Synchronization sinks Internet backup tool

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Category: file transfer software
Name of tool: Express Loader
Company name: LapLink
Price: free
URL: http://www.laplinkit.com
Windows platforms supported: 95, 98, NT, 2000 with recent browser version
Quick description: File transfer and synchronization utility that works with Internet file storage service providers

Strom-meter:
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.

Pros:
Quick and simple means to transfer and backup files to Internet storage service providers. Automated file transfer and synchronization with FTP sites.

Cons:
SmartXchange automated synchronization feature still somewhat buggy. Supports MyDocsOnline and Driveway services in initial release, although others in the works.

Description:

I have been using Laplink since the dawn of time. It is one of the best utilities that I know of to populate a new computer with your old data files. You hook up the two computers via a cable and load the software on both and within minutes you can copy files. Over the years, Laplink has gotten more of the Internet religion -- for example, you can transfer files over a local area network or via the Internet instead of connecting up the parallel ports on the two computers. Express Loader represents a big step forward by embracing the use of Internet storage service providers.

What are these providers? Many companies have begun to offer free or reasonably priced storage "bins" for your files. All that is needed is a browser and the ability to upload and download the files from your desktop. Your files are protected by a password so that only you have access to them. And you can use these services as a very convenient off-site backup, or as a way to keep your files in one place so that you can access them when you are on the road or working at home. Over a dozen service providers are now available, including Driveway.com, MyDocsOnline.com, Xdrive.com, and others. (You can read a review of these and other providers from PC Magazine here.

The first release of Express Loader works with Driveway.com and MyDocsOnline. To make this work, you need to download the Express Loader software from Laplink's web site and install it on your local desktop. Next, you need to go to MyDocsOnline or Driveway and register for a free account. You get 20 or 25 megabytes of storage free. If you need more, you can purchase it from either company at rates ranging from $3 a month for 50MB to $85 PER year for 300MB on MyDocs and about $100 per 100MB on Driveway. Next, you decide which files you want to upload to the service. Before Express Loader came on the scene, you had two different ways to do uploads. You could use your web browser to specify the particular files to upload and where to place them on the MyDocs or Driveway sites. Or, you could drag and drop the files directly in Windows Explorer, provided you were using Windows 2000, Office 2000, or the latest version of IE5 that supported the Web Folders feature.

Neither of these methods was great for keeping two sets of files in synch, which is the ideal situation when you want the remote file storage service to be an exact duplicate of your local disk. This is supposedly Express Loader's benefit, and Laplink has developed some nifty synch software so that you only need to upload the changes and new files from your desktop.

This feature is called SmartXchange, and it works with either an Internet storage provider or an ordinary FTP server. You click on the Internet site and directory you want to synch, click on your local directory, answer a few questions (upload, download, both, and what to do about duplicates or conflicts), and Express Loader takes care of the rest. Or it is supposed to -- our tests uncovered a nasty bug that we couldn't resolve. The bug wasn't a problem if we first uploaded our files using the drag and drop method, and not using SmartXchange. But Laplink support personnel agree that there is a problem for users with Windows 95/98 systems, and report that the company is working on a fix for the next release to make their synch software more reliable.

Still, this bug is more nuisance than fatal, and you should consider Express Loader if you have to do lots of file transfers and want to make use of Internet storage providers. If Laplink could fix this problem, I'd use the product more to keep my web site files up to date when I make changes to them on my local desktop.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant and corporate IT manager. Since 1995, he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at mailto:david@strom.com.

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David Strom Web Informant 938 Port Washington Blvd., Port Washington NY 11050 +1 (516) 944-3407


This was first published in October 2000

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