Share USB devices on your network
Review Networkable drives are widely available and affordable these days, but the LaPlug could come in handy if you have a stack of existing USB hard drives or memory sticks that you want to share with other people on your home or office network.
LaCie's LaPlug delivers network sharing capabilities to portable USB storage devices
It's not exactly a new idea, as Cloud Engines has been there and done that with the Pogoplug. Ditto Belkin with its Home Base. Indeed, LaCie even gives gives a nod to the name with the LaPlug, which is essentially a mains-powered, four-port USB hub. Yet rather than connecting it to the USB port of a single computer the LaPlug is equipped with a Gigabit Ethernet interface and 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless networking instead. These allow you to connect it to your network in order to share your USB storage devices with other users.
The initial set-up is fairly straightforward. It does require an Ethernet connection first time around, but you can switch to Wi-Fi once that’s done. LaCie provides a piece of software called the Network Assistant, which automatically detects the LaPlug and any devices that are connected to it.
Indeed, I was able to quickly connect a Mac-formatted hard disk and a PC-formatted memory stick to the LaPlug and to access their files from my iMac and a laptop PC with no problems at all. It also worked with Time Machine on my iMac straight away, and PC users get a separate program called Genie that provides basic back-up features.
The LaPlug performed admirably up to that point, but I did hit a few snags as I began to explore some of its other features. LaCie’s website says that you can use the LaPlug to share printers too, but only after half an hour of trying to connect my Kodak multifunction printer did I discover the small print that says it only supports PostScript printers.
Other key features, such as the built-in Wi-Fi and the option for remote access over the Internet, are configured through a web interface. Unfortunately, this isn’t as intuitive as it could be – at one point it told me that the Wi-Fi was both enabled and not enabled at the same time, so it took me a little while to figure that out.
If you know your networking remote access is possible, as shown here on the iPhone
Click for a larger image
The Wi-Fi functionality did work well, though, allowing me to smoothly stream some MP4 episodes of Mad Men and Carnivàle off my memory stick. The LaPlug also supports UPnP networking and acts as an iTunes server, so it can double up as a makeshift media player, if required.
Unfortunately, the remote access option was even less intuitive. The PDF manual included on the CD-ROM makes no attempt to explain how this works, and merely provides a link to the web site of a separate company called Dyn that provides a free DNS hosting service.
USB 2.0 ports only
If you’re not already familiar with the basics of how DNS services work then you’ll probably struggle here. I had to be guided through the process step-by-step by one of LaCie’s tech support team, and LaCie’s staff did eventually acknowledge that the remote access features could perhaps be "better integrated".
To be fair, the LaPlug does work very well if you simply want to share USB storage devices on your local network. But if LaCie wants to promote remote access as one of the product’s headline features then it needs to document that feature properly. Given its simplicity in other areas, it is unlikely potential buyers of this device will be networking experts and, long term, the 'work it out yourself’ approach won't do LaCie any favours if it had any hopes to encourage brand loyalty. ®
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