Online Storage with Wuala
At it's most basic level, Wuala is an online storage service. Like other services it aims to allow you to access your files from anywhere, even if your home or office computer is turned off. You can store any file in your Wuala 'drive' and they can be any size (up to your storage limit, of course).
The big difference that sets Wuala apart from other offerings, such as Amazon's S3, is that Wuala is peer-to-peer. The developers of Wuala have adapted many of the ideas of peer-to-peer systems such as bittorrent to make your data both highly available and fast to download. When you upload files to your Wuala account they are first encrypted before they leave your system and then multiple copies are split between several different Wuala users. The redundancy is calculated via some custom algorithms created by the developers that factor in things such as the uptime of the remote node, bandwidth, historical reliability, and location. More information on the science behind Wuala is available in the form of a presentation from one of the developers. You can watch it online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xKZ4KGkQY8
Getting and Installing Wuala
Wuala is currently going through a closed development process. What this means is that you need an invite to use it (like the process that Gmail went through a few years back). You can request an invite on the Wua.la download page: http://wua.la/en/download.html
The main reason for the service being in closed alpha right now is because the Wuala network is being scaled up. As the pool of people connected to the service grows, the speed and reliability of the service goes up. Once they reach critical mass they will be able to open up the service to anyone, but right now they need to add users slowly and make sure all of the bugs are worked out of the system.
Once you get an invite, the download and installation of the Wuala client is quite painless. The Wuala client is distributed as a tar.gz file. After downloading the file a simple 'tar -zxf wuala.tar.gz' inside a terminal will leave you with a wuala directory. CD into the directory and issue a './wuala &' and Wuala should start.
The first time Wuala starts you will be asked to put in the invite code you received in your invite email. You will also be prompted to setup a user and a profile.
This page greets you when you launch Wuala for the first time.
Now you can start using Wuala to share and store your files.
Before I get into the basics of using Wuala to store and share your files, I should probably take a quick minute to say that Wuala is not a very good choice for sharing music or movies to lots of people. Legal considerations aside, if you want to engage in that sort of thing, there are other applications and networks that are better suited. Wuala is not a replacement for traditional peer-to-peer file-sharing applications, it's trying to solve a different problem.
What Wuala _is_ designed to do is to keep the files that are important to you always available. Photos, recipes, presentations, journals, family history, financial records, and home movies are all examples of data that Wuala is perfect for. We all have files and data that we want to be able to "get to" when we need them and to be protected in the event of a disaster (natural or otherwise).
Wuala can be used to share your files though. You can share any folder with specific wuala users or everyone. There is a search box built into the client that you can use to search Wuala for files that others have shared. And similar to Google's "SafeSearch" feature, Wuala has a "Family Friendly" feature which will filter out potentially offensive content. This filter can be turned off if you want through the options screen.
Groups are a nice way to share files with others around common themes.
There are also groups you can join to share files around common themes. You can also create your own groups and they can be public or invite only. For example, you could create a group for family members, one for people you work with, one for your favorite band, and so on --- making them public or private as desired.
When you launch Wuala (after the initial setup) you are presented with a login window. You simply enter in the username and password you used when you set up your account and you can immediately access your files. You can also save your login information if you want to be logged in automatically every time you launch Wuala.
Logging in to Wuala is as easy as logging in anywhere else.
The Wuala interface looks like a simplified file manager. In the main part of the window are folders for Documents, Music, Images and so on. You can scrap the default layout and create your own to arrange things the way you want. Adding folders is as simple as a right-click or a Ctrl+n.
The main Wuala interface.
When copying files to Wuala, you just drag and drop the files into the Wuala window and they will be uploaded. A little upload progress bar appears next to the file as it is being uploaded. If you try to upload a file that already exists, Wuala will prompt you to either replace the file with the one you are uploading, rename the file you are uploading to something unique, or to cancel the copy operation and do nothing.
Wuala tries to be helpful with naming conflicts.
When you upload images to Wuala it will offer to resize them for you. You can turn this setting off if you never want to resize your images.
When downloading files from Wuala, the current client is not as friendly as it is with uploading. This falls squarely into the "need to fix before general release" area. I realize I am using Alpha software, so some glitches are to be expected, and this is one of them. My natural feeling is that when I drag a file from the Wuala window to a folder on my desktop, the file should download and appear in my file manager. That doesn't happen reliably with the current client. The most reliable way to download files that I have found is to right click on them and choose "Save As...". You can also just double-click on the file to open it in the given file's default application. For example, with .png images, I can just double-click them in the Wuala window and they will open up in Gimp. From Gimp I can "save as..." to wherever I want the file to be locally.
The Wuala client also has a neat trick where it will run a local NFS server that your system can mount. This simplifies file system interactions with Wuala since everything occurs through the standardized NFS layer and your machine will see it as just another NFS drive. You enable the NFS file system integration by inserting an entry into your /etc/fstab file that looks like this:
localhost:/wuala /home/username/wuala/direct nfs defaults,users,noauto,rsize=8192,wsize=8192,timeo=14,intr
You then click the "Enable File System Integration" checkbox under User > Manage Account... > Geneneral and restart Wuala. When Wuala starts a drive called "direct" will be mounted and ready for you to use. This is my preferred method to interacting with my Wuala storage.
This screenshot shows some of my Wuala files, screenshots for this article actually, two different ways: via the Wuala interface and via NFS.
For daily use, what seems to work best with the current functionality of the client is to use Wuala as a "copy to / download from" drive. In other words, I will copy files from my local drive to it and then read those files from it. One thing that does not work well right now is modifying files directly. If I want to modify a file I find it is best to copy it to my local drive, and then drag it back to my Wuala drive when I'm done. This is something I hope that the Wuala developers will work on, especially since the drive shows up as an NFS mounted directