iTwin Offers A Unique Dropbox Alternative
The iTwin was the RedDot Design Award 2011 winner; A really innovative product that allows you to share files with another person whilst completely bypassing any third party servers; No limits, no security risks, just a safe direct computer to computer connection. The iTwin itself provides AES-256 hardware based encryption which means that it is impossible to hack; The iTwin is a pair and will work with its other half or up to twenty other iTwins that it is paired with thanks to a recent update making it possible for different sets of iTwins to work together, making it easier and more efficient for use within a group of people.
Dropbox had a horrible security issue last year during which for a few hours, you could sign into the Dropbox account belonging to anybody via the web user interface just by typing in their email address without the use of a password. This was a huge problem for us as we had our 1Password databases nabbed within minutes of this being published on the major news networks. It was at this point that we realised cloud storage just wasn’t good enough and that we needed a more secure solution. Several months down the line and I discovered iTwin; The cloud storage alternative with no third parties, just a computer to computer connection.
The other advantage over Dropbox is that there are no storage limits whatsoever; You are only limited by your storage medium and your monthly bandwidth limit.
The iTwin is bidirectional meaning that files can be read, written and thus are effectively ‘shared’ at both ends.
Upon receiving the iTwin, the first thing you will notice is the luxurious high quality packaging; Extremely similar to that of Apple Inc.’s. The lift-off lid provides an experience very similar to that of the Apple iPhone, although it is more difficult to remove; and the box itself is made of high quality cardboard, very much like that of the Apple iPhone box and the high density foam it is held in place by is similar to the first generation iPod Nano packaging. The box is so nice you would love to keep as it is that nice; Brilliant presentation which shows extreme respect to the customer.
Their more observant customers will notice that the manufacturers refer to the iTwin as ‘a iTwin’ and not the correct ‘an iTwin’, which is one of the more mundane faults I found with the product’s presentation. Although it may seem like a pointless fault to mention, it affects the overall presentation.
Originally the iTwin was released without support for Mac OS and only Windows despite the ‘i’ in the product name implying that the iTwin should be used in conjunction with it. However, now the iTwin does indeed have support for Mac OSX although the version I am reviewing requires the user to download a .pkg by visiting itwin.com and installing the software.
After getting past the first stage of the installation, I was ready to start the second stage. A few clicks after this and it appeared that it was updating the iTwin itself to the latest firmware after getting the latest update from the iTwin servers, but it does not actually do this to my annoyance so when you plug the iTwin into a second Mac you will still have to download the software from their site rather than transferring the software onto your Mac from the iTwin as it does on Windows based systems. This was a real missed opportunity and a real frustration.
Done. The iTwin pair was configured. The iTwin menu bar application was now sitting in my menu bar; An aesthetically pleasing green in colour, as a bonus it also automatically quits when the iTwin is unplugged which is great for people like me who have a lot of applications in their menu bar. From here I could set a password for my iTwin so that the iTwin was not functional without setting a password, thus if it falls into the wrong hands you can disable it remotely to keep other people’s eyes away from your sensitive data.
I removed half of the iTwin from my MacBook and plugged it into the Mac Pro and installed the iTwin software on it; After another installation my files were being shared.
iTwin In Action
The best bit; iTwin knows when the other half is on the same intranet, so that means that I don’t have to upload something to a third party server with Dropbox only to have to redownload it a few minutes later and consume gigabytes of bandwidth. My ISP, Zen Internet, has a 200gb per month bandwidth limit, so conserving bandwidth is quite a priority for me, especially when I enjoy bandwidth-hungry services like Netflix and OnLive. When I have colleagues over here and we’re sharing files, now I can just send the files straight to their computer without any reconfiguration.
iTwin allows me to say goodbye to messy, outdated FTP server setups without automatic sync and the files only have to be uploaded once; This saves bandwidth, power and time. It also increases the life of the drives on the MacBooks. In the past we were using a VPN in combination with an FTP server as Dropbox simply didn’t provide the storage capacity we required; Now we just plug in the iTwin and we’re sharing files immediately. However, Dropbox team is now available and solves this.
Something that does concern me slightly is that the iTwin device area in Finder displays an inaccurate storage capacity; I don’t even have a 1TB HDD in my MacBook, let alone 4.4TB, but I can forgive this as the Mac OS X client is relatively new compared to the Windows version and this is something that could easily be fixed in a future update. It would be extremely useful to figure out whether or not the target destination has enough storage space for the file that you are about to send to them; this is one of the things we enjoyed about FTP.
From here it was time to test this out with my colleague; Craig. I gave him his half and he went back to his studio, plugged in his half and there we were; able to start sharing files with each other after him installing the software on his MacBook. No firewall reconfiguring, nothing; Everything worked well.
iTwin is working flawlessly with Snow Leopard, Lion and Windows 7; I’ve tested it out with several different computers and the cross-platform nature of it is great. One downside to the iTwin though is how both halves of the iTwin need to be inserted into a computer that is switched on and connected to the internet at the same time for you to be able to access the files. This is where Dropbox becomes one of the iTwin’s biggest competitors, there is no need for anyone but the person actually accessing the document to be online. Connection speeds are a big issue, Dropbox do well here where they utilise Amazon S3 for their storage which is spread across five data centers across the USA meaning that users will get the best speeds possible because of the several different geographic locations that minimise latency.
The iTwin is described by the manufacturers as being revolutionary which it is in some ways, yet not in others, but it is something that has in some ways been outdated before it has even reached the mainstream market. This isn’t really an issue people have anymore, Dropbox provided us with this solution, although purely cloud based, back in 2008. If anything the idea is an improvement to some degree on the original cloud storage provided by companies such as Dropbox. Great idea, just not as revolutionary as they would like you to believe.
An improvement I would love to see is the iTwin having a companion necklace; Another iTwin connector for the iTwin itself to clip onto on a necklace to keep it safe would be fantastic. As it is, there is no way to fasten a lanyard of any description to it and this would be an improvement to the iTwin. This is a precious connection to sensitive data and to keep it loose in your pocket is not a good idea. Although the iTwin does allow you to disable the other half should you lose it, it should not be easy to lose; Hence the necessity for a way to mount this on a lanyard.
Standard USB flash drives have come with holes to affix lanyards to for years, there is no reason why the iTwin should not have one aside from the obvious aesthetic reasoning though this could be solved by having an iTwin connector on a lanyard. I’d say that this is one of the iTwin’s major flaws; something that is built for the purpose of being secure being so incredibly easy to lose. The irony is almost laughable.
I actually love the iTwin logo itself and think that the device would make a gorgeous pendant when worn around the neck and could become as iconic as the Apple white headphones sold with the iPod range. Seeing these around the necks of businessmen everywhere could become a status symbol.
The iTwin gives nice Growl notifications; Some of which include being notified when the other half’s computer is online so you know when it is okay to access files.
This is a secure connection that you can take with you; If I want to go to Germany and not worry about security, I can take this with me and get a secure connection from the German offices or from an internet cafe or Starbucks there.
What The iTwin Is Useful For
If you are in business, an iTwin is useful. If you work in an environment where you need to transfer files between colleagues quickly and securely then iTwin is for you. iTwin is the ultimate multipurpose file sharing tool which bypasses firewalls and strict internet censorship.
For $99 you can have an unhackable and completely secure and portable connection between two computers, anywhere in the world. Dropbox can be used to ferry files back and forth but there are sensitive files, such as legal documents, which require a higher level of security than Dropbox. Even though Dropbox is secure, it is not as secure as the iTwin and after all, it is better safe than sorry. The iTwin is available here.