External hard disks that can be attached directly to a home network for use by multiple computers have been around for a few years now. They’re valuable tools, making it likelier that all your files on every machine will be backed up, and allowing music, photos, videos and other files to be accessible all over the house.
But, unlike external drives that just plug into a single PC, these stand-alone, networked hard disks have tended to be techie products. Too often, they require a deeper familiarity with networking and file-sharing procedures than most folks possess. And some are aimed only at Windows or only at Macs, leaving out mixed-machine households.
Now, there’s a new networkable hard disk that, in my tests, proved so simple that anyone who can plug in a cable can use it, with no setup or knowledge, provided your computers have the most current operating systems. It works concurrently and seamlessly with both Windows PCs and Macs, and can even stream music to Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes program installed on either platform.
In addition, it can stream music, photos and videos to a TV, if you have a compatible add-on box attached, such as an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. Its contents also can be accessed over the Internet from any major Web browser.
The product is the My Book World Edition, from Western Digital (WDC). This second version of the World Edition sells for $230 for a model with a capacity of one terabyte (roughly 1,000 gigabytes) and $450 for two terabytes. It’s available from various retailers, or at westerndigital.com.
Western Digital’s new My Book World Edition
The My Book World Edition isn’t flawless. Its Internet remote-access feature isn’t great, and it’s more complicated to use on computers running older operating systems, like Windows XP or Apple’s Tiger. It’s also sluggish with older PC hardware. But for its basic functions — backup, centralized file storage and sharing, streaming of music and other media — the My Book World Edition is simple and speedy on relatively new computers with current operating systems.
I tested the My Book on my home network, using several Macs running Apple’s Leopard operating system, as well as Windows PCs from Dell (DELL), Sony (SNE) and Lenovo. Some of the latter were running Vista, some XP and one was using the prerelease version of the new Windows 7 operating system. I also tested it with an Xbox 360.
To start, I just plugged the My Book into an electrical outlet and connected it to my home network’s router with a standard networking (Ethernet) cable. Almost immediately, all of the Macs, and all of the Windows PCs running Vista or Windows 7, displayed an icon called MyBookWorld, making it appear like a regular hard disk on the computer.
Opening the icon revealed two folders, one called Download and one called Public. The latter folder contained three subfolders: Shared Music, Shared Pictures and Shared Videos.
Without installing drivers or any other software, I could copy files onto the My Book from the Windows PCs and Macs. I copied some Microsoft Word and PDF documents, plus several hundred songs, photos and videos. This copying process went quickly, almost as quickly as with a directly connected hard disk. And I was able to open, display or play the files on the My Book on all of my test machines, Mac and Windows.
Then, I opened Apple’s iTunes on all my test machines, and discovered a MyBookWorld entry on the left-hand side, from which I could play the songs on the shared drive. In the case of songs from the iTunes store, however, the machine had to be registered to my iTunes account.
Next, I installed Western Digital’s backup program on several of the computers. It comes in Windows and Mac versions, works automatically, and allows you, via a simple interface, to select which folders or which types of files you want backed up automatically. It worked fine.
For my tests, I then hooked up an Xbox to my TV set, navigated to the media section of the Xbox, selected My Book from a list as my media source, and was able to play on the TV all music, display all photos and watch any videos that were compatible with the Xbox.
I also tried accessing my files over the Internet from remote PCs and Macs, using a free service Western Digital offers called MioNet that merely requires a Web browser. It worked on Windows and Mac, but it was so slow as to be painful, so I would only count on it in emergencies.
I also don’t recommend buying the My Book for use with older PCs running Windows XP. With XP, the shared drive isn’t immediately visible; you have to install the included software to get it to show up. That’s not a big deal on a newer XP computer, but on an older XP laptop I tried, that installation was painfully slow, and so was using the My Book.
When used with modern operating systems, though, the My Book World Edition is the simplest, speediest networkable hard disk I’ve tried.