Archive for February, 2007

February 28th, 2007

Bandwagon Undo and Redo

So you know that whole Bandwagon launch thing that was supposed to happen last week? Well, funny story. The newly launched service lasted all of a couple of days before it was taken offline; it’s now being completely retooled for yet another grand opening in April.

As near as I can determine, what happened was approximately this: A surprisingly large number of people signed up right away for the all-the-iTunes-you-can-back-up-online service at $69 per year. But most of those people had far greater iTunes storage needs than even the company’s most generous estimates. The Bandwagon folks did the math and discovered that they couldn’t possibly afford all the necessary storage space, CPU power, and bandwidth—they’d actually be losing money on the service. So they stopped accepting new subscribers, told the existing subscribers that they’d be getting their money refunded, and announced that a very different version of Bandwagon will go online in a couple of months. The early adopters, having already received a refund, will also get a free year’s worth of service on the new system for their troubles.

So what is this new and improved Bandwagon? You’ll still be backing up your iTunes stuff online. But now, instead of storing it on Bandwagon’s servers, you’ll be storing it on Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service), which is some of the cheapest online storage you can get. You’ll pay directly for the storage space, and you’ll pay Bandwagon either $24 or $36 per year for, apparently, the use of their application. (At the higher price you also get syncing between two Macs, though I’m unsure of the details at this point.) Once again, Bandwagon is offering a discount (half off) for people who sign up before the official launch; you can read about that on the Bandwagon site. And once again, they’re offering an incentive to bloggers, but this time they’re looking for help with beta testing more than publicity, and those who provide helpful bug reports will get a six-month subscription free.

Now, I’ve been hoping for some time that some Mac backup app would directly support S3, so that’s cool. But the fact that it’s limited to iTunes content is a big minus. Also, and I’ve told the Bandwagon folks this more than once, their new pricing structure is a bad idea. They’re effectively asking you to rent their software. Since you’re no longer backing up to their servers, you’re not paying them for a service as such. I can’t comprehend why they don’t do what every other software company does and simply sell licenses to their software. They could charge much more than $36, and even come out with paid upgrades every year or two, so they’d be making more money. But their customers wouldn’t have to feel like they’re renting software by the month, and they wouldn’t have to make recurring payments to both Bandwagon and S3.

There’s another issue, too: S3 in its current form is still pretty much for geeks. Signing up for, and configuring, and account is somewhat complex. And it’s an extra step (or several) that each Bandwagon user must now go through. Bandwagon says they’ll also support other varieties of online storage in the future, but details are sketchy at the moment.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less competent product launch, and I’ve seen some doozies. When you’re launching a backup service, you want to instill confidence in your customers, including confidence that you’ve done your homework and have a solid business plan. Launching, unlaunching, retooling, and relaunching doesn’t give me warm fuzzies. The pricing is weird and unfortunate. And the service is unnecessarily limited. But perhaps that’ll all change—maybe several times—before the next launch.

February 28th, 2007

Space Pens with Purple Ink: A Sad Tale

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Interesting Thing of the Day about Fisher Space Pens, those wonders of modern technology that can write upside-down, in zero gravity, in a vacuum, or underwater. I mentioned my happy discovery that Space Pen refills were available in purple, my favorite color. A few months later, Fisher sent me a prototype of a new pen model for testing, including a purple refill. And I was cautiously optimistic that I’d discovered the ultimate pen for my needs.

I was reminded of all this when writing my article about Non-Newtonian Fluids, because the thixotropic ink in Space Pens happens to be such a fluid. And I thought it was high time I posted a follow-up about my purple-ink Space Pen experience, because it turned out to be an unhappy one.

Whatever else you can say about Space Pens, I discovered that those with purple ink have one huge and unforgivable flaw: the ink isn’t waterproof. Sure, you can write on greasy paper in a snowstorm, but if you later try to read what you wrote, you might have problems.

To illustrate, I took an index card and wrote on it in both black and purple Space Pen ink, and then dunked it in room-temperature water for 30 seconds. Only the lower half of the writing was submerged, and I think you can see pretty clearly what happened (click the photos for larger versions):


The black ink bled a bit, but the purple bled a lot. I actually discovered this when a piece of paper in my pocket, inscribed with the purple ink, got a bit damp from sweat. And it turns out that it’s just as bad as I feared.

But wait: aren’t you supposed to be able to write underwater with these pens? I tried that too, and the results were interesting:


As you can see, the purple again runs much more than the black. A half hour later, the purple ink had faded to a very light, almost illegible hue, while the black (though very slightly runny) was still nice and dark.

So now, if I want the Space Pen benefits, I have to choose which trade-off I prefer: ink color or smeariness. Ack. I don’t know whether the same problem affects the other colors of Space Pen ink (there are quite a few), but I do know that in at least this respect, the pens don’t live up to their advertising.

On a cheerier and somewhat related note, have a look at 8 YouTube Videos Featuring Non-Newtonian Fluid Experiments at SenseList, none of which involves Space Pens.

February 27th, 2007

More New Backup Options

In this week’s issue of TidBITS, I have a review of CrashPlan, a new cross-platform online backup service. (See “CrashPlan: Backups Revisited.”) Bottom line: it’s very close to being extremely interesting. I mean that as a compliment; although there are a few annoying deficiencies right now, it’s definitely on the right path. I have every expectation that within a few months (or maybe less), it’ll jump to the top of my recommendations—at least for archiving.

Meanwhile, I should also note that a little over a week ago, Mike Bombich released the long-awaited first beta of Carbon Copy Cloner 3. CCC used to be the only Mac duplication tool worth talking about, but then it fell behind for quite a while and SuperDuper rose to fame and fortune. Now CCC is (almost) back, and it’s clearly taken some cues from SuperDuper: it has a simpler, cleaner interface with a lot more plain-English text about what it’s going to do. It can also clone over a network (a rare trick) and appears to use a different underlying file copying mechanism—no word yet on how the new version stacks up against SuperDuper in the metadata department. But, intriguingly, the next beta of CCC is supposed to add some sort of archiving feature. That would be incredibly spiffy. I’ll be eager to see how that turns out.

I’m delighted to see such active development in the world of Mac backup software. Yes, it’ll help me to sell more books, but mostly I’m pleased that the impending release of Leopard (and thus Time Machine) hasn’t taken the wind out of anyone’s sails. In fact, it seems to have done the opposite. Which is a good thing, because as nice as I expect Time Machine to be, it won’t be a complete backup solution, and won’t be ideal for everyone.

February 26th, 2007

CrashPlan: Backups Revisited

New TidBITS article: CrashPlan: Backups Revisited (2007-02-26)