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Caption by: Manek Dubash
Sharing files over the internet in a small-business or home environment has always proved troublesome for non-technical users. Cloud Engines' Pogoplug aims to, well, plug that gap — and adds plenty of goodies for the technically adept too.
Pogoplug consists of a very pink, Linux-based device, containing a 1.2GHz ARM processor, 256MB of RAM and 512MB of flash-based storage, running media server software whose open source code is freely downloadable from Cloud Engines' web site. Connections consist of four USB ports, an Ethernet connector and a mains socket — there's no separate power supply. Once linked to an internet-connected wired network, data on USB-hosted drives plugged into the device can be viewed remotely via Pogoplug's web site.
The back of the Pogoplug has three USB sockets (there's a fourth at the front), a Gigabit Ethernet port and a mains socket.
You don't need to configure your router to provide access, and nor do you have to drill holes in your firewall. As long as you can browse the web, it'll connect. To add or change files, either insert or swap a USB drive, or use the system's directory monitoring feature, which will automatically copy new or changed files from your computer to the Pogoplug.
To connect, you create an account on the Pogoplug web site, which locates and activates the device. The site then initiates a password-protected connection behind a network address translation layer, which means the device gets an IP address from your local DHCP server but can still be addressed via the browser as if it were on a public network.
Point your browser at the Pogoplug site, log in and you view listings of available files — either by type if they're images, videos or audio, or by date, or by share (more about this later). Although the device is primarily aimed at serving multimedia, it can host any file type you like. The drives can be formatted using any modern file system: this is not a Windows-only enclave. Other built-in connectivity options include iPhoto, Picasa, Xbox and PS3. It will also detect if you're accessing the device locally or remotely; if it's the former, the external link is disabled.
The site delivers directory listings quickly, sorted by name, date, size or type, as you specify. You can upload new content and copy files by dragging and dropping, as well renaming, deleting and downloading. You can also stream videos over the web after they've been transcoded — a process that can take some time, but at least you can watch progress via the system's media settings page.
Sharing is easy. By default, only the account creator has access. You can add new users, and define whether they only have download rights or full access. Individuals are identified by email address, or you can share a drive on a per-folder basis in a variety of ways. These include sharing via Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, as well as an RSS feed and complete public access. You can add notifications for authorised users to let them know when a folder changes.
Once you've logged into your account at Pogoplug's web site, you can view listings of a wide range of file types in a variety of ways.
There's not much to criticise, but a lack of groups for sharing, Wi-Fi connectivity and — perhaps most serious drawback — the inability to directly add existing server-based data over the local area network deserve a mention.
Those issues aside, the Pogoplug works well, silently and draws only 5W at the plug. Windows, Mac and Linux users can download applets that provide access to the Pogoplug as a local drive. There are also mobile phone applets for iPhone, Blackberry Storm and Palm, with a promise of access for Windows Mobile users 'coming soon'. But it's Linux, so you can always ssh or telnet into it; no downloads required.
Openness is part of the package. Pogoplug's makers promise that if the company fails, the code will remain open for others to continue, and there's a vigorous, manufacturer-encouraged community for those interested in hacking the device and installing new functionality. Cloud Engines seems open to new ideas for improving the product too.
The alternative to the Pogoplug approach is uploading content to online storage services such as Dropbox or Mozy. However, if you're sharing gigabytes of data this is very tedious, slow and expensive by comparison. There are few products like the Pogoplug and, when you factor in the product's openness, you'll have a hard time finding a device for internet data-sharing that offers more or is easier to use than this.
Caption by: Manek Dubash