If you want to turn a USB hard drive into a cheap and easy network attached storage unit, Seagate's new DockStar does the trick.
The company's first consumer NAS offering is built to hold a FreeAgent Go drive in its cradle plus up to three other USB drives (for any brand of drive) via ports on its backside.
The trick? The DockStar uses its Ethernet port to live on your home network.
What makes the DockStar different is that you can access your content anywhere, thanks to software licensed from Pogoplug. Via a web interface, you can access the drive's files from any computer -- on your home network or anywhere worldwide.
The web interface works on any browser, requires no software installation and lets you choose specific folders for others to access. Keeping less computer-inclined family members in mind, you can also publish RSS feeds of your files to various social networking sites, including Twitter, Facebook, MySpace -- allowing for an easy way to let Mom and Dad know you've taken new photos of the kids.
Alternately, you can download Pogoplug's software for mapping the DockStar to a drive letter on Windows, Mac and Linux machines. (Pogoplug offers a free iPhone/iPod touch app as well.)
The catch? You can access the drive free for life from within your home network, but you only get a year's worldwide access for free. After that, it's $30 per year.
(Pogoplug's standalone product -- which also costs $99, like the DockStar -- requires no fees.)
Seagate says it will add SMB drive support to the DockStar in a future firmware update, which distinguishes it from Pogoplug's own offering. That means DockStar drives will be accessible from non-PC DLNA-compatible network devices, such as Seagate's just -announced FreeAgent Theater+.