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The Mac OS X compatible Stora -- which measures 6.90 x 5.91 x 5.74 inches and weighs three pounds without a hard drive installed -- is relatively to set up and easy to use, though it's not for those looking for an expandable, highly configurable NAS device. As mentioned, it comes with a single 1TB hard drive installed, but has an extra bay for adding a second.
However, the only type of extra drive that can be added must be in RAID 1 mirrored array. And it must be the same size as the first drive. You can insert a second disk drive into the Stora without turning the unit off. The Stora automatically detects the second drive and builds it as a â€œmirror drive."
To set up, you connect the device; connect one end of the provided Ethernet cable to your router and the other end to the back of the Stora unit. Then run the set-up program that comes with the Stora. An onscreen guide prompts you through four steps. For me this pretty smoothly, though I had to enter the product key three times before the installation program would "recognize" it. Once everything is up and running properly, you can install the Stora application. The folder structure in the Stora includes an Albums folder, a Media Library folder, and Preferences. Remote access is available with a Premium subscription that will cost about 20 bucks a year.
After you launch and log-in to the Stora Application, the Stora landing page appears. From this screen you have local access to the Albums, Media Library and Preferences areas, as well as the Help menu, which contains a link to the User Manual and Stora support. Only the Albums section will be available from a remote location -- unless you upgrade to the aforementioned Premium subscription, which allows local and remote access to all three areas.
The Media Library is used to house and manage all your data. Entering the Media Library brings you to the Media Sources page where you can manage your files, folders, and digital media and place them into albums for sharing with friends and family.
The Media Sources section shows your FamilyLibrary folders, MyLibrary folders, and MyComputers folders. The FamilyLibrary folder comes with the FamilyDocuments, FamilyMusic, and FamilyVideos subfolders. These folders are accessible to all users unless you block their user access. These folders can also be shared with digital music adapters (DMAs), making the content available to media players on the home network.
FamilyLibrary folders won't be available unless you have account access. However, even if access is blocked or Windows networking is disabled, all users can access the FamilyLibrary folders through the Finder.
The MyLibrary folder contains your private subfolders called MyDocuments, MyMusic, and MyPhotos. Each user has their own MyLibrary folders, and only you can access these folders. You can share content within the folders with family, friends or the public by placing the files in an album. They can also be shared with DMAs, making the content available to media players on the home network. (Although the subfolders within MyLibrary and FamilyLibrary are intended for specific file types, you can actually put any type of file into any folder.)
The MyComputers folder contains a folder for each computer using Desktop Mirror. You can download files or folders using the Stora Application, or you can copy and paste them through Stora folders. Albums are created and managed from the MediaLibrary area in the same way as the other folders in the Media Sources area.
An album allows you to group related pictures, music, videos and documents from multiple folders. An album contains references to files, but doesn't contain copies of the files themselves. This way you can have the same file in multiple albums without taking up additional space. However, if you delete a file from the folder, it will no longer be available in the albums. You can add a theme to your album by displaying background graphics that come with the Stora application.
Uploading files copies them from your computer to the selected folder. If you upload to your MyLibrary folders, only you have access to them. If you upload a file to a folder within FamilyLibrary, any user with account access permission to this folder will be able to access it. Blocked accounts will not have access to it.
The iTunes server can stream music from the iTunes library to the iTunes clients on your home network. The iTunes server can run on either the host computer or the Stora. Adding songs to the iTunes library makes them available to the iTunes clients. To add songs to the iTunes library, first move the music files to subfolders within FamilyLibrary > FamilyMusic. After moving the music files, ensure the folder is shared. Select the FamilyMusic folder, and display the menu. If the Unshare with DMA command is displayed, the folder is shared. If the Share with DMA command is available, select it.
Configuring an iTunes client ensures it will look for shared libraries, including the FamilyMusic folder on the Stora. To configure an iTunes client, choose Edit > Preferences, and then select the Sharing tab. Ensure Look for shared libraries is selected.
Music files stored on the Stora appear in the SHARED > Stora:iTunes folder. You can play these songs within iTunes, but you can't add them to a playlist. Pictures, videos and documents stored on the Stora are not available within iTunes.
Up to five iTunes clients on your home network (i.e., computers and media players) can play iTunes DRM-protected music, but an unlimited number of iTunes clients can play iTunes Plus music or songs imported from CD. To play music, select the Stora:iTunes folder, and then double-click the song.
The key to all this is MyStora.com, a Netgear site that offers remote access to your files from any Internet-connected device -- including an iPhone or Blackberry. When it comes to remote viewing of your data, the Stora browser based interface offers a variety of views, including a shuffle view and integration with the Cooliris browser. The latter means you can view your own digital media on the Cooliris 3D wall.
The Stora works with Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Picasa and supports Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) enabled game consoles (the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3), photo frames, DLNA compliant TVs, and digital media players (such as the Netgear Eva series), etc.
The Stora has one USB 2.0 port on the front of the unit. You can hook up a storage device you want to share and the contents will appear in the Stora Family Library and be available to all family members, either locally or remotely. The USB port is compatible with most storage devices such as flash drives, hard drives, digital cameras and MPEg players. You can also connect an USB printer to the Stora, then share the printer with all the computers on your home network.
On the down side, there's currently an issue with the Stora and the fact that the Finder is using the AFP protocol. The best way to access Stora folders as I write this is via the Storage Agent utility for the Mac. You can learn more here.
Also, you might want to keep this in mind: If you assign a stable IP to your Stora, but don't have a name server at home, you can assign it a name locally on each machine using this command:
sudo dscl localhost -create /Local/Default/Hosts/stora-name IPAddress 192.168.1.10 (a helpful hint I found on the Stora forums).
Despite these gotchas, the Stora is the best device of its kind that I've seen for mainstream consumers. It doesn't actually have the nothing-to-it setup that Netgear would have you to believe. But investing a little time will offer you a smooth, seamless anywhere/anytime access to your data and media files.
Macsimum rating: 7.5 out of 10