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On the whole, macOS Sierra is a solid update 5 Reasons to Install macOS Sierra Right Now & How to Upgrade 5 Reasons to Install macOS Sierra Right Now & How to Upgrade After a few months of public beta, the latest version of Apple's desktop operating system is ready for prime time. Read More . While new features like Siri are useful 11 macOS Sierra Things You Couldn't Do in El Capitan 11 macOS Sierra Things You Couldn't Do in El Capitan Every new macOS release introduces new tricks and features, and macOS Sierra is no exception. Read More from time to time, one of Sierra’s spotlight features is storage management. macOS is making storage optimization easier Clean Your Mac's Storage With Sierra or Just Use Automator Clean Your Mac's Storage With Sierra or Just Use Automator Whether you want to increase available storage using the cloud or take matters into your own hands, here's how macOS Sierra can help lighten the load. Read More , but in the process also playing a risky game with your data.

It’s the Desktop and Documents Sync and Optimized Storage features that put your important work documents at risk of being misplaced or deleted. And in true Apple fashion, it all happens in the background so you don’t know about it until it’s already too late.

Desktop and Documents Sync is supposed to keep all the Desktop folders on all your Macs in sync. Optimized Storage is supposed to intelligently free up space by deleting files you don’t need. The problem is they don’t work as advertised.

Did You Turn on Desktop and Documents Sync?

macos sierra desktop and documents sync

The saga starts as soon as you upgrade to macOS Sierra. Once the install completed and you whizzed through the welcome screens, entering your iCloud password again, turning on Siri, you may have also enabled Desktop and Documents Sync.

The feature automatically backs up and syncs the contents from your Desktop and Documents folders to iCloud Drive What is iCloud Drive & How Does it Work? What is iCloud Drive & How Does it Work? Confused about what makes iCloud Drive different to Apple's other cloud services? Let us show you what it can do, and how you can make the most of it. Read More . It actually moves both of those folders inside the iCloud Drive directory, replacing the original folders with shortcuts. Once the files are backed up to iCloud, they’re now available in the iCloud Drive app on your iPhone, iPad, or on any other Mac that has the feature enabled. All of that sounds great in theory but there are some real world problems with this.

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First, it syncs using iCloud, which is not the most reliable iCloud Sync Problems? Resolving Common Cloud Storage Issues iCloud Sync Problems? Resolving Common Cloud Storage Issues Having problems getting iCloud to sync your data between two instances of the same app? You're not alone... Read More of the cloud backup services out there. Plus, you only get 5 GB space for free. If you hit that limit, the sync stops (the files will still be available locally).

Second, the feature is plagued with weird bugs. Because the real Desktop and Documents folders are now just shortcuts (or links) to the iCloud Drive folder, some apps don’t behave well when your files are stored in there.

Also, there’s a huge problem of maintaining the sync perfectly between two Macs. In some situations, it just fails. Or does weird things.

For example, if you turn on this feature on a second Mac, all the current contents in the Desktop folder will be copied to a new folder and the files and folders from the first Mac will now take over the second Mac’s desktop. For a feature that’s supposed to make your life easier, losing important files is a genuinely scary thing.

Then You’ve Also Turned on Optimized Storage

If you turned on Desktop and Documents Sync, you also turned on the Optimized Storage feature in iCloud. This itself is a confusing feature.

Although it sounds like it, this is not the new storage management tool added in Sierra (although it’s part of it). Optimized Storage stems from a new idea in Sierra: Purgeable Storage. Apple defines some part of the storage as “purgeable,” as in, if the need arises, these sets of files and folders can be deleted from the Mac (as long as they’re backed up to iCloud Drive) to make space for something else, such as a new app install.

When the Optimized Storage feature is turned on, you’ll find a new dashed section in the Storage tool in About This Mac. This tells you how much purgeable storage you have.

optimized storage macos sierra

This, in theory, is a great feature. The problem is that Apple’s definition of purgeable space is broken and it’s sometimes deleting legitimately useful work files instead.

Jason Snell of Six Colors had his Logic Pro files deleted thanks to this feature. Later, Apple themselves clarified that if you use a professional app, you should not be using this feature. Thanks for the heads up, Apple!

So How Do You Get Out of This Mess?

Cloud still isn’t Apple’s thing Escaping the iCloud: Leaving Apple's Ecosystem Behind Escaping the iCloud: Leaving Apple's Ecosystem Behind You have invested in iOS. Your data is tied up in iCloud, your email in your Apple email account. How are you going to escape the iCloud and make your data ecosystem-independent? Read More . If you’ve decided to turn this feature off (probably the best idea), here’s how to do it.

If you’ve been using Sierra for a couple of weeks, it’s best that you first take a backup of your important files before disabling this feature, especially if you’ve been using this feature on multiple Macs (hey, it’s iCloud, you never know).

Then open System Preferences, select iCloud, and then click on Options next to iCloud Drive.

optimized storage macos sierra

Now from the top, disable the Desktop and Documents Sync, and from the bottom of the popup, uncheck the Optimized Storage option. That’s it.

optimized storage macos sierra

Once you click Turn off from the Desktops and Documents sync popup, you’ll immediately be taken to the iCloud Drive folder where you’ll see the Desktop and Documents folder. There’s a reason for that.

Ok, But Where’d My Desktop Go?

optimized storage macos sierra

When you disable the Desktop and Documents sync feature, the files in the Desktop and Documents folder will vanish (because remember, they were just shortcuts to the real folders now living in iCloud Drive).

optimized storage macos sierra

But don’t worry, your files and folders are safe. They’re in the Desktop and Documents folders in the iCloud Drive directory. To get them back, you’ll need to manually open those folders and drag the files back to their original place.

How Do You Cloud?

Apple, as I said above, is still not great at cloud computing and iCloud Drive is a proof of that. If you’re already paying for iCloud storage for photo backup, you might be thinking about using iCloud Drive to sync your work documents as well. I would suggest you stick with Dropbox or Google Drive.

Yes, iCloud Drive is getting better, but it still lacks fine control over the syncing process. Plus, there are reliability issues.

Which apps and services do you use to live your life in the cloud? Share with us in the comments below.

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock.com

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  1. Christian
    January 15, 2017 at 4:19 am

    I turned these settings off and restarted my Mac, but I still have "purgeable" space. Any further suggestions?

    • Khamosh Pathak
      January 15, 2017 at 5:28 am

      It looks like macOS keeps track of Purgeable storage even if you haven't enabled the Optimized Storage feature. So I wouldn't worry about it now, as long as you have disabled the feature. Even if macOS marks the storage as purgeable, it won't actually delete them now that the feature is turned off.