iTwin lets you share files between two computers using a USB-based device. It's not a perfect solution, but some will find it very useful.
What does it do? The iTwin is a solution for those who want to share files between two computers, but who don't want to deal with (or don't trust) cloud syncing application such as Dropbox, especially since that service left its accounts vulnerable for several hours last June.
iTwin is quite simple to operate: It's made up of two small devices that look like two standard USB keys, with one modification. While each has a standard USB connector at one end, at the other end the two keys connect together -- making it the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of tech devices. When you join them together, you basically get a single unit with a USB connector on either end.
You start by plugging the joined iTwin into the first computer. You are then prompted to install the iTwin software (which is resident on the device and only takes a few seconds). When that's done, the software asks if you want to be sent a unique number via email that can be used to disable either key if you need to (in case one goes missing). At that point, a virtual folder appears on your desktop onto which you can drag and drop any files you want to share. It's a fairly simple process -- anyone who has used applications such as Dropbox or Zumodrive will be familiar with it.
Once you've included all the files you think you'll want access to, you can pull off the half of the device that's not connected directly to your computer -- and plug that into any other online computer. The software installs and the virtual folder pops up, containing whatever folders and files you chose to share. You can, of course, also drag any files or folders from the second computer into the iTwin folder to sync those as well.
What's cool about it? The process is quick and easy -- and, for the most part, works well. I was able to access documents and reasonably-sized image files on the second remote machine almost immediately; audio files took a few seconds, but began to play even before they had fully loaded. The only file that took a bit of time was a short video, which took about five or six minutes to fully load before it could play.
Since the time lag involved probably depends on the system you're using (and on your Internet connection), it's handy that you can drag and drop your file from the virtual folder to your desktop; it then becomes simply a local file on that machine. Of course, that means that you lose the ability to sync the local files with your other machine.
The iTwin is a nicely secure way to access your data from a home or office computer. It uses hardware-based AES-256 encryption, and since none of your data is actually stored on the device itself, if it's misplaced or lost, you can either use the emailed number to disable the iTwin (via the company's website) or simply remove the other end from its computer.
What needs to be improved? There are apparently still a few glitches that can pop up. I first ran the iTwin on an Asus 1005PE netbook, and while it installed well and was able to read a document without problem, when I tried to share a larger file, the computer crashed. When I installed it on a slightly more powerful -- if older -- IBM ThinkPad T43 laptop, I was able to view documents, images and videos, and listen to audio, without any problems.
There are also a number of limitations. First, the iTwin is currently for Windows-based computers only -- a version for Macs is, according to the company's site, on the way. You can also only use it between two computers -- and you'll have to keep your base computer on all the time.
At a Glance
Pros: Secure way to exchange and sync files, easy to use
Cons: Windows-only, no control of remote system, must drag-and-drop folders and files into shared folder each time it's used.
Another aspect of using iTwin which some might find inconvenient is that it doesn't retain any information from session to session. If you remove the key from your computer, you will not only have to re-apply for a new number in case you have to disable the device -- you also have to drag-and-drop the files and folders you want to share into the iTwin folder all over again.
Bottom line: iTwin is one of those devices that does one thing, and does it well. It's a good way to access files remotely and securely, especially if you don't want to throw them up into the cloud.
Barbara Krasnoff is reviews editor at Computerworld.