Comparing and contrasting the features of MobileMe with other services: Part one iDisk

MobileMe iDisk iconI have had a MobileMe account since before they were called MobileMe. Lately I have been having a number of troubles with the account being regularly disabled. This has always happened. I have a really simple MobileMe account name, and it seems that as Apple has become more popular, people keep thinking that they have signed up for my same, simple MobileMe name. When they try to log in, and can’t, they end up disabling my account by incorrectly entering my password. I am not alone in this, a number of MobileMe users are getting hit with accounts disabled just about every day. If this is hackers, then at least I can be thankful that my password must be hard to crack.

This came to a head, though, when Apple changed their password rules, requiring a reset of password to one not used in the last year. Up until now, I could just change the password back to the one I had been using. Now, I have to make a completely new one (or at least sort of new). This might not seem like much of a hardship, but I use this MobileMe account on my iTunes account, my MacBook, my iPhone and my iPad. When I have to change this password, then I have to go to each and every device and enter in this new unique password.

Because I find this to be a pain, I am contemplating replacing MobileMe with something else. So, I am going through all of the services provided by the $99 annual MobleMe fee to see what alternatives exist and whether they will suffice for my needs.

First up, iDisk.

Your MobileMe account comes with 20GB of storage (this is 10GB for Mail and 10 GB on a WebDAV share called iDisk). This iDisk can be mounted to your local drive just like any external drive or other WebDAV share (although this function has become blocked at work). You can also access iDisk via an iPhone and iPad app from the iTunes store, as well as from within a number of other iPhone/iPad apps such as Pages.

I use iDisk primarily to transfer files between computers that are too large to email. I also use it to store documents and content I have created on my iPad so that I can retrieve them from my MacBook later. I could use email or transfer via syncing with iTunes (on some apps) but backing up to the iDisk just seemed to be an easy way to provide for the file transfer while also offering access to that data from multiple machines.

In addition, I use a password application on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone called PasswordWallet, which provides synchronization between devices through a number of methods. One of these methods involves syncing all the devices to your iDisk. Since we are constantly changing and updating passwords here at work, and since I cannot possible remember all of them, PasswordWallet is my primary usage for my iDisk and one of the main reasons I am hesitant to give it up.

Stepping back to look just at the storage, since I only use iDisk to transfer files that are too large to email, and not as backup or as storage for content for a webpage, I really use very little of the 10 GB that I am allocated under my subscription. Checking my system preferences, MobileMe tab shows that I am currently using only 640 MB of the 10.1 GB I have available. It’s obvious that I need very little storage space for file swaping.

An alternative: Dropbox

dropbox.com logoIn doing some research, I think I have found my solution. It’s a solution that is already growing in integration on the iPad and iPhone app platforms. It’s called dropbox and you can sign up for an account over at dropbox.com. When you sign up, you get a free account and 2 GB of online storage.

Signing up for a dropbox account is simple. Just need an email address and set up username and password login information. When you sign up and then log in with your new account, you get your 2GB of storage and can easily navigate through this storage space via the web-browser. The browser interface has newfolder/upload/download buttons and is fairly easy to understand and.

Install dropbox on your computer
What makes dropbox even more powerful, at least for my powerful or me, is it’s seemless integration with multiple platforms. There’s a dropbox application you can install on your Mac (also available for the Windows and Linux platforms) which mounts your share to your desktop. You can stay logged into your dropbox as long as you want. The dropbox install also puts an icon up in the top menu bar of your Mac which makes it even easier to navigate through your folders on the dropbox share.

The Mac application (and I assume the Windows and linux ones too) put a folder in your /users folder, and then synchronizes that folder up to the dropbox servers as you put content into it. I’ve use this now to transfer files from work (via the web browser interface) to home (via the application) and it worked perfectly.

You can also set up a share and use dropbox to share data with others. I have not done this year.

