As internet connections have sped up and data transfers become more secure and reliable, so an industry has built up offering online data storage on remote servers.
iDrive for Mac is one such offering. It adds to the basic storage service by bundling a software client for your Mac that manages your backup requirements by setting things like a backup schedule and targeting which files to save.
There are two flavours of iDrive for Mac: Basic and Pro. With the Basic package you get the local client and 2GB of storage for free. The Pro packages start from $5 (£2.50) a month and jumps your storage space to 150GB. Further packages increase the storage amount and cost with top-end business packages available up to 500GB.
First Mac outing
The company behind iDrive, Pro Softnet, has been providing similar packages to Windows users for a while, though this is its first Mac offering. All data transfers are done under the umbrella of 128-bit SSL encryption during transmission and 256-bit encryption during storage.
There are advantages and disadvantages to backing up your data to online remote servers instead of local drives. The advantages centre around security and remote access. If your data is away from your house or office then your sharing options for other Macs – perhaps owned by colleagues or, indeed, yourself – open up nicely.
Also, should your Desktop hard disk fail, not an uncommon occurrence, you know that somewhere there is a professionally run data bank covering your back.
Where iDrive triumphs is the clean, very Mac OS X looking client. It is a faultless display and very easy to use. This is the kind of work that wins Apple Design Awards, in fact, when its window was on-screen next to iTunes, a lazy mouse click mistakes one for the other.
Inside iDrive, your HD is mapped in a Finder-like list of folders with checkboxes besides them. Listed in the left-hand panel are your folders, which have expanding drop arrows letting you drill down into the folder contents. You can select whole folders to back or individual files.
An indicator bar along the bottom of the client shows you how much storage is available, and a right-hand panel shows you what's backed up and currently sitting in your iDrive in more detail.
Backing up is a speedy process: the first backup took quite a while, but future backups are all incremental. So as changes are made, they are backed up as you go, rather than having to perform a full rewrite, saving you a lot of time.
It is a superbly simple tool to use, and there were no lock-ins in the structure of the app that push you toward grabbing more storage at a higher monthly rate. Our music folder was the default folder to be backed up, but we changed this in the settings so it didn't eat up the 2GB space by itself.
Syncing and integration
Two questions should be in your mind: how is this different to a MobileMe's iDisk; and what are the syncing options for additional Macs and the iPhone and iPod touch.
On the first point, iDrive gives you less integration than an iDisk with OS X. iDrive for Mac isn't an Apple product, so there isn't the seemless blending with the iLife suite, and you can't drop files into your iDrive inside a Finder window. On the second point, sadly there are no syncing options at all. iDrive is simply a straightforward backup solution.
We were also a little annoyed to find iDrive does not offer cross operating system compatibility between Windows and Mac. This means you will need a separate iDrive account for any Windows machines you have.
On the whole though, iDrive impressed us with its elegance and ease. As a simple backup solution, without the added sophistication of syncing data, it works very well. We definitely recommend that you give the free 2GB package a spin to see if it fits your needs.