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Apple granted new patent for elusive "Home on iPod" feature

post #1 of 34
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A patent issued to Apple Inc. this week may breath new life into the firm's once touted "Home on iPod" feature, which prior to being tabled several years ago promised Mac OS X users the ability to tote their home directories and account information around on their iPods.

The 11-page filing titled "Method and apparatus rendering user accounts portable" details several approaches for enabling user accounts to be accessed across various multi-user computer systems. It's reported to be a derivative of a similarly titled patent request that was granted to the Cupertino-based Mac maker last October.

Essentially, the outlined software technique calls for an enhancement to Apple's Mac OS X operating system that would be capable of both reading and writing account information to and from external storage devices such as iPods and iPhones, thereby allowing users to carry their home directories and personal Mac OS X settings in their pocket.

"Hence, by coupling the external, portable data store to another multi-user computer, a user is able to login to any supporting multi-user computer and be presented with their user configuration and user directory," Apple explains in the filing. "Since the data store that stores the user account is not only external but also portable, a user can simply tote the data store to the location of different multi-user computers."

A nearly identical software technology, once dubbed by Apple as "Home on iPod," was originally destined for the company's Mac OS X 10.3 Panther operating system. However, the feature was abruptly yanked from pre-release builds of the software back in October of 2003, and all references to the technology removed from Apple's website.

"Ever thought you could carry your home in the palm of your hands or in your pocket? You can. Panther's Home on iPod feature lets you store your home directory - files, folders, apps - on your iPod (or any FireWire hard drive) and take it with you wherever you go," read the original description.



"When you find yourself near a Panther-equipped Mac, just plug in the iPod, log in, and you're 'home,' no matter where you happen to be," the description continued. "And when you return to your home computer, you can synchronize any changes you've made to your files by using File Sync, which automatically updates offline changes to your home directory."

Apple has never offered an explanation for the feature retraction, and popular speculation was that it would eventually resurface in a later iteration of Mac OS X.

The firm's continued attempts to patent the software technique through multiple filings may indicate that we haven't heard the last of "Home on iPod," and possibly "Home on iPhone."
post #2 of 34
Why would I need to carry my personal home files to a different computer. Could someone give a real world example of how this could be useful.\
post #3 of 34
Perhaps they took it out because its a shocking bad idea, and a terrible security risk? I mean - I don't want someone to be able to use my Mac just by the act of plugging in their iPod. Its one of those ideas that sounds great on paper, but in reality would be a nightmare.
post #4 of 34
OK - well you'd be plugging in your *own* iPod, which would presumably be encrypted with FileVault, I'm sure they went that far down the road. I'm not sure how someone plugging their iPod into a mac would have all my files, maybe I misapprehended that post.

Couple this with a .mac mirror of my home directory (space willing) and I'll have belt-and-suspenders assurance that I can get my files anywhere.

If all that plus the world were full of macs that last bit would mean I don't need my laptop everywhere.

If not it's still a great option.
post #5 of 34
How is this useful? Let's see, I have a computer at home and one at work, it would be great to have all my stuff on both, I currently carry my iTunes around on an external drive so all my music is the same on all 3 of my computers. To be able to keep the files I work on most with me so it is the same no matter where I go is a very handy.
post #6 of 34
would be great to have a mini-pages (iwork) app for the iphone and work on home dir sync to iphone. portable laptop.
post #7 of 34
I don't see how anyone could not see this as useful. It's the same concept of carrying around all your MP3's with you on an iPod. Except now you can do it with any other files you choose to on your home directory as well.

Add to that the possibility of upgrades to the iPhone and you might not only be able to use your iPod/iPhone as a transfer device between comps but also use the iPhone OS itself to edit some documents and sync them while away from your destkop.


However still i don't see the brilliance in this patent now. I would have expected this a long time ago and I kind of hoped this feature would have been released with the iPhone everyone purchased.
post #8 of 34
You can burn a dvd with all your iTunes info on it and use it on up to 3 computers (maybe five, I haven't checked the EULA). Why do you need your work information at home? This would cause major security issues with anyone doing any type of work with critical information.
Quote:
Originally Posted by roehlstation View Post

How is this useful? Let's see, I have a computer at home and one at work, it would be great to have all my stuff on both, I currently carry my iTunes around on an external drive so all my music is the same on all 3 of my computers. To be able to keep the files I work on most with me so it is the same no matter where I go is a very handy.
post #9 of 34
It's VERY useful. I know because I've done it many times. You can do it NOW if you have enough GB to spare.

