The Transporter is a “personal cloud” that claims to be a Dropbox alternative for lawyers. If you don’t want to pay a subscription fee for a cloud-based service, or you are re-thinking the cloud, but you still want to be able to access your documents from any device and collaborate with clients and colleagues while staying in control of your data, the Transporter might be for you.
After putting it through its paces, here is what I learned.1
Hardware and Installation
The Transporter comes in two flavors: the Transporter and Transporter Sync. The Sync is $99.00 and is a small circular “puck” that allows you to use an existing external hard drive for storage and sync (more on this functionality later). The Sync must be attached to a network by hardwired Ethernet in order to use its sharing and other cloud-like functions.
The Transporter (the unit I have sitting on my desk) is a bit taller and comes with or without the required internal hard drive. (I ordered the empty transporter and a 2 TB hard drive from Amazon.) It also has a USB port for an optional wireless adapter if you want to go wireless after the initial setup. This unit varies in price depending on whether you order it with a hard drive pre-installed.
Setup is pretty painless. The first step is to download the Transporter Desktop software for your Mac or Windows machine and install it. This software is required to properly format the internal drive (that you install on your next step) for use in your Transporter private cloud.
Upon opening the box for the Transporter, you get an Ethernet cable, power cord and the Transporter itself. If you ordered a separate hard drive like I did, you have to install the hard drive, first. To do that, just pop the top of the unit, add the drive to the enclosed guide, plug the drive and guide into the unit, then close it back up. Plug the power and networking cords into the right places and you will up and running.
When you first plug in the unit, you’ll see some pulsating lights around the “waist” of the unit. The green light means it is starting up, the second alternates between blue and green and means the drive is being formatted, and the final blue light means your computer is syncing up with your Transporter.
After the initial setup, you have the option to go wireless with a wireless adapter. I did not choose to do this because I have a networking switch that I use, and I like hard wires where possible.
The Desktop Software
While your Transporter is starting up and formatting, be sure to check out the desktop software and its accompanying, web-based management dashboard. You will use both of these for various things as you get to know the unit.
Transporter Desktop Software Setup
If you want a combination of easy access to your documents, and another backup, the first thing you will want to do is set up the “Special Folders” in the preferences pane of the desktop software. Special Folders are always synced to your Transporter, like your photos, videos, documents, and music.
One minor hiccup with this process is that when designating which folders to sync, you are told that the folders will be moved to a separate sub-folder to avoid conflicts created when syncing multiple computers through the Transporter. If the move causes issues with your file paths, you can simply move everything back where it was once the sync has started. This issue falls into the minor annoyance category.
You will also want to find your Transporter folder. This is where all of the local and Transporter Library (more on this in a moment) files will show up as they sync. The Transporter folder is the hub for all the great stuff you can do with your Transporter. From there, you can send links to particular files and create folders to share with your friends, clients, and anyone else with whom you want to share large files.
The Management Console
The second part of the software experience — which will be used in a limited fashion by those with whom you share — is the Management Console. This is the web interface for your Transporter. From here you can manage shared folders and shared links, and also see the health, remaining disk capacity, software versions, and other diagnostic information for your unit. More on the web interface in the next section.
Once you have synced everything you want to through the Special Folders preferences, you can explore the sharing and remote functions of your Transporter private cloud.
Sharing From Your Transporter Private Cloud
This is where the rubber hits the road on this unit. Thanks to Sam, I was able to get some good feedback on the end-user experience for those who don’t own a Transporter.
The Transporter can host files for sharing with those who don’t have their own Transporter or Transporter Sync units. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to demand that your clients buy hardware just so you can share files with them. This is why I decided to try the Transporter, so I was itching to find out how to do this.
Sharing a Single Document
Sharing a single document is fairly straight forward. You simply right click (or ctrl+click) on a file in the Transporter folder and use the contextual menu to create a link to the document. The link is then automatically copied to your clipboard so you can paste it into an email. Easy enough.
