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Replace iDisk with your own net disk

The convenience of MobileMe’s iDisk was having Internet-based storage that appeared like a mounted volume in the Finder. You could mount it, transfer items to it, and access it from anywhere. It had the appeal of FTP without the hassle. According to Apple, MobileMe and iDisk disappear for good on June 30, 2012. While iDisk was never the solution that most of us loved, it was useful, and you may be looking for a replacement.

Apple offers the built-in ability to mount certain kinds of file-sharing services (FTP and WebDAV) in the Finder, but I have never found its approach robust or flexible enough. It also omits two of the most popular ways to access files stored on a remote server (SFTP and Amazon S3). If you have file-sharing access via a hosting company, a storage system like Amazon, or your own servers, Nolobe’s Interarchy ($30) and Panic’s Transmit ($34) offer Finder-accessible access.

Interarchy and Transmit

Both apps allow a connection to one of many standard file-server protocol types (and a few proprietary ones) to be treated more or less like a Macintosh volume. Your Mac doesn’t know the difference, and the programs handle all the protocol interaction in the background, just as with a standard Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) volume. This is an alternative to the standard browser window approach in these two (and most other) FTP programs, in which you interact with files only through lists in the program itself.

The two programs work with the three most commonly used secured methods of remote access: SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol), widely used by Web hosting companies; WebDAV over HTTPS, a common way of extending file service to a Web server; and Amazon S3 (Simple Storage System), which currently holds 900 billion objects, including web pages and images. All three are safe to use on public networks, as well as at home or in an office. Other less-secure methods are also available, but should only be used on trusted networks. A few secure but less common methods are found in Interarchy. Installing NuFS, a tool for making things that aren’t mountable volumes appear as such to the Finder, is required for Transmit; you’re prompted to do so if it’s not already installed.

The programs approach net disks in entirely distinct fashions. Transmit Disk works like the old default mode of iDisk, providing a window into the file structure of the remote shared server or server path, but not downloading or syncing any files locally. When you perform an operation on a file, it happens immediately. Delete a file, and Transmit removes it from the remote server. Double-click a file or choose it from an Open dialog, and Transmit downloads and caches a version to work on. Save it, and Transmit sends the updated version to replace the copy currently on the remote server.

The limit of Transmit’s approach, as with iDisk, is that your interaction with the contents of files is naturally bound by the speed of the broadband connection on which you operate. Want to double-click a 50MB file to edit it? You have to wait for the 50MB file to download locally before that happens. Make a change and hit save, and you wait for that same file to be fully uploaded back to the source. (This is the same method used with Cirrus Thinking’s Dolly Space option in the Dolly Drive service, which lets files be written to storage managed by the firm.)

By contrast, Interarchy’s Net Disk is like iDisk with the synchronization option turned on. This is an extension in Interarchy of its Mirror feature, and you can choose whether a Net Disk only synchronizes changes to your computer, from your computer to the server, or both directions. Typically, you’d want both in order to simulate a real volume. When you first mount a Net Disk and you have either Download or Both Ways (bidirectional) mirroring set in the Mirror Mode menu, Interarchy makes a full local copy of all remote files. After that, any changes are synchronized back and forth, but don’t occur in real time. That is, when you save an updated file on the Net Disk, the file is immediately stored locally, while Interarchy uploads it behind the scenes in due time. Interarchy’s Net Disk works, in practice, just like a watched folder that Interarchy manages, but appears like a remote volume.

Of course, for large remote directories in which gigabytes of files might be in use, Interarchy’s approach requires too much network traffic if you’re working with just a handful of files, and Transmit would make more sense as an option.

Create a mountable disk in Transmit

(Image Caption: Transmit Menu: Select any bookmark from the Transmit menu, and the program mounts it as a disk in the Finder.) Select any of Transmit’s connection methods (FTP, SFTP, S3, and WebDAV), enter connection details, and click on Mount as Disk instead of Connect. You may also select any favorite (bookmarked connection) in the Favorites view and click the disk icon at the bottom, or right click the favorite and select Mount As Disk. Finally, if Show Transmit Disk in Menu Bar is checked in the Preference dialog’s General view, you may select any favorite from the menu to mount it as a disk.

Unmount the disk in the Finder by selecting it and choose File > Eject “Volume Name”, press Command-E, viewing the drive in a Finder window and clicking on the Eject button, or right-clicking the volume and selecting Eject “Volume Name”.

Create a mountable disk in Interarchy

  • Select File > New Net Disk.(Image Caption: Interarchy Net Disk List: You create Net Disks within Interarchy, where they appear in a browser list.)
  • Choose the type of connection from the Protocol menu.
  • Enter the necessary credentials for the connection.
  • Interarchy automatically fills in the Local field with the name of the server if no path is set, or the last directory (the part in /slashes/) with a path. You can change that by clicking on Set and choosing a local folder named and placed as you wish.
  • Leave Mirror Mode set to Both Ways unless you’ve read Interarchy’s documentation and need only upload or download mirroring.
  • Click Mount.

(Image Caption: Interarchy Net Disk Types: Interarchy allows Net Disks to be created for many different file-transfer protocols.) Interarchy populates the folder with files and subdirectories and shows its progress. To unmount a disk, you must use the Net Disk view in Interarchy. Select the volume and click unmount. If you have Interarchy’s menu icon enabled (Interarchy -> Preferences, General pane), you can select a defined Net Disk from the menu’s Net Disk item to mount it.

Both Transmit and Interarchy are worthwhile options to provide access to remote file servers without the fuss of working through a program’s interface.

Glenn Fleishman is a senior contributor at Macworld, and remembers the days of transferring files at 110 bits per second. He is the author of Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network for Lion.


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