Install dropbox on your mobile device
I actually first heard of dropbox through iPhone app integration. A number of my content creation iPhone and iPad apps were able to save files locally on the iPhone/iPad but also networked to your dropbox folder, as long as you had one and entered the login information to the app. I found this to be really valuable. Getting files into and out of the iPad has been my main use of iDisk and I think that dropbox can do it jusdt as well.

If you need more than 2GB, you pay for upgrades to storage space. You can also “earn” more space by recommending the service to friends who then sign up. As more and more iPhone and iPad apps become dropbox aware and employ the use of the drop box api, I can see my dropbox become more and more useful (and more and more full).

Even if I don’t get rid of MobileMe, I think Dropbox is going to be a very useful addition to my mobile life.

Additional resources:
Dropbox
http://www.dropbox.com/

Dropbox App integration
https://www.dropbox.com/apps/list?order_by=popular

iDisk
http://www.apple.com/mobileme/features/idisk.html

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About rocketsciencemom
I am a rocket scientist in my day job, and a mother of two all the time. I'm a pop culture addict and amateur artist in my spare time. My typical preferences tend toward sci-fi and fantasy genres but I love a good drama or comedy. Reading the blogs of fellow Lost fans over the years has motivated me to finally write my own. In addition to starting this blog, I have been writing for the parenting blog GNMParents under the name RocketScienceMom (or RSM for short). All drawings and images on this blog are property of RocketScienceMom

3 Responses to Comparing and contrasting the features of MobileMe with other services: Part one iDisk

  1. Umberto says:

    As a (former) Dropbox user I’d like to recommend SugarSync as an alternative way to backup and sync your data in the cloud. Free accounts provide 5GB of disk space.
    If anyone wants to register for an account, feel free to use my referral link that will add 500 MB further bonus to both mine and your account 🙂
    https://www.sugarsync.com/referral?rf=do5qm2rpjareh
    Thanks!

  2. Colleen says:

    I’ve been using Dropbox for about 1 year now, to sync files between my work and home PCs and my Droid. I got an iPad about 4 months ago and have used it there as well.

    However, I’ve started moving from PCs to Macs at both work and home (and will probably switch from Droid to iPhone 5) , so have taken another look at MobileMe’s iDisk — particularly since it can work with my husband’s Windows7 PC.

    The reason I continue to consider iDisk (instead of just Dropbox) is that — from my understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) — iDisk doesn’t actually store its contents on your local computer, and iDisk can also work with an external USB hard drive via Airport Extreme to make the contents of that external USB drive accessible remotely from anywhere.

    Dropbox, on the other hand, stores everything on your local computer, within the Dropbox directory. I don’t believe Dropbox can be successfully loaded on an external USB hard drive. What this means is….. if I try to store all my years of digital photos in Dropbox, instead of iDisk, those photos still eat up my local hard drive space….whereas, iDisk allows me to store the local copies of those files on an external USB drive.

    Is my understanding of iDisk and USB drives correct?

    • I will have to check into this, but I think that what you’re saying is correct. The following is my understanding, which sort of matches with what you’ve said. When you mount the iDisk, you are mounting a shared external drive which happens to exist on “the cloud”. You can back up your iDisk to your hard drive, if you want, but what’s on iDisk isn’t physically on your hard drive sitting inside your computer. You’ve just mounted it much as you would a USB thumb drive or an external hard drive.

      From thinking about Dropbox, what it does is syncronize a dropbox “folder” on your hard disk with the dropbox “folder” of the same username on the dropbox “cloud”. This is different in that you’re taking up your own physical hard dish space to store files rather than getting extra space like via iDisk.

      I hadn’t thought about it before. The way I use iDisk is more in line with what dropbox does by the way it is configured. I am not saving a backup of items, but rather, wanted to have items that I could share from work/home/other computers and devices. So, they exist on the dropbox cloud so I can access them from my iPhone, for example, but they also exist on the physical drives of my Macs. That’s very interesting.

      I will have to think more about what it is that means.

      Thanks for the comment!

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