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ATPM 13.08
August 2007




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by Mark Tennent,

A Good Site, Ruined

When BMW released their second generation of the Mini, they didn’t bolt on more gimmicks, make the car slower, more thirsty, or corner worse than before. Instead they put in a brand new range of more efficient engines, redesigned just about every body panel, and cleaned up some of the annoying weaknesses of the previous iteration of the Mini. Very often it appears Web designers accomplish the exact reverse.

All too often, Web sites that used to work fast and perhaps a little dirty get redesigned to remove the dirt, but in the process their practicality is completely ruined. Form is allowed to intrude into function to the detriment of the inner workings.

Digital Vault

A classic example of a good Web site ruined is BT’s Digital Vault. It has been running very successfully since last year, providing free online storage for BT’s Internet customers and a smaller free space for “outsiders.” We grabbed 2 GB each when it was made available just before last Christmas and have used the space for large file transfers since then. As BT provides our Broadband Max service, albeit wholesale through a third party, our speeds to and from Digital Vault were just about the maximum our line could give. Up to 7 Mbps down, and more importantly 86KBps up, the up-speed being 50% faster than our first ADSL line of a few years ago.

It meant we could happily bung up to a gigabyte at a time onto our Digital Vaults for clients to collect, and the whole process took a couple of hours or so. Then BT redesigned the site.

On a recent Sunday morning at 7, I tried to put 860 MB into my Digital Vault. Where once the upload speed would have jumped straight to maximum and stayed there, the upload started to trickle through the wires at a miserable 40KBps. OK, I thought, it’s a slow starter; we’ll leave it for 15 minutes and see if it gets better. Not a chance! And typical of the new improved Digital Vault.

Apple’s iDisk

Instead of waiting the nine or so hours the upload was estimated to take, I sent it onto my iDisk, aross the Atlantic at Apple’s The speed immediately maxed-out and stayed there for the two-hour upload. Then, later, it was collected by the intended recipients in Montréal and Chicago who downloaded at the unbelievably fast connections their cable companies give them. (Jealous, me? And they’ve both got iPhones…)

In the past, the iDisk service has been a bit iffy, but its latest update has seen it improve immeasurably. So much so, that I bought another gigabyte of space and will use it as my main large-file transfer method from now on.

Throttled Back?

We have a sneaking suspicion that maybe BT has deliberately throttled back the speeds for free-loaders like us, but we were never extensive users, our total need never rising above 4 GB per month. Apple’s online tools are far superior to BT’s, and the iDisk Public Folder gives our clients a place to leave files for us as well. Much of Apple’s online tools are there to make life easy for non-technically minded users, so they have simple point and click interfaces which work well. Making a download page, for example, takes just moments and means the iDisk is available for Windows users, too.

We have tried running FTP servers in-house, but they really need a separate computer running 24/7, especially when taking time-zone differences into account. Cheap FTP space is available from various suppliers, but in our experience their service is patchy, and these firms seem to come and go with a high churn rate, usually taking our files with them.

For the next year, then, iDisk will be our doorway to the world. It’s easier to use than our Web space, faster than BT’s Digital Vault, and on current experience, more reliable than FTP space providers.

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Reader Comments (1)

Stephen R Ward · August 2, 2007 - 12:07 EST #1
Sad to say, BT's Digital Vault is this slow (and terribly unreliable...) for 'signed-up' customers, as well. It really is a complete waste of space.... Thankfully, my iDisk just sits there, and does whatever is needed...!

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