Technology

A Backup Disk Drive with Remote Access


0403_mybook
Editor's Rating: star rating

Western Digital's My Book World Edition makes it possible to open and edit files remotely. Good thing, too, since it's too portly to lug around

Western Digital's My Book family of storage drives has been attracting attention lately for all the wrong reasons. Bloggers have been dinging the disk drive maker for blocking customers from using the drives as a hub for sharing music and movie files—whether they're copyright protected or not. That's a big deal, as sharing is a big selling point for these hefty, pricey drives.

The folks at Western Digital (WDC) say they're working on a solution that could make their digital rights management (DRM) software a bit more discerning. But in the meantime, I took the My Book World Edition for a test drive and found it a serviceable way to back up files with an added bonus: the ability to gain access to those files from afar without toting around the drive or even my laptop. At about $340 for one terabyte of storage—that's 1,000GB, more than most users will ever need—this My Book offers the best value of any drive I've tested so far. It's also quieter than most of the drives I've tried.

I've been reviewing plug-in disk drives that expand a PC's storage space and act as a storehouse for backup files. They generally fall into two categories. Some, like Fabrik's Signature Mini (BusinessWeek.com, 3/6/08) and LaCie's Little Disk (BusinessWeek.com, 11/7/07) are featherweight and have ample capacity for most backup jobs, holding anywhere from 160GB to 320GB of space. Others, like Seagate Technology's (STX) FreeAgent Pro (BusinessWeek.com, 2/4/08) are portly and outsize. They can hold more than four times as much data as their slimmer cousins, but are better suited as doorstops than anything you'd consider carrying around.

How It Works

Put the My Book in the porker column. Weighing nearly 6 pounds, and standing 7 in. tall, 4.5 in. wide, and more than 6.5 in. deep, this isn't a drive anyone would relish packing for a business trip. But that's the point of Western Digital's device: You don't have to bring it along.

You can read, edit, and resave any file on the drive using any remote computer, whether at a friend's house, in a hotel lobby, or at someone else's office. The enclosed MioNet software from the vendor Senvid quickly synchronized Microsoft (MSFT) Office files, Adobe (ADBE) PDF documents, and digital photos from my laptop to the drive, where they stood ready to view and edit from afar.

To open files remotely, you log in at MioNet's site, which then patches you through to your My Book drive at home or the office. You can install the desktop software on up to four additional computers so you don't have to log in to the site to get to your files. Either way, you don't have to leave your PC powered up while you're away. My Book doesn't actually connect directly to your PC. You connect it with an Ethernet cable to your broadband modem or network router, and the software creates a secure connection over the Internet to your PC.

The Test Drive

I set up the drive at my office, loading the software on my laptop and then designating the folders to be backed up. Later that day, I logged into the MioNet site with a friend's laptop from home. After waiting a couple of minutes while the site read the information off my drive, an icon appeared in the browser window that represented the My Documents folder on my PC that I had designated for backup. I clicked, and there were all my PC files. Whenever I made a change to a file in that virtual folder or even created a new document or subfolder, these changes showed up later in the "real" My Documents folder on my own laptop.

The My Book also offers an extra level of backup protection: The terabyte of storage is actually split between two 500GB drives, so users can copy data from one to the other as an added safeguard in case one crashes.

What I didn't like about My Book was its size and pedestrian design. Sure, I could tuck it on a corner of my desk where its Brobdingnagian proportions didn't consume too much space. But with the size of a small dictionary and the heft of a small barbell, it certainly wasn't going anywhere with me. My Book costs $10 less than the other terabyte-size drive I tested, Seagate's FreeAgent Pro. But its plain white casing and bulbous design couldn't compete on looks with the FreeAgent's slim profile, shiny black shell, and luminous orange strip. And the MioNet software wasn't always friendly, occasionally resulting in annoying error messages.

Sharing, with Limits

Now, about that DRM. My Book's software also includes a "sharing" feature that lets users invite a friend to view or even edit files on user's drive. But Western Digital has blocked access to nearly every popular music and movie file format to prevent users from illegally sharing copyrighted content via My Book. The backlash from users has been harsh, since the software blocks even uncopyrighted material. Western Digital plans to publicly test software in the near future that can identify and block copyrighted material only.

In the meantime, users who don't care about sharing music and video files, and who are often away from their desks when they need to work, may find the My Book World Edition a worthy travel companion—even though it stays at home.

Ricadela is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in Silicon Valley.

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