By Walter S. Mossberg

ZumoDrive Service Is a Silver Lining In ‘Cloud’ Storage

As people acquire multiple digital devices, including tiny netbooks and super-smart phones, it becomes harder to coordinate all their documents, music and photos so they have access to them from whichever device they’re using at the moment.

People resort to all sorts of time-consuming methods for doing this. Some email the items to themselves. Others copy them to USB thumb drives and manually transfer them to each machine. Still others use Internet-based, or “cloud,” storage, uploading all their photos to a service like Flickr or Facebook, or using Web-based productivity programs like Google Docs (GOOG). And some use Web-based backup, storage or synchronization services.

Each of these methods, even the cloud-based ones, has limitations and frustrations. Some are complicated, or work only with certain kinds of files. Others work only when you have a Web connection, or don’t replicate your preferred folder structure. Still, others work OK with standard files and folders, but have trouble with specially arranged content, such as music that is organized in a jukebox program.

I’ve been testing a cloud-based service that attempts to solve these problems. It is called ZumoDrive, and it comes from a small company called Zecter Inc. A new version is due out this week that aims to add some capability and make the task simpler.

ZumoDrive mimics a standard physical hard disk, which can contain numerous folders and files. It works on Windows, Macintosh or Linux computers, and also comes in a more limited version for the Apple iPhone. It presents itself as a standard hard-disk icon on all your computers. But it’s actually a single, identical virtual hard disk that lives on the company’s servers, not on the computers themselves. The files it contains are rapidly streamed down to your machines when you need them.

I tested the service on a desktop Windows PC, a netbook, two Mac laptops and an iPhone. I generally liked ZumoDrive and found it easy to use, and pretty fast. But I ran into a few glitches, and it can be pricey. The new version will offer 2 gigabytes of storage free, but will cost a monthly or annual fee for more storage, ranging from $30 a year for 10 gigabytes to $800 a year for 500 gigabytes.

Also, like all cloud-based storage, ZumoDrive isn’t fully accessible when you’re offline. It caches, or automatically downloads, some recently used files, making them available offline. But you may want to open a document or play a song that is available only when you are online.

There have been online storage services for years, including some that could appear as desktop icons. In particular, ZumoDrive competes with somewhat similar services such as SugarSync and DropBox. But it’s different.

Unlike DropBox, it doesn’t require you to remember to place files in a single, special folder. You can link your existing folders to the ZumoDrive. And, unlike SugarSync, it doesn’t copy all your shared files to the hard disks of all your computers. It keeps the files in the cloud.

Compared with SugarSync, which I also like, ZumoDrive uses much less of your hard disk space, and does a better job with iTunes libraries. But SugarSync doesn’t require you to be online to use the files it synchronizes, though it also keeps a backup copy that you can access from the Web.

You don’t need to learn any special techniques to use ZumoDrive. Your computer sees the ZumoDrive as if it were a physical hard disk, so you can add and delete files to it in the normal ways. A program like Microsoft Word (MSFT) also sees it as a normal disk, and can open files from, or save them to, a ZumoDrive without a second thought.

And, because a ZumoDrive can be large without taking up much space on your local drive, it is especially nice for netbooks, which may offer relatively little storage. It also allows you to share folders with others, and encrypts the data you store on it, for security.

To use ZumoDrive, you first upload all your key stuff from your main computer. Then, once you install the small ZumoDrive program on your other devices, all those file names show up on your screen and can be fetched from the cloud when you like. You can add files and folders from the other computers as well. And you can also access your files via a Web site or an iPhone.

You can link folders on your computers to identical folders on your ZumoDrive, and they will stay in sync, so you can keep using the folder structure you’re used to, and it will be up-to-date on the ZumoDrive.

ZumoDrive understands how to handle and centralize your iTunes music library. In my tests, I uploaded an iTunes library of about 900 songs from a Mac at my home, and was able to play the songs on a Windows XP netbook that had no music stored locally.

I ran into some glitches and limitations, all of which the company says it is fixing. For instance, at first my netbook didn’t fetch all the iTunes songs.

But, all in all, ZumoDrive is a harbinger of the new world of cloud computing, and it is worth a look.

Find all of Walt Mossberg’s columns and videos online, free, at the All Things Digital Web site, walt.allthingsd.com. Email him at mossberg@wsj.com.


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