Dropbox drops support of their desktop application for older operating systems, which I think is a really bad user experience and undermines their entire value proposition. I recently saw this first hand and I’ll explain why I think this is a bad product management decision. I like Dropbox but really think they messed this one up. I think this is different than other apps that deprecate support because this one is specifically about file backups.
Dropbox Stops Supporting Old Operating Systems
From the dropbox help docs:
In January, 2018 the Dropbox desktop app stopped supporting macOS versions OS X 10.6 and OS X 10.7
From this support forum reply:
As of November 3rd, the Dropbox client can no longer be downloaded to or installed on OS X 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8. Effective January 16, 2018, users will be signed out of the Dropbox desktop application on computers running those operating systems and will no longer be able to access the Dropbox desktop application.
Family Tech Support
I was helping my parents set up a new computer, and as part of that I was trying to help them migrate their files from one computer to another. Luckily, I though, they had Dropbox, so this should make it really easy! All the files are backed up to the cloud, so all I’d need to do is install Dropbox on the new computer, log in, and that is it. Should have been very easy.
The experience I had trying to do that was exactly the opposite.
I tried to install Dropbox on the new computer, but then realized the files from the old computer were not syncing. It turns out the old computer wasn’t logged into Dropbox and none of the files were being backed up. Why was this? Well it turns out this was because they had an old operating system and the Dropbox client no longer supported it. But I couldn’t just update the Dropbox client. There wasn’t an update that supported this OS. So the process of just trying to get the files actually was blocked because I had to update to a new operating system. But on older computers, that is not too easy, and you often need to install intermediate operating systems, and additionally, it is time consuming, and often certain hardware has OS limitations.
So to get this working I needed to upgrade their operating systems and then upgrade Dropbox and then sync the old Dropbox and then sync the new Dropbox.
It is so unlikely that most users will figure this all out and get it right.
What actually would have happened, is if they migrated, or if the old computer stopped working, they would have lost all the files. Specifically they would have lost any new files or changes since January 2018 when Dropbox stopped supporting their OS. It’s an absurd change to me because if I’m a regular Dropbox user I don’t care at all about any of the features I just want them to back up my files and they didn’t do their one job. It seems if they had kept it working the same on old OSes which seems possibly this would have been very easy to migrate.
A Bad User Experience and Product Decision
The problem here is Dropbox is pushing their problem onto the user which I feel is a horrible decision from a user experience and design perspective. So for me, a gift from the holidays which was a new computer, was spent on an significant amount of time trying to upgrade operating systems, upgrade Dropbox and get the files over.
The real issue here is this type of product decision shows a real lack of understanding of a basic use case for many users, many who are not tech savvy but maybe made a good decision to back things up to the cloud. That’s the one thing they should do well. They do not need to deprecate the software to make their software upgrade errands a personal chore of the users.
A counterpoint may be that it was a security update, or that software needs to be updated, but there are definitely ways around it. I’m fine with updating, and getting new operating systems, and making software better — that is all good! But the thing I think does not make sense is they do not need to make their problem my problem or more generally, they do not need to make their problem the user problem. It seems they could alternatively only supported new versions of Dropbox on new OSes, but left earlier ones functional, or provided a better upgrade path.
This is a really key design and user experience misunderstanding of many apps who try to upgrade to a better version (which may really be better!). They are undervaluing the switching costs or not appreciating the interruption caused by the change. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson at Basecamp have written about this point well. I still think you can and should upgrade the software but that interrupting the core experience and functionality of the users doesn’t make sense, and should be handled much more gracefully. Additionally, with Dropbox, there are many potential fallback behaviors, and I think they chose the worst option.
So Dropbox you should change the way you deprecate support for older OSes!