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Transporter Day 1

Summary:

I got a Transporter this week and set it up this morning. I’ve been playing with it all day and I’m trying to really like it, but it just isn’t quite there for me … YET. But, this is pre-release, so I’m hopeful that they can address some of the concerns I am outlining here. In my conclusion, I point out that I believe most of the issues can be addressed with software updates and I outline some of the things I think they need to address.

Hardware

IF

First, I’d like to talk about the hardware. It actually feels a little cheap.  It is a $200 drive enclosure that comes with some software. The software experience is worth something, but the overall feel of the hardware is that it is cheap plastic. I’m also not a fan of the fact that they built it to hold 2.5″ drives and you cannot plug external drives into it.

I get that 2.5″ drives allowed them to create a device that was smaller and lighter and it probably uses less power, but 2.5″ drives are also more expensive per GB than 3.5″ drives and they only currently go up to 2TB. I’m also concerned that they may not be as reliable for something as critical as backup files.

There really isn’t much more to discuss here. The hardware isn’t very exciting.

Despite all of that, the lights are cool and it looks nice sitting on a desk.

Verdict: 7 of 10. Once you set it all up, it doesn’t LOOK cheap anymore, so that is a plus.

Software

The transporter is kind of being marketed as your own personal cloud.  The box says “Social Storage”, “100% Private”, No Fees”, “Always Protected”, “Unlimited Sharing” and “Access Anywhere”.

Let’s look at each of these as I do my review.

IF

Just send an invite and start sharing. Well. First, the person you invite has to create an account and then install the software and then log in and configure it. Anyone you share with gets read/write access to the folder you shared. You cannot just extend a read-only share. You cannot create a “public” folder that contains files you might want to share with just anyone. One of the examples cited was sharing pictures with family and friends. I’m fairly certain that most of my family would not opt to jump through the hoops required to access the files.  And even if they did, this isn’t Flickr, there are no thumbnails or navigation, it’s just raw .jpg files.

Verdict 2 of 10: While it is true that if you are using it to, say develop code, you could conceivably set it up so you could do that and collaborate with someone.  I wouldn’t call it “simple”, however. For me the deal breakers here are many. No public access, no ability to create read-only shares, no ability to share files with a web interface, no ability to share files without installing software and creating an account.

IF

This is the area where it does what it says, For anyone who doesn’t trust financial records or other private data with any 3rd-party cloud service, this device keeps your data under your complete control. It is very easy to see how many people, transporters (of yours) and transporters (in total) have access to a folder.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 3.07.04 PM

Todd’s Place is stored on one of my Transporters, it is stored on 2 Transporters in total (or will be once the data copies across the Internet) and is accessible by 2 people.

The part here that concerns me is where and how is my data actually stored? How will I get to it when things go wrong? What happens if the company that is hosting the web service that makes all of this work goes out of business?

Where and how is my data actually stored?

The data is stored on the Transporters that are listed. And for every computer that has the Connect software installed and has chosen to allow a local copy to be stored, it is there too … sort of.

We need to back up a little bit. There is an option in the Connect software to say whether you want new folders to be stored locally by default. You can set this on each computer. Then, you can override that option for each folder on each computer. This is very flexible and it allows you to create an experience very similar to Dropbox without using a third party.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 3.14.24 PM

Default Preference

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 3.15.58 PM

Here, I’ve overridden everything except Dropbox, which is the only folder that will be stored locally

While this sounds exactly like Dropbox, there is rather crucial difference in how the data is actually stored on your computer.

If I open my Dropbox folder and the Dropbox folder that is connected to my Transporter, they look a lot alike.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 3.28.41 PM

But, I can see that my Dropbox folder lives in a “No Time Machine Backup” folder on the root of my boot drive.

The Dropbox folder from my Transporter shows up as being on a separate drive. Initially, I thought this was a direct map to the drive.  It’s a little unclear how this works. If the folder is stored locally, then the files are stored locally (sort of) and if the folder is not stored locally, then this is the network drive.

I say “sort of” above, because while the files are stored locally, they are not stored where you think they are. They are stored in a file in ~/Library/Application Support.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 2.31.28 PM

Location of the Data File that Holds Your Files

The size of the file pretty closely matches the size of the Dropbox folder

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 2.33.23 PM

The Mounted Disk Image

At first, I thought the file was some sort of disk image, but I was discussing this with Rob Pickering, who also bought one of these and he dug into and and found out that the Connected Data.connecteddata file is just a package and if you Show Package Contents you can see all of the files and folders in there.

So, they are “mounting” all of the folders from your Transporter in your home folder.  If the contents are stored locally, then when you access them, it knows to pull them from your Library folder, otherwise, it goes directly to the Transporter.

Looking on your computer, if it is stored locally, it gets a different icon than if it is stored on the Transporter.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 3.44.36 PM

Only stored on Transporter

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 3.44.29 PM

Stored Locally

How will I get to it when things go wrong?

My concern the local copy is pretty much hidden from the user. If you get a new computer and manually move files that you think are important over you may not think to move this file. And you actually probably shouldn’t.  You should instead allow it to be downloaded again. This is kind of what Dropbox does. Most people wouldn’t really worry about blowing away their local dropbox folder on a computer they aren’t going to use anymore because they know they can download it again.  But, I can only assume that Dropbox uses hardware that is a little more fault-tolerant than a 2.5″ laptop drive. The transient way the data is stored on your local computer (if you choose to store it there at all) makes that 2.5″ laptop drive VERY important. That’s kind of scary.

