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DeskTape as a TapeWORM

These days, people mainly use removable storage media for distribution, backup, and data sharing. SyQuests are perhaps the most common removable media, but the most frequently used SyQuests are limited to 44 and 88 MB of data. What if you need to send someone many megabytes of data but would prefer not to send expensive cartridges? Optima Technology’s DeskTape may solve your problem, assuming that both you and your recipient use DAT drives for backup.

DeskTape 2.0 is a one trick pony. As its lone trick, DeskTape mounts DAT tapes on your desktop as normal, albeit slow, Finder volumes. You can do most anything with a DeskTape volume that you can do with any Finder volume, with a few exceptions. Most importantly, because files on a DAT are written sequentially, you cannot mount a DeskTape volume and edit files stored on the volume. Similarly, you can’t reclaim space from deleted files. Finally, you can’t (or shouldn’t) share a tape over a network because of the ways networks interact with tape drives. In addition, you’d be wasting time to launch applications from the tape or rebuild the desktop on the tape because you could grow old waiting for the process to finish. Interestingly, Optima gives instructions for playing QuickTime movies from tape, which apparently is possible if everything works just right (and there’s a full moon).

In other words, use DeskTape to copy files to a DAT tape and copy files from a DAT tape, but try to avoid other tasks. So maybe a DeskTape volume isn’t quite as useful as a Finder volume, but how many Finder volumes do you have that cost $10 to $12 and can hold several gigabytes? Not many, I suspect, but DAT tapes fit the bill precisely.

Optima ran into an interesting problem with DeskTape. DeskTape works well for sharing tons of data, but it’s a little unreasonable to expect people to buy DeskTape just to read a few files from a colleague. As a result, DeskTape comes copy-protected and can only be installed three times, using a special DAT tape with keys on it. You can uninstall DeskTape to increment the counter again, but avoid reformatting your hard disk without uninstalling or you lose one of your three installs. I suspect it would be difficult, if not impossible, to copy the special DAT tape containing the keys. To share data, users send their colleagues copies of the DeskTape control panel on a floppy disk. Without the key, the DeskTape control panel permits the tape to be used only in read-only mode, turning the DAT drive into something of a tapeWORM.

DeskTape supports hardware data compression features in many DAT drives, but make sure your recipient’s drive also supports compression. If in doubt, leave it off – you’ll still have more free space than you know what to do with. To increase the admittedly mediocre performance (hey, we’re talking tape here, adjust your expectations), DeskTape does things like store the 5 MB (default size) tape directory on the startup volume (in the Preferences folder – make sure you have space), and provide configurable controls for the RAM buffer that help keep the tape streaming during copying. The default size of the directory file limits the number of files you can copy to the tape to between 8,000 and 25,000, but the manual recommends leaving the directory file size at the default if you plan to share tapes with other users.

The DeskTape control panel includes various utilities for testing the tape drive and media, rewinding, retensioning, positioning, and ejecting the tape, and, should you need them, utilities for resetting the SCSI bus, and creating or repairing the end-of-data marker that enables the drive to locate the last block written.

Optima should be commended for being up front about the various limitations surrounding DeskTape, which is good because otherwise you might run into problems with disk recovery programs (don’t use them on a DeskTape volume) or Retrospect (which won’t see a tape as a tape, but as a hard disk). If you use DeskTape and Retrospect, I recommend using an extension manager to link the DeskTape control panel and the Retro.startup extension so that both cannot be active at the same time. That should prevent Retrospect from starting up automatically while DeskTape is active.

In the end, most people will use DeskTape with inexpensive DAT tapes for ad hoc backups and archives (I recommend Retrospect 2.1 for real backups), and for sharing large quantities of data with colleagues. Someone once asked about the best way to regularly send a gigabyte of data to another office several hundred miles away via the Internet – the answer is to use DAT and an overnight courier and avoid bogging down the Internet.

DeskTape is not a utility for everyone, simply because not everyone has the necessary DAT drive and gigabytes of data for DeskTape to be useful. However, if you do have a DAT drive and regularly work with massive quantities of data, especially if you send those files to other people, DeskTape could save you time, money, and hair. DeskTape lists for $299, and none of the big Mac mail order companies seem to carry it, so contact Optima directly.

Optima Technology — 714/476-0515 — 714/476-0613 (fax)
<[email protected]>

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