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December 16, 2007 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an external storage solution that will play nice with an XP Desktop and a Kubuntu laptop...preferably at the same time

I run a custom-built Windows XP rig that's a few years old now - certainly has plenty of USB2.0 slots but I'm not sure whether I have an eSATA connector or anything neat like that. My other machine is an HP nc4200 laptop running Kubuntu Gutsy. I'm a college student, so I do significant amounts of work on both, often on the laptop in the library, etc. This makes for a whole lot of emailing files to myself, and I'm really tired of that. Further, I really should have backup available anyway, since if I lost either PC's drive that would be a Very Bad Thing (tm). I think the time has come for some external storage.

Ideally, it would be really nice if I could keep the external drive sitting on my desk and connect both computers to it at once, but I have no idea how feasible this is. I don't necessarily need to read/write from both at the same time, but I'd like to avoid having to switch cables back and forth all over the place and end up using an external HD like a big glorified thumb drive. My concerns, then, are several:

1) Getting file systems to play nice between windows and Kubuntu
2) Hopefully being able to backup files from both machines to this drive on a fairly regular basis
3) Since I'm a slave to the university's computer policies, I'm unable to set up any sort of network within my room among my PCs

In the end, is there an external storage solution that fits what I'm looking for, or am I hoping for way too much out of an external drive? I really just want a block of storage to sit on my desk and be read/written by both that too much to ask? If not, what sort of thing am I actually looking for? The cheaper the better, naturally - it'd be nice to spend no more than $100-150 on this enterprise, for I am a stingy student and all. Thanks in advance for any help with my overcomplicated computing questions!
posted by Rallon to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
I'm not 100% positive, but I'm fairly sure you can't connect two machines to a single drive except via a network.

Since I'm a slave to the university's computer policies, I'm unable to set up any sort of network within my room among my PCs

I'm rarely the one to advise people to break IT policies, but come on. Who's gonna know if you stick a router in your room? Alternately, can you NAT your connection through your desktop to your laptop?

I don't know if it's still in effect (I doubt it), but it was a running joke with ISP's for a while that they didn't "allow" you to run your home connection through a router to multiple machines.
posted by mkultra at 10:14 AM on December 16, 2007

Does the University prevent you from setting up an Ethernet hub and doing a small network that way? Even if they frown upon it, would they notice? An NAS drive sounds like what you really need. They generally play nicely with Linux and Windows together.
posted by soy_renfield at 10:17 AM on December 16, 2007

You wouldn't even need a NAS. Just get an internal drive for your desktop and mount it via SMB on your laptop.
posted by mkultra at 10:54 AM on December 16, 2007

Can you access your Windows PC from the outside world, or at least from within the university? If so, and it was me, i'd look into permanently connecting the hard drive to your Windows box. Then, install OpenSSH for Windows. When you get that working, you can connect to your Windows box via ssh from your laptop or anywhere else. Since you're using kubuntu, i'd also recommend mounting that external harddrive via sshfs.

Since you're using kubuntu, i'm assuming a fair amount of geek-savvy; sorry if i'm going a little over your head here. This also might be the complicated way of doing things, I dunno. It's just worked for me in the past. Also, consider adding adding DynDNS to give your Windows box a static domain name.
posted by cgg at 11:08 AM on December 16, 2007

Buy a cheap usb drive. Connect it to the windows machine. Share the USB drive in windows. Navigate to the windows share using ubuntu's samba implementation. google windows file sharing for more info. This means you'll have to leave the windows machine on at all times you need to to access the drive. If this isnt doable then you should move towards some kind of network drive.

For question two you would use microsofts backup wizard to schedule automatic backups. In ubuntu I think youre goin to have to write a shell script and execute that on a schedule using cron.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:12 AM on December 16, 2007

If you're determined to backup your computers to a local share, then I second cgg and damn dirty ape. If you haven't decided on a local solution, then be sure to check out Mozy, Amazon's S3 (via Jungledisk), and Carbonite (which is similar to Mozy).

For the software aspect, there's the previously mentioned rsync, or something like Norton's Ghost (or better yet: open source software).
posted by philomathoholic at 1:15 PM on December 16, 2007

Since I'm a slave to the university's computer policies, I'm unable to set up any sort of network within my room among my PCs

What arrangements do you currently have to connect your computer(s) to the university network?
posted by flabdablet at 5:43 PM on December 16, 2007

Thanks everyone for the answers thus far! I'll go through and mark some bests when I do a little more reseach.

What arrangements do you currently have to connect your computer(s) to the university network?

The desktop is connected by ethernet cable to the jack in the wall - I had to register it through a ridiculously complex process, the culmination of which involves installing the university's spyware on the PC, which checks that my antivirus and such are up to date, monitors and bans several other programs, and generally spies on me - not sure on the total details there, but I know it's invasive and have had friends who've been caught setting up their own networks for video game systems and such before.

The laptop connects wirelessly only - university won't let it through on the wired network because it's linux and they don't have the registration process compatible for Ubuntu. I need to put in my university login and password for every session (or every couple of hours if I stay connected).
posted by Rallon at 7:16 PM on December 16, 2007

In that case, your best bet is in fact probably the "glorified thumb drive" idea. Format the drive with a single NTFS partition. Gutsy gives you full read/write access to NTFS without having to jump through hoops, and Windows will only mount the first partition on a removable drive.

You can get a USB A-B switch to avoid having to plug and unplug cables. You will need to remember to unmount the drive from Ubuntu, or Safely Remove Hardware from Windows, before hitting the switch.
posted by flabdablet at 11:10 PM on December 16, 2007

i stumbled on stand-lone usb drives in Best Buy when i wasn't really looking for anything more than CD's or Dvd's to use for backup at a good price. $80. for about 80gb. Real quick transfer from or to Mac and XP.; can read standalone from either machine.
posted by lemuel at 4:57 PM on December 20, 2007

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