Review: SimpleShare NAS just manages to miss the mark

SimpleTech Inc.’s foray into network storage is an almost-worthy introduction.

The SimpleShare network-attached storage unit offers 160GB (US$399) or 250GB (US$499) of space, but needs some minor changes, a price reduction and some extra software before it makes our wish list.

SimpleShare does some things very well. The unit, slightly larger and heavier than a VHS tape, is stylish and quiet. The case looks like it belongs on your media shelf next to audio components, and the near-silent operation won’t distract.

Installation was pure plug and play, better than any NAS unit we’ve seen.

The unit has been configured from the factory to scan the network and accept an IP address from any DHCP server. Other storage devices try to force themselves on the network and become the DHCP server, but this box plays well with others. Setup software from the CD finds the unit and starts basic configuration, primarily changing the administration password from the default.

The client software then offers to assign the first open drive letter to the SimpleShare box, a friendly step we haven’t seen before.

The SimpleShare administration utility requires ActiveX controls to run on the client, making Internet Explorer the only browser that interprets the screens accurately. Unfortunately, this runs counter to our advice to avoid Internet Explorer and ActiveX controls because of their susceptibility to spyware and viruses.

SimpleShare includes a handy print server. Connecting a USB-only printer is easy, and the printer immediately appears on the network. But there are no print job controls — this might be acceptable for a home printer but not for a shared business device. Linux users will be pleased — SimpleShare appears as both a Windows network resource and a mountable Network File System drive. Our Xandros Version 3 Deluxe Desktop happily printed through the SimpleShare using its Windows mode.

Now for SimpleTech’s mistakes, which baffle us. These are all easy enough to fix and could make this a killer product.

First, at US$499 for 250GB, SimpleShare is overpriced. SimpleTech’s USB external hard disk drive, in the same case with the same specifications, costs less than US$1 per gigabyte (US$210 for 250GB). The cost of adding an Ethernet port and Web server software doesn’t justify the price boost. SimpleTech has priced its NAS in line with competitors’ devices, but those companies have a head start and brand recognition.

Second, SimpleShare lacks back-up software. For a home network or small office/home office (SOHO) NAS box, data protection must rank high on the features list. While the client setup disk maps a drive letter, it should then ask about data-protection measures, such as moving the default My Documents folder from a local PC to the SimpleShare, but it doesn’t.

SimpleTech offers StorageSync Pro back-up software free on its Web site but only with its USB external drives. Modifying the software to work with only its own products would be better than nothing.

Some blank help system pages and poorly conceived administration pages also nagged us. It’s great that SimpleShare uses fairly advanced drive pooling technology, but how many consumer and SOHO users understand drive pools?

SimpleShare does many things right, which makes the mistakes so painful. If the company addresses these issues, particularly the back-up software and pricing, we gladly would recommend it.

Quick Link: 059540

Gaskin can be reached at: readers

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