Obviously you need the PERMISSION of the computer owner in order to use their computer, and they can let you use it or not via System Preferences. Make your own call who you trust to let on your Mac, just like you already do. I wouldn't let a stranger carry his home account to my machine, but I'd let a friend. They would not, of course, be granted admin privileges on my machine

When my PowerBook needed repair a few years back, it was right around the holidays (a busy time for my PLUS a lot of travel) and so I needed new portable way to do my work at my parents' (and sometimes friends' or clients') places. So I bought a 60 GB iPod instead of the 40, and copied my entire OS X installation over to it (just a drag and drop). My iPod would then boot any Mac I walked up to (if the owner changed the Startup Disk for me) and it was MY settings, MY stuff, MY work It was like I had my whole computer in my pocket. My bookmarks, my address book, my calendar, my wallpaper and settings, my mouse driver, my games, my apps, my license keys, my emails, my complete file structure (which today would have Spotlight support), my Dock, my 3rd-party utils, my everything. MY COMPUTER--except that speed and screen size would vary! Then later I copied my account back to the repaired machine. It was great!

It would be great in lots of other scenarios too. People DO like to have their computing mobile--look at laptop sales. Having everything in your pocket is in a way even better. (And yes, some people DO do work at home... in fact it's extremely common, despite the terrifying security risks ) I recommend Carbon Copy Cloner for this, since a manual drag of the OS files worked once for me and then not the second time. CCC is slow but does a better job with hidden system stuff.

With "Home on iPod" you could do the same thing WITHOUT having to copy the OS onto your device. You'd only need to copy your account. Plus it would be more AUTOMATIC that what I did (a no-effort synch rather than careful copying), more secured, and compatible with both Intel and PPC Macs, unlike my way.
post #10 of 34
Has a similar function been available for Windows users for years (maybe it's a 3rd party app)? I'm pretty sure I heard about this before... Am I wrong, here?

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post #11 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackSummerNight View Post

You can burn a dvd with all your iTunes info on it and use it on up to 3 computers (maybe five, I haven't checked the EULA). Why do you need your work information at home? This would cause major security issues with anyone doing any type of work with critical information.

And this is worse than a laptop... how?

Seriously - everyone here at work has a company provided laptop that they haul around with them constantly, filled to the brim with confidential information.
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post #12 of 34
My wife has three offices and goes out on the road from time to time. Right now she keeps all her info on an iPod mini so she can access her info from which ever computer she's on. "Home on iPhone" would make this all the more manageable, once we get iPhones here in Canada :-(>>>.

?Security: A:encrypted volume
?Reliability: A:automatic updates to local machine and .Mac

6 years ago: pager & phone & floppies
4 years ago: phone (with text messaging) & Lacie Pocket Drive
2 years ago: phone & iPod mini
next year (I hope): just an iPhone
post #13 of 34
Remember, anybody who has physical access to a computer essentially owns the computer (except for encrypted files). If somebody can plug in an iPod into your computer, she or he can also plug-in any external drive and simply boot from that.

If they can pull this off, it would be really great. Right now one can in theory run a computer on a 200 GB 7200 rpm 2.5" drive via Firewire 800 and move from computer to computer. With the same computer model this might actually work. But already some trivial differences as the monitor calibration profile will be different from computer to computer and there probably are more of these things.

With OS X, the operating system became a true multi-user on. For this Home-on-the-iPod feature, user accounts would have to be able to become multi-computer capable.
post #14 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackSummerNight View Post

Why would I need to carry my personal home files to a different computer. Could someone give a real world example of how this could be useful.\

I have been begging Apple for an easy way to sync mail on my Laptop and Desktop hard drives.

This feature not only brings this into play, but raises the spectre of a 'PowerBook Duo-style arrangement' where one's Home folder can reside on the laptop, but can be used when connected at home to the Desktop.
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post #15 of 34
I am hoping this is scrapped because Apple has decided to partner with google via .Mac. Every mac can sync thru Googles servers all home folder information. Not just what .Mac does now. Of course this requires massively more space but Google has it.
post #16 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by salmonstk View Post

I am hoping this is scrapped because Apple has decided to partner with google via .Mac. Every mac can sync thru Googles servers all home folder information. Not just what .Mac does now. Of course this requires massively more space but Google has it.

sounds great as long as you have internet access on every machine you want to use at every location you want to use it and aren't behind a corporate firewall that blocks you from getting to those proposed servers.
post #17 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by salmonstk View Post

I am hoping this is scrapped because Apple has decided to partner with google via .Mac. Every mac can sync thru Googles servers all home folder information. Not just what .Mac does now. Of course this requires massively more space but Google has it.

I agree - using the iPod is a cute idea, but I'd rather do it seamlessly and online (preferably in the background) than having to track down my iPod and iPod cord every time I wanted to do the sync. If I understand it, BackToMyMac (in Panther) basically does this for .Mac subscribers, but unless .Mac either gets a ridiculous upgrade or goes free (not a stretch considering that it's basically inferior to a lot of free services), I'm not too interested!

