The Pogoplug, which I first covered from the Consumer Electronics Show, connects any USB hard drive to your local network and also puts it on the Internet so you can share files.
As I said before, this is not a new idea, but Pogoplug is supposed to be uncommonly easy to set up and use. It's shipping today, and I've had a few days to preview the device to check out the claims.
It's a good product. It actually does combine the speed of a local drive with the convenience of Web-accessible storage, and it requires barely any geek skills to get running.
The $99 product (no monthly fees) has two connections besides power: USB and Ethernet. It should be pretty clear what you plug into each. Once connected, you go online to the Pogoplug site to register your particular unit based on its serial number. This gives you password-controlled access over the Web to the storage device you have plugged into it. If you attach a USB hub, you can use it to access multiple hard drives or memory sticks.
The real benefit of using the Pogoplug over the Web is that it's easy to share files stored on it. You can share directories on your drive just by clicking a Share button and optionally entering an e-mail address to send out invitations, and you can also get an RSS feed for any shared directory.
The Pogoplug Web service displays pictures and videos (first frames only) in nice slide shows, and it streams audio files. You can easily download files from it.
You can upload files to your Pogoplug drives via a standard-issue clunky Web form, or--much better--use the software driver that makes the Pogoplug emulate a local hard drive on a Mac or Windows system. With the driver installed, adding or managing files to the Pogoplug drive is as simple as dragging them with your computer's file manager. Files quickly pop onto the drive over your local network.
Pogoplug can be used for sharing files or just for personal use. For example, you could back up files to a Pogoplug-connected drive so you have access to your files when you're away from your home computer. However, no backup software for this is included (for PC users, I recommend SyncBackSE).
Finally, there's a nice iPhone application for the Pogoplug that makes it easy to view files stored on it, as well as to upload iPhone photos back to the drive. The iPhone app also streams music files from the Pogoplug.
This is a very cool and usable product, though there are version 1.0 snags. Photos uploaded from the iPhone to the Pogoplug can be made immediately available to your friends, but only if you give them access to the root directory of the drive, where the iPhone uploads. That's a rather big security risk.
The software driver works great on a Mac (I tried it on OS X 10.5.6), but there's no driver for 64-bit Vista; that should come out in about two weeks. I'd like to see more options for sharing, too, such as embeddable widgets to insert in blog posts or profiles page, or perhaps tools to synchronize Pogoplug files with sharing sites like Flickr. Or at the very least, the capability to easily find the static URL for each shared file (they're there, but buried). My test unit also ran a bit hot.
Compared to some newer network-attached drives, like Western Digital's My Book World Edition, or a Windows Home Server product like the HP MediaSmart line, the Pogoplug is light on the features. But it is a very good solution for quickly putting videos and photos online, especially if you already have them on an external drive.
Even if you don't, this product strikes a compelling balance between speed, ease of use, and low cost. The Pogoplug fits into a narrow niche in network storage, but it does its job well. It's the quickest solution I've seen for putting a hard disk on the Web.