iDisk service helps iMac users ease into life after floppies

iDisk service helps iMac users ease into life after floppies

Instead of storing files locally, you get access to a 20M file folder on a server maintained by Apple

By Joel Sparks

Special to GCN

As Apple iMac and thin-client users already know, the floppy disk is on its way out.

The industry has decided that 1.4M floppies store too little. Everyone has at least one e-mail account, so why carry old-fashioned plastic coasters around when you can just send everything over the Internet?

ShrinkWrap from Aladdin Systems has a built-in compression that saves storage room for Apple Computer's iDisk users.

Trouble is, such radical transitions are never as fast or as thorough as their proponents would like. Vinyl record albums still linger, for example. So Apple Computer Inc. and some other companies have decided to speed us into life without floppies via the virtual disk'in Apple's case, the iDisk service.

IDisk makes using the Net for file storage seem like using a local drive. It's part of the free iTools package available to all Mac OS 9 users. Once signed up, a user has rights to a 20M file folder hosted on an Apple server. The folder behaves just like a normal file folder under Mac OS, appearing on the desktop and letting a user drag files in and out. But a user can also get to the folder from any Mac running OS 9 by connecting to the Internet and logging in.

Workers who need to take files home simply copy them to the iDisk folder at work, then log in from home and copy them onto the desktop there. The iDisk folder holds more data than a floppy, is password-secured and can't get lost.

There are disadvantages, however. It takes 20 to 30 seconds for the iDisk folder to appear on the desktop after log-in and about 10 more seconds to open something or change a view. Copying files to and from iDisk is similarly slow, but it's not bad for the Net.

IDisk does its own file transfer. There's no need to run a browser or other program. Connection time is limited to one hour; if the iDisk sits idle for more than a few minutes, the system will prompt you to use it or disconnect.

IDisk also lets you share files with others in a public folder accessible to other iTools users who know your screen name. Better yet, there's a Sites folder, and copying any file to Sites instantly publishes it to the Web.

Unfortunately, nothing explains where on the Web people can find what you published. After some research, however, I found the generic locator at

More shortcomings

Box Score


Service in Apple's free iTools suite

Apple Computer Inc.; Cupertino, Calif.;

tel. 408-996-1010

Price: Free download from

+ Free Internet storage

+ Drag-and-drop Web posting

' For Mac OS 9 users only

Real-life requirements:

Mac OS 9, PowerPC processor, 32M of RAM, Internet connection


Disk imaging utility

Aladdin Systems Inc.; Watsonville, Calif.;

tel. 831-761-6200

Price: $30; free 30-day download from

+ Disk images can be encrypted

+ Integrated StuffIt compression

' Other features duplicated in Mac OS' Disk Copy

Real-life requirements:

Mac OS 7.1.1 or later version, PowerPC or 68000 processor with Mac SE or later version, 16M of RAM, 1M of free storage, Internet connection for download

There are other drawbacks. For one, iDisk is available only to Mac OS 9 users, and many OS 8 users are waiting to upgrade to OS X later this year. Although the iTools signup process at is brief, some users might prefer not to enter required personal information such as birth date.

The elaborate terms of use boil down to a few stipulations: Access is not guaranteed, and the service is not to be used for posting pirated software, pornography, bomb-building plans or similar nefarious items. That's reasonable.

The iDisk folder uses the same file-sharing scheme as Macs on a local network. It's easy and familiar, but a double-click on a file in the shared folder will open the remote copy. That slows down performance, and if anything interrupts the Net connection, work can be lost. I'd prefer to see a warning to copy the file to a local disk before using.

IDisk works in conjunction with ShrinkWrap, a new disk-copying product that publisher Aladdin Systems Inc. bills as an improvement on Apple's standard Disk Copy application. Most copying processes don't duplicate things such as invisible files, which may be essential to run applications from the copied disk. Disk Copy makes exact, byte-for-byte copies called disk images, as .img files. ShrinkWrap does the same thing but with extra bells and whistles.

The disk image can be compressed with Aladdin's StuffIt utility at the time it's made, saving storage. And ShrinkWrap has 40-byte encryption built in, letting the user password-protect the copy.

If enough storage is available, you can copy any size disk. Making an image of an often-used CD-ROM, for example, frees the CD drive and lets you run other applications while improving access time to the information. More than one CD can be mounted at once this way.

Many users still store important programs on floppies. Disk images of them, copied through file sharing, will install normally even on a machine with no floppy drive. Because the images are self-mounting, ShrinkWrap need not be present on the destination machine. Via iDisk or other Internet file transfer methods, you can mount images on remote machines'but remember that iDisk is limited to 20M of storage, so CD images can't be moved that way even if long transfer time is not an issue.

ShrinkWrap lets an iDisk user encrypt images that hold sensitive data, and it fits more information into the 20M size limit via StuffIt's superior compression.

ShrinkWrap is also faster than Apple Disk Copy and has a friendlier interface. But Disk Copy does provide some compression, and it's included with the Mac OS. ShrinkWrap is downloadable free for 30 days; after that, users have to decide whether the extra features are worth the $30 price.

Joel Sparks, a free-lance reviewer in Silver Spring, Md., has been a government lawyer and database programmer.

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