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SpiderOak is flexible enough to back up anything, to share files easily with your friends, and to sync files between Mac, Windows, and Linux machines. It installs as an actual application, but it’s Flash-based, so if you use it on two or more platforms, the experience will be the same.
You can back up as many computers, external hard drives, and network volumes and servers to your SpiderOak account as you want. The other services we tested don’t allow you to back up network volumes, but since SpiderOak sells storage in 100GB increments, you’re encouraged to back up as much as possible. You select the files and folders to back up in the Back Up tab of the SpiderOak app, or you can just click the checkbox for a preset category, including Dekstop, Documents, Email, Movies, Music, and Pictures. The preferences let you exclude files and folders by wildcard (filenames including *.zip, for example) or exclude files based on their size or age.
The Backup tab lets you select categories (to the left) or specific folders to back up.
Once files are backed up to your SpiderOak network, they appear in the View tab, where you can browse the folder structure for each of your backed-up devices. Select a folder to highlight the Changelog and Merge buttons. Merge does a one-time merge of all the files in any two folders on your SpiderOak network. The Download button restores your selected files to a location you specify in the preferences.
Your files are encrypted with a combination of 2,048-byte RSA and 256-bit AES and compressed, so you’re not paying for more storage space than you need. When you change a file, SpiderOak only saves the changes, so the data blocks for the parts of your file that didn’t change aren’t backed up again. And if you have a file on two machines and back up both to your SpiderOak network, the file will appear in both machines’ View list, even though it’s only stored on SpiderOak’s server once. You still see all versions of your files under the View tab, and clicking a file with more than one version displays the date each was updated, so you can find the one you need.
Share sets, which are set up in the Share tab, make chosen files and folders in your SpiderOak network available to anyone via their Web browser. You choose a Share ID and Room Key, which are combined into a URL you give to friends. And the Sync tab lets you set up Sync sets, choosing two folders in your SpiderOak network that will always stay in sync on the local machines. We used one Sync set to keep our ~/Documents/Receipts folder synced between our home iMac and work laptop, or you could sync a local folder to an external hard drive.
SpiderOak even encrypts your encryption key. The company doesn’t know your password, although you can set up a hint. SpiderOak employees can never access your data—and if you forget your password completely, neither can you.
This review is part of a larger feature which compares five different online backup services.
We loved the Sync feature, as well as the ability to archive files to the SpiderOak network and delete them off the local machine. If our only complaint is that the SpiderOak icon stays in your Dock when the app is running, you know there's not much to complain about.