, Dropbox employees who responded to me think that it is impossible for a Mac app to operate without a Dock icon unless a user finds something that is not supported and that changes how the app works. Although it is possible to hide some Dock icons by editing each app's info.plist file, this didn't work when I tried it with Dropbox. And it's better for the app to support the Dock that is hiding officially because a user who messed around with how an app works can lead to unintended problems.
I replied to Dropbox employees and explained that Dropbox never opened a Dock icon recently, that there is no way for me to change how the Dropbox app works and that Dropbox's development team should probably know that it did intentionally change. I also asked the employee if he used the Dropbox for the Mac application recently because I wanted to make sure I could talk to someone who understands what the Dock is and how it works.
In the next e-mail reply, Dropbox employees did not answer if he ever used Dropbox for Mac. But he told me, "As you mentioned, there is no way for you to hide the Dropbox dock icon, I have given your feedback to my development team for you."