Of course, all of this is a bit pointless when Apple sells more laptops than anything else.
post #18 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericjames View Post

I agree - using the iPod is a cute idea, but I'd rather do it seamlessly and online (preferably in the background) than having to track down my iPod and iPod cord every time I wanted to do the sync. If I understand it, BackToMyMac (in Panther) basically does this for .Mac subscribers, but unless .Mac either gets a ridiculous upgrade or goes free (not a stretch considering that it's basically inferior to a lot of free services), I'm not too interested!

Of course, all of this is a bit pointless when Apple sells more laptops than anything else.

Some of us might not like the idea of syncing GBs of data over a slow connection. You may, this would make it easier for a lot of people. For example, if I was at school and wanted/needed to use my files from my home computer and not have to use the 'default' account with a whole bunch of junk on it, I could just plug in an iPod/Ext. HD and go. See, you can do it your way and I can do it mine, so everyone wins, including apple because they could sell more.
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post #19 of 34
This makes a lot of sense. It's the wave of the future. I was so impressed by it that I joined the site just to comment! (Been lurking for months.)

I've administered hundreds of macs in a school setting, and this would make tremendous sense there. A student could walk up to any mac in the lab, plug in a USB drive or iPod, and access all of his/her own files, desktop look-and-feel, system prefs, etc. instantly.

There are other situations like this in which a laptop is not the best option, but you need mobility and your personal files at your fingertips.

If it catches on, look for the halo effect to seduce more public libraries into buying iMacs, more schools (already a strong market for Apple), and similar places.

Of course you'll want good encryption and a back-up, in case your iPod is stolen or lost. I wonder if we'll start seeing biometric access devices on iPods soon . . .
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post #20 of 34
I figured Apple would do something like this for the iPhone. Make it part of the .Mac package.

We already know that .Mac in Leopard will have the ability to keep track of the IP address of your Macs at home so that you can grab a file if you are away... So it seems obvious that they would allow you to make a .Mac connection to your home directory from your iPhone. Maybe in the future, even stream music from your home computer to your iPhone, as an excuse to keep the capacity down on the iPhone and users happy with the ability to connect to their home library.


Even further in the future, if people are still clamoring for a way to purchase music while away from home, a manner that allows the purchase to complete and the music to be pushed to your home computer. (And ofcourse, then streamed to your iPhone )
post #21 of 34
LOL! Apple want's royalties for copying your home directory to a flash drive.
post #22 of 34
...when Steve first announced Safari for Windozzz. If they could get Safari to run off a USB drive or iPod, just like FireFox Portable does, you could have one that ran on both Win and Mac so you could take all your bookmarks and cookies with you, even if the computer you where using didnt have Safari on it, add a syncable folder to that, and the popularity of Web 2.0 apps, then you could have everything your need in your pocket weather the computer your where using was a Mac or WinPC, or even if it has any Apple software or not.

I think the key to this working is to get Safari to run off a USB drive/iPod.
post #23 of 34
This is like Roaming Profiles in a way yet your network know is magnitudes larger.

I don't really see the fear involved here. If someone has access to your computer that shouldn't then that's problem A. Unsecure admin account is Problem B. Both of those can be prevented with just a bit of work.

As mobile devices begin to proliferate we're going to need better ways of keeping multiple computers syncronized. Home on iPod sounds good because it'll fit on a small device yet provide a robust experience when hooked up to a computer.

Color me jazzed about this. A 32GB iPhone with my Home on it sounds wonderful. I'd have a laptop but this would allow me to leave the laptop and take the phone more. Less weight to carry around.
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post #24 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by salmonstk View Post

I am hoping this is scrapped because Apple has decided to partner with google via .Mac. Every mac can sync thru Googles servers all home folder information. Not just what .Mac does now. Of course this requires massively more space but Google has it.

Right... and upon examining Googles license agreement, you find out that they can keep a copy of your document on their servers indefinitely... Thanks, but I want my privacy
post #25 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by pmjoe View Post

LOL! Apple want's royalties for copying your home directory to a flash drive.

That's not what this is. You can already do that. This is something you can't do yet.
post #26 of 34
I guess this is a good idea for automatic backups as you just sync all your changed files daily.

Trouble is, I don't have an ipod, nor do I use my home directory. Plus, I wouldn't want my work files to be exactly like my home files. I think my manual way of working is best for me.
post #27 of 34
I think the idea of having your files available wherever you are is certainly a good one. But I don't believe the solution in the pattent solves all your problems:

-I have way more files on my Mac and it's external harddrives than would ever fit on my iPod. You can be shure that the file you need will still be on your Mac, but not on your iPod.
-It only works on other Macs
-Even if you combine it with a .Mac account you would have to upload ALL your data and keep your online store in sync just in case you need one file somewhere else.

