Younity 1.5 could render cloud storage obsolete

As we’ve become a more mobile society—working from virtually anywhere on our smartphones and tablets—we’ve also embraced various cloud storage and file sharing tools, so we can access and collaborate on our data. Younity has an entirely different approach, and it could make cloud storage obsolete.

Is that sensational hyperbole? In a word: no. But, it really depends on your data, how you use it, and who you need to share it with.

I use a variety of cloud storage services. I rely primarily on Box, but I also have accounts with Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, and others.

I appreciate that my data synced to Box is available on my MacBook Air and my Windows 8 tablet as well as my iPhone, iPad, and other devices. I frequently use it as a means of sharing files with others—uploading the data to Box, and then sending an email link to the individuals I want to share with. The fact that my data is in the cloud rather than stuck somewhere on a local drive back at the office has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion.

In order for data to be accessible from the cloud through Box, SkyDrive, Dropbox, or any other service, however, you must first remember to put it there. You must store the data in the designated folder or folders on your local computer for it to be automatically synced, or have the presence of mind to manually upload the data to the cloud.

As great as cloud-storage and file-sharing services are, they require some degree of planning and forethought to choose which files will be available. Younity changes all of that: It simply indexes all your data wherever it’s stored on Mac OS X or Windows PCs, and then it makes that data—all of it—accessible and shareable from your iPhone or iPad.

I’ve been a fan of Younity since it first launched. But the original version had one fatal flaw for my purposes: It could not index external drives. Since my MacBook Air and Samsung Series 7 Slate both have only 128GB of onboard storage (via SSDs), I rely heavily on external storage. The new version of Younity released this week adds scanning and indexing of external storage, so Younity just jumped to the top of my favorite apps list.

Another advantage Younity has over cloud storage is security: I don’t have to rely on a third party to protect my data, or concern myself with configuring and maintaining separate security controls. Younity doesn’t store any of my data, so Younity could suffer a devastating security breach, and it wouldn’t impact me in the least. My data will be safely stored on my computer, external hard drive, or wherever I keep it.

The PCs storing your data, however, must be powered on and connected to the Internet in order for the app to access or share the data. If the computer is turned off, Younity will still display the file in its index, but it will labeled as unavailable since the PC can’t be reached.

Younity also falls short from a business security and compliance standpoint: It’s a great tool on an individual level—and many users will install and use it on business computers and mobile devices—but it doesn’t provide any of the centralised management and security controls that IT admins need to enforce policies, protect data, and maintain compliance.

The upside, though, is that because it’s not a cloud-storage service, the user’s data remains on the PC and any drives attached to it, where the IT admin does have control and can enforce policies and compliance. IT admins still have to be able to monitor and restrict how data is shared, who it can be shared with, and what happens after it’s shared, and Younity does not provide that kind of oversight—at least not yet.

I spoke with Erik Caso—co-founder of Younity developer Entagled Media—and he shared his broader vision for the product. Younity is iOS-centric now. The scanning agent works on Windows and Mac OS X, but the apps for accessing and sharing data exist only for iOS devices. In the future, there will most likely be an Android version, and possibly the ability for the Windows and Mac PCs to not just scan, but also view, access, and share data from other connected systems.

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