When Pat posted about Transporter and mentioned I hadn’t written about it, I was shocked. I’ve actually had a Transporter for some time, so I was sure I must have written about it. Transporter is a very interesting, unusual hard drive and because of that I’m having a tough time figuring out how to approach talking about it.
The way Transporter works is pretty simple: you connect the device to your network and put a HD inside of it. (Mine is connected via ethernet and has a 3TB drive inside.) You use a web interface to create shared folders, rather than just sharing the entire drive. Each folder can be shared to other people, or synced with another Transporter — or it can just be network storage for you.
That’s the basics. From there you can install a menubar app on your Mac that will sync your files in a somewhat Dropbox-like manner. It’s actually a bit more complicated than Dropbox, because each folder you have access to has two options, which I will call local and remote. If you set the folder to local, it works much like Dropbox: the files are stored locally on your machine and on the Transporter — changes are synced in the background. Using the Remote option means the files are stored on the Transporter instead of your machine, but you can access them if you have a network connection.
This is great, since my retina MacBook Pro has a 256GB drive and the Transporter has a 3TB drive. However you’ll notice I said it’s not exactly like Dropbox. There are three notable differences:
- It’s slower than Dropbox. With Dropbox you expect small files to show up almost instantly, however, with the Transporter you need to give it a good while (sometimes hours).
- For some reason the Connected Desktop folder, in which all your Transporter folders live, is either symlinked or aliased somewhere else. These folders act more like connected folders than native folders. 99% of the time this isn’t an issue, however, don’t try to set this folder as your Screen Shot folder, or nothing will work.
- You can sync one folder to multiple Transporters. This is different than just sharing a folder. Here’s how Connected Desktop describes it:
You can perform an initial sync between two Transporters on a fast, local network and then easily relocate one to a secure offsite location. Should something happen to your local network, you’ll never miss a beat. Our software will automatically continue to access files from any shared Transporter until your local network is restored.
That’s a pretty neat feature as it offers a private and redundant data storage solution for “normal” people. So while there is no mirrored RAID, you can have data redundancy in the form of multiple Transporters. Better still, you don’t have to take one to a datacenter, you could just take it to your Mom’s house.
That, in a nutshell, is the Transporter. On paper it’s a very cool device, but the big question is: does it work?
The short answer is yes: Transporter is better than a file server, webDAV or FTP, but not as dead simple as Dropbox. After switching completely from Dropbox to the Transporter (only syncing files for apps via my Dropbox account) I’ve never lost anything or been frustrated by using it.
My biggest issues with Transporter so far are:
- It’s slow to sync back to the actual transporter.
- The iOS app is painful to use.
- The menu bar app is hideous (I hid it with bartender).
The first two are the biggest issues I have. While the sync speed is typically not a problem, the poor iOS app is a true shortcoming.
There are some other really good things about the Transporter, like the fact it has 3TB of storage that’s easy and cheap to upgrade. It’s stable, too; I’ve never had to reset it.
And it’s far more private: here’s what Connected Data says about the encryption and security of the file transfers:
We’ve implemented transport layer connections using industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption for communication among Transporter devices and their clients, which is the same technology that banks use. Unique private keys reside on the individual Transporter units, such that even Connected Data does not have access to them. Our Transporter Desktop apps and Transporter Downloader apps all use this encryption for items in transit. For communication with Connected Data web services, we use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).
That’s important given that Dropbox is joining PRISM and the NSA gobbles network traffic. The only thing left is the physical security: I’ve toyed with putting it in a safe. Then again, I may be a bit crazy, because I asked macminicolo.net if they’d host a Transporter for me (they will).
I like it. But it’s not for everyone. The initial cost is higher than a Dropbox account, but the recurring costs are lower for any real volume of data. More importantly for most people it’s harder to use than Dropbox and I’ve yet to see a single app work with it (I don’t even know if that’s possible given the encryption). My verdict? I’m using it, I don’t have to think about it and I’m rarely ever annoyed by it. For most products that wouldn’t be a ringing endorsement, but for file syncing? I don’t know how much more I could ask for.