At iNuron we wanted to solve the same problem (having your files with you at all times) but we use a different approach:
-With our software you serve files directly from your own Mac.
-You only take a small application with you (can be on your iPod) and use it to securely connect to your Mac when your somewhere else.
-You can have every file on you Mac available if you need it without uploading/syncing
- You only transfer the files you need to the other computer and after you update it you can even save it back to your own Mac.
-AND you can run reach your files on Windows and Mac computers because our browser application is cross platform.
-it's free so there's no harm in giving it a try ;-)

more info and download: http://www.inuron.com

regards,

Rodney & the iNuron team
post #28 of 34
You would have your data but not necessarily the applications you want or need. You would have to start keeping applications in your user directory.

I wonder if this will see a return to iPods with firewire as well as USB.
post #29 of 34
This feature looks like its going to be in 10.5 server as a new version of portable home directories:

http://www.apple.com/server/macosx/leopard/more.html

It would e great is some areas of our college. Normally we would run a home directory off the internal hard drive on staff room macs, and off an open directory server for classroom macs so that students can go to any mac and get their home when they log in.
Sometimes this isnt practical if there home folder is v large, or they are in an area with a slow network connection. In this situation a portable home would be great because they can plug their hard drive/ipod up to any mac, log in, and have their home directory show up, but in a OD managed environment.
post #30 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

Has a similar function been available for Windows users for years (maybe it's a 3rd party app)? I'm pretty sure I heard about this before... Am I wrong, here?

You are completely right, there is nothing new with this "invention". It's a typical case for prior art.
I do this syncing for years, right now with the tool unison, that works with many OSe (I work with Mac OS X and Linux).

Of course it's very nice to have this feature build in the OS, but if it's only for iPod and won't work with external HDs, than it's not that usefull. I use a 160GB external 2,5" HD in the moment, and tht's more than every iPod provides (and faster and cheaper).

In this case I really don't understand what Apple got a patent for. It#s a very nice and usefull feature, and I want to have it, but it's not new.
post #31 of 34
This must be Mobile Me that they were banging on about a while ago.

Personally I'd love to use it - and people who hot-desk would as well
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post #32 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by ericjames View Post

I agree - using the iPod is a cute idea, but I'd rather do it seamlessly and online (preferably in the background) than having to track down my iPod and iPod cord every time I wanted to do the sync.

Spare iPod cords aren't that expensive.

If you work with very tiny files, then it might appear seamless. An iPod is MUCH faster for moving volumes of data than most internet connections, such that if you work on data of magnitude, that it would be well worth pulling the iPod out of your pocket or bag and link it up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oli View Post

In this case I really don't understand what Apple got a patent for. It#s a very nice and usefull feature, and I want to have it, but it's not new.

I expect that there are details not caught in the article. Patents can get pretty complicated, and I don't think a few paragraphs can capture the particulars of the claims.
post #33 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

Spare iPod cords aren't that expensive.

If you work with very tiny files, then it might appear seamless. An iPod is MUCH faster for moving volumes of data than most internet connections, such that if you work on data of magnitude, that it would be well worth pulling the iPod out of your pocket or bag and link it up.

I agree that if we're talking about big files, an external HD or iPod is the only way to go. If we're referring to desktop settings, calendars, mail, documents, and perhaps even limited photo browsing, most of these things are ALREADY online and "location-free" for many people.

The average person a year from now will look at this and say "My photos are on Flickr, my email, calendars and spreadsheets are in google, and all of my music is on my phone (seen memory prices lately?) - everything I need is already accessible anywhere. How is this worth even connecting my iPod?" I actually carry around an external HD with me all the time and I think this might appeal to some professionals, but for the average user I think this would be DOA. Apple needs a much better response to the "location-free" Web 2.0 model.
post #34 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackSummerNight View Post

Why would I need to carry my personal home files to a different computer. Could someone give a real world example of how this could be useful.\

You are on the road as a Consulting Engineer and you don't have a chance to VPN into the backbone, due to various reasons. You are at a client deployment and they give you a temporary account. You upload your work to show the client which includes your demos and presentations.

You make the sale.

You didn't have to pack your laptop and go through the hassles of airlines with just your iPod in your pocket.

Either that or you were at a lunch and made an impromptu presentation with your new iPhone that has your presentations on hand and your software demos since you uploaded the files you needed to make the sale happen.

Most people don't bring their laptops to just eat lunch or first meetings where business isn't the issue, but is just a feel out session.
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