Mobile Data – You Really Can Take it With You

Posted by:
Date: Monday, March 7th, 2005, 22:47
Category: Archive

My good friend from high school’s older brother walked by us one day while we were hacking away at an old Mac SE and smugly remarked, “My Visa card has more memory than that thing!” Although he was probably right at the time, we now carry much denser forms of data with us all the time – sometimes several of them at once. Wether it’s one of those fancy USB Flash drives, an iPod or your PowerBook you’re probably carrying much more data than you even think about. Read more…


My good friend from high school’s older brother walked by us one day while we were hacking away at an old Mac SE and smugly remarked, “My Visa card has more memory than that thing!” Although he was probably right at the time, we now carry much denser forms of data with us all the time – sometimes several of them at once. Wether it’s one of those fancy USB Flash drives, an iPod or your PowerBook you’re probably carrying much more data than you even think about.
Mobile data can be categorized by the size of its form factor. From large to small.
Large – PowerBook
My default method of carrying my data is on my PowerBook, which I have with me every possible waking minute of the day. A notebook computer, in this case my PowerBook G4 15-inch, is ideal because I have everything with me all the time. For a person that uses a PowerBook as their primary machine, it is the ultimate form of mobile data.
Ever try to output a file at a copy-shop using one of their rental PCs? On more than one occasion I have brought a PDF file on a USB flash drive (more on them soon) to make color prints only to discover that even USB and PDF are not universal on the PC: one had Windows 95 without Second Edition so it couldn’t understand USB, the other had an outdated version of Acrobat reader that couldn’t read my file. Totally lacking in options and I running out of time I opted to “borrow” the Ethernet cable and print the darn thing directly from my PB. Be sure to get approval on that first.
Until just recently I toted almost every file I’d created on my Mac with me. I eventually caught up with Moore’s Law and hard drives weren’t getting bigger fast enough to keep up with my mountain of photos, videos and MP3s. Actually this turned out to be a good thing because it forced me to develop good archival and backup habits.
I might be a little biased but I’ve been 100 percent PowerBook for almost 10 years now and I find this the best way to make sure that I have my files with me.
PORTABILITY: Poor.
When compared to other storage devices (like the sub-one-ounce iPod shuffle) The PowerBook is large and bulky, a tradeoff of having an entire computer in a small form factor.
CAPACITY: Best in Class.
With 2.5-inch hard drives now available in up to 100GB, a portable Mac is tops in the capacity department, although the iPod Photo is breathing down it’s neck at 60GB.
SECURITY: Fair.
You have to rigorously protect a PowerBook or iBook because all your data is on it and because portables are high ticket items that (unfortunately) sell quickly on the black market.
OVERALL RATING: Excellent.
Ok I might be a little biased, but I’ve been 100 percent PowerBook for almost 10 years now and I find this the best way to make sure that I have my files with me. Recommended for someone needing a data silo with a UI. Digital photographers, graphic artists and people that need to give demonstrations or provide on-site support can benefit from having a PowerBook.
Medium – Firewire Hard Drive, iPod
You probably have one of the best forms of mobile data with you right now. Hint: It’s the device with the headphones plugged into it. iPods are more prevalent than ever but most people relegate them to the monotonous task of playing music. Sure they’re really good at it, but one of the single best uses for an iPod is as a mobile storage device. It is a hard drive after all.
PORTABILITY: Good.
Hard drive-based iPods were designed to be portable, so they rate well in this category, but larger models can be heavy and dropping one can make the drive fail putting any data stored on it in jeopardy.
CAPACITY: Good.
iPods range in capacity from 5GB (original, mini) to 60GB (iPod Photo) so there’s a model to suit almost every need. If the biggest iPod still isn’t big enough for the job then you should look into portable hard drive (like those from MCE or WiebeTech) which are available in capacities up to 100GB.
SECURITY: Fair.
If you listen to your iPod quite often, you’re less likely to lose it because you always know where it is, but all it takes is one forgetful moment and your data can be lost and even compromised. Since external FireWire hard drives don’t double as MP3 players they’re even more susceptible to loss. Protect your iPod data with MicroMat’s PodLock (US$39.97) and your portable hard drive with a program like PGP disk. What’s worse is that its white headphones are a dead giveaway that you’ve got an expensive MP3 player in your pocket – potentially bad if you’re in an unsafe part of town.
OVERALL RATING: Good.
iPods are best suited for those that travel, commute and work out. If you don’t have extended periods of time where you like to listen to music then an iPod may not be for you. However, if you regularly travel and like music, then an iPod is a home run.
Small – Thumb, Key, Flash USB Drives
These sexy little doodads come in a variety of shapes (sushi, duck, watch, pen knife, credit card, jewelry) and sizes (up to 2GB drives now shipping) and start at $10 for a 32MB drive on eBay. You can’t beat the convenience of having a gig or two on your keychain. Flash drives a great insurance for a malfunctioning laptop. USB Flash drives have got me out of a jam on several occasions.
Their high capacity and low cost per meg cost make a USB flash devices ideal for most people that need to move files around. Flash drives make great emergency storage devices too and are a great alternative to increasingly complex networking (sneakernet 2005?). The shiny little USB devices are becoming so ubiquitous that they’ve effectively become the floppy drive of the 21st century.
PORTABILITY: Excellent.
Flash drives are so small that most (including the new iPod shuffle) weight less than an ounce. You can even wear it around your neck on a lanyard – just remember to keep it out of the car door.
CAPACITY: Fair.
Unfortunately their small size and price comes at the expense of capacity. Most come in a maximum of 1GB (including the iPod shuffle) capacity, which effectively limits the amount of space left over for data storage.
SECURITY: Fair.
Again, their tiny form-factor makes USB drives and their ilk more likely to be lost. You can buy drives with built-in security for Mac OS X like the JumpDrive Secure from Lexar.
OVERALL RATING: Good.
Flash drives are the new floppy drive and are becoming ubiquitous for many computer users. Why fumble around with OS X networking permissions when you can copy a file quickly to a USB flash drive and share it wiith a friend. What’s more, USB flash drives are relatively inexpensive and prices are dropping precipitously.
Cons – Insecure, easy to lose, not big enough to boot from (yet).
Tiny – Memory Cards, CDs, Network Storage
Expansion Cards (CF, SD, MMC, Memory Stick and a litany of other formats) now ship with most cameras, smart phones and PDAs presenting a new, even-smaller form of portable data.
PROS – Price (1GB SD for US$60)
CONS – Small, insecure, easily stolen, lost
You probably carry more forms of mobile data than you realize and it’s important to recognize them and to secure them from prying eyes. Your mobile phones address book may contain customers, prospects and personal contacts you’d rather not have fall into the wrong hands. In a follow-up article I’ll present some ways to keep your mobile data secure.

Recent Posts

Comments are closed.