However, for those that receive the document, things get a bit clunky. The recipient is first asked to download and install the Transporter Downloader software. Here’s the notice that pops up in the recipient’s web browser:
Once the program is installed and the download completes, this is what the recipient will see:
While this seems simple, the resulting screen does not let the recipient simply open the file with a double-click. To find out where the file is, he or she has to click on the small settings button (the light switch above, on a Mac) to find out where the app is saving files, then navigate to that folder to get the file.
Sharing a Folder
The sharing of a folder is a bit more complicated on both ends. As the sharer, you can either use the Management Console or create a shared folder from the desktop software (either through the Transporter Folder contextual menu or the software itself). In either case, you are taken to the web interface to go through a few steps before you can share the folder and anything in it.
Once in the web interface, you will be asked to name the folder and give it a description. Once you do this, the folder shows up in your Transporter folder and you can fill it with the files you want to share. (Or if you share a folder already synced to your Transporter, it will already have files in it.) Once you create the shared folder, you have to invite those with whom you wish to share. If they already have a Transporter account set up, you can find them by name or email. Otherwise, click on the “Tell Your Friends” button in the Add/Remove People dialog box and add them by email.
Assuming you are inviting them for the first time, the recipient will get an email stating that you have shared a folder and that they will have to open a Transporter account:
I believe that this is done for security purposes (similarly, you need a Dropbox account to sync files through Dropbox). Once they have an account, they will then have their own Transporter folder with your shared folder in it. At that point, any changes to documents in that shared folder or any additions to that folder, will be available to all that were invited to share it.
To summarize, the set up for the end user to allow them to have access to either a single file or a folder is a bit of a hassle the first time they do it, but the experience is pretty smooth after that point. The folder sharing is easy, and once the folders are set up and your colleagues have accounts, file sharing is an easy and seamless experience.
Remote File Access
Another benefit of the Transporter is the easy remote file access from other computers, tablets, and smartphones. Download the desktop software to your laptop or another desktop computer, and you have access to all your synced files. Android and iPad users can download an app that will allow you to access your synced files, and you can selectively download individual files to your tablet or phone. The speed with which I was able to connect to the Transporter from my iPad was impressive through my home wi-fi.
Remote file access is what differentiates the Transporter folder from the Transporter Library come in. The basic difference is that the Transporter folder carries local copies of your files on your computer while the Transporter Library holds those files exclusively on the Transporter unit. This means that all files that are in the Transporter folder will also be cloned and stored on any laptop or desktop that works off of the same Transporter account, but files in the Transporter Library are not synced up.
I have not tried this aspect out because my laptop is also my desktop at work so I don’t need to sync multiple computers, but I can see how using these two spaces wisely could allow easy access without hogging disk space on a remote computer.
For a solo that is not always in the office, this easy remote access is a great feature that I plan to use a lot.
One feature that I haven’t used is the selective sync feature that allows remote users to decide which folders will be synced locally to their computers. According to Transporter, this is a per-computer method to save disk space, particularly for those hosted users (those without their own Transporter and no Transporter Library option from their end).
Another is the use of the Special Folders on multiple computers. Using Special Folders on multiple computers will merge all of the files in those folders from each computer to one central location. You can use this to sync all your documents on all of the computers that you use so that you can access them everywhere. Since I don’t use multiple computers for work, I haven’t tried this out.
My first run at the Transporter private cloud gave me a good impression, at least from my end. Installation is plug and play for the most part and file access from my tablet was simple. Any hiccups seem to occur on the hosted user’s end, and those are relatively minor interface issues that I assume will be fixed.
Should you run out and buy one? That’s up to you. If you already use and like Dropbox or a similar cloud service and don’t have issues with the recurring fees for extra storage, then probably not. However, if you share files, work remotely often, and don’t have a server for your firm, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to set up remote file storage, sync, and sharing.
So far, I’ve owned the Transporter for just a few days. I will update this post if I learn anything from greater use. ↩