The solution is not to store things only on the Transporter. That’s a great idea, but the Transporter software doesn’t do anything to really help you with that. What I mean by that, is let’s say I want to back up my pictures to the Transporter. There are 2 ways to do that. The way I think they want you to do this is to move your pictures to a folder on the Transporter and allow a local copy to be stored on your computer.  As you add new pictures, you would copy them to this new Pictures folder and they would be stored in both places.

But, that requires you to move your Pictures folder to be inside this hidden package file stored in your library. And I’m just not comfortable with this. For some reason, they way they are doing this really slows things down. When I figured out how to turn off local storage, I had been copying things to a Samba folder from another computer and all of that was being stuffed into the package file in my Library folder on this computer.  When I turned Samba off, it took quite a while to remove the cache.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 12.57.14 PM

This picture was taken at 12:57 after I had waited quite a while for it to finish

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 1.40.25 PM

This picture was taken at 1:40 over an hour after it had started

Also, if you select a folder and do a Get Info on it, it takes a REALLY long time to calculate it.  The other thing I’m concerned about is that while my Dropbox folder on my local cache is listed as 13.09 GB, when I look at the web interface, it shows 17.83 GB. The local package file shows 13.1 GB. When I look at the folder in the preference pane above, it shows 18.26 GB  Not sure what the actual size is.

I understand that they are trying to make it look the same whether the data is local or on the transporter, but I’m just not a fan of storing files where you can’t see them. if you forget about them you could forget to copy them and if the other end was something more reliable than a single 2.5″ laptop drive, I might be more willing to deal with it.

The solution would be to have more than one Transporter, but that makes this a VERY expensive backup solution, at least initially.

What happens if the company that is hosting the web service that makes all of this work goes out of business?

With software required to properly access the data on the device, if the company goes out of business, eventually, as new OS versions come out, the software will stop working. Even with the SMB/CIFS support, which would allow the device to be a rather expensive NAS device, when I tried to access it via Windows File sharing, I could not create a folder in the root of the drive.  Also, since the devices have to phone home in order to find each other, you would completely lose the ability to sync data between two Transporters, which is what is supposed to happen.

So, this is a very real concern for a new company.

Verdict 7 of 10: The data does appear to be private. But, I’m concerned that the local copy is hidden and when things go wrong, recovery options will be limited. Allowing you to sync data from anywhere on your computer to the Transporter would be a better solution.

IF

This sounds great. But, as I’ve stated, without the software and web site, functionality is greatly diminished. Fees are what keep a company in business. Since they were funded by Kickstarter, we don’t really know for sure what their business model is to support the web servers that facilitate the connectivity forever. Also, you are paying a premium price up front for what is essentially a NAS device in the hopes that they will continue to develop and support the software.

Verdict: 5 of 10. No fees, except for the ~$100-$125 premium up front vs just buying a regular NAS drive (some of which have cloud support too).  The up-front costs rise significantly when you consider that to be really protected you need 2 Transporters.

IF

Well, if you have multiple Transporters, which I get is what the original intent was. Problem is, at $300 per device, that gets a little pricey. I understand that multiple Transporters also eliminates a lot of my concerns about storing the local copies in a hidden location, but it doesn’t change the fact that not everyone is going to do that and they need a better solution for that model.

Verdict: 6 of 10.

IF

Unlimited file sizes, but as I covered above, VERY limited sharing options. Dropbox does this much better than Transporter does. They need to allow access at the very least without installing software.  Plus, they need to add a Public folder option.

Verdict: 2 of 10. Same arguments from Social Storage above

IF

Again, only on devices they have decided to support. The Connect software is available for Mac and Windows. No Linux or Chromebook support and according to some reports, no Windows XP support. They are supposed to be working on an iOS client, but no word yet on Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone or Microsoft Surface support. Without a web interface to actually access your files, their “anywhere” claim is a little aggressive.

Verdict: 4 of 10. Unless you are only going to use supported platforms. Anywhere is a difficult claim to live up to without offering at least rudimentary access to your data via a Web Interface.

Conclusion

I realize this write-up sounds kind of negative. Keep in mind that I am a very early customer here. These devices haven’t even really shipped to non-backers yet and the company is aggressively developing for it.  Hopefully, we will see a lot of updates to the software and maybe even some firmware updates to add functionality to the device itself. Most of my concerns with the device can be fixed with software. It’s a good start and if the company can improve the capabilities of the software, I think they can make this a much more viable overall solution.

Specifically, I think they need to:

  • Add the ability to sync existing folders to a Transporter.
  • Add a web interface to access the files. Bonus points if the web interface can actually serve up thumbnails of pictures and stream media, but there has to be SOME way to access the files without installing software.
  • Add the ability to share a folder publicly without an account.
  • They should really look for a way to make these devices completely independent. I’d love to be able to take privacy to the next level and if I was willing to manage the settings allow me to manually enter IP addresses and link them without going through a third-party portal. Allow me to store my accounts on the devices and make them completely autonomous. That would also eliminate some of the concern about the survivability of the company.
  • Consider selling a software-only transporter. If I could install software on my computer that would make its local storage look like a Transporter, that would be another way they could generate revenue to build a strong business model.
  • I’d like to see them release a version that supports 3.5″ drives.

Overall Verdict: 8 of 10: Despite all of what I talk about above, this is a REALLY good start for a pre-release product. If they can tweak the experience some, I think the Transporter ecosystem can become very strong.

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  1. March 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm
  2. March 8, 2013 at 10:02 am

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