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Apple's steps toward backup in the cloud tread lightly on third-party developers

Jenna Wortham of the New York Times wrote, "How do you know if you've created a really great, useful iPhone app? Apple tries to put you out of business." That's a pretty common reaction to Monday's WWDC keynote, and the shock and awe was not limited to iPhone apps.

On Friday, TUAW mused about what Apple's return to cloud services might mean to backup-in-the-cloud developers. On Monday, Apple introduced iCloud, a way to push your music, photos, calendars and other data to the cloud so that it's "always accessible from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac or PC," with instant access to that data across all your devices. While it does not appear that this service is any kind of substitute for a comprehensive backup strategy, it does show Apple continuing to move in the direction of taking charge of users' data protection needs.

TUAW was curious how third-party cloud developers would react to Apple's entry into an arena that might step on the toes of their current offerings. We talked to the developers of Dolly Drive, CrashPlan and Arq to ascertain their reactions to iCloud. What we found was this: iCloud isn't about to drive Mac backup solutions out of business, the way that the keynote announcements challenged products like Readability, Instapaper and Sparrow.

Dolly Drive

Dolly Drive provides online backups using Apple's Time Machine technology for Mac OS X. Its cloud storage solutions merge the Mac Time Machine user experience with offsite safety to guard against a calamity that takes down your local backups as well as your computer.

TUAW contacted Dolly Drive to see what they had to say about Apple's iCloud. Dolly Drive's spokesperson Leigh Kessler told TUAW, "iCloud is an example of Apple ingenuity and excites us as a solution for sharing among Apple devices. But we hope Mac users are not confused into thinking that iCloud's convenience is a substitute for true data backup and we think Apple would agree. Time Machine is still the most comprehensive way to protect and recover everything on your Mac and Dolly Drive is still the only way to do that in the cloud."

Kessler provided the following table to differentiate Dolly Drive from iCloud.

iCloud lets you iCloud doesn't Dolly Drive will
  • see all your itunes library from all your mac and apple devices
  • stream a limited number of photos from your iOS devices onto your mac and Apple TV
  • sync documents that have been integrated into the iCloud framework.
  • Backup a set of items that are on your iOS devices
  • provide Mac desktop or laptop backup
  • provide automatic iPhoto sync
  • backup for music that is deleted from your music library
  • backup or sync of documents that don't comply with iCloud
  • backup all and any OS X computer file to Dolly Grid cloud storage
  • recover from a crash with Dolly Clone
  • backup from anywhere your computer is multiple times a day

CrashPlan

CrashPlan provides an always-on cloud-based solution for online data backup. Instead of using a Time Machine interface, CrashPlan runs in the background of your Mac performing regular updates to remote servers. CrashPlan's Mike Evangelist told TUAW, "We are still absorbing the many facets of Apple's announcements, but our feeling is generally positive. First and foremost [iCloud] will validate cloud options for the average user. In a sense [it's] assuring non-technical people that the cloud is nothing to fear."

He explained, "As is typical with Apple's solutions, iCloud is stripped down to a few essential features. We see it as an opportunity to continue to provide robust, cross-platform solutions for home and business users. Small and large businesses have needs that are clearly not addressed by iCloud, including security, monitoring and management, the ability to run local servers, and a lot more. That's where CrashPlan PRO excels."

Arq and SyncPhotos

Stefan Reitshamer is the developer behind Arq, whose backup solution is built around Amazon's S3 cloud-based data storage infrastructure. He was intrigued by what Apple's new technology means. "Apple is trying to get rid of the file concept in OS X, just like iOS. There are no files in iOS -- there are only apps and their data. In the keynote we never saw a Finder window or a file -- only the new Launchpad. Likewise, the iCloud backup stuff is built into apps. So unless all your apps have added iCloud integration, iCloud backup isn't going to suffice."

"The syncing stuff looked very single-user," Reitshamer continued, "aside from the calendar sharing. The photo stream stuff was cool but it only synched to a single person's devices. You still can't do what my SyncPhotos app does (sync new photos from someone else's computer). It's not surprising. They've never been very interested in groupware; they're usually more focused on the individual user."

Conclusions

While iCloud approaches the notion of moving your data to the cloud, it still has a long way to go if Apple decideds to take it to a full backup solution. iCloud will ship with 5 GB of free storage (not counting purchased items like music and apps), with additional increments likely purchasable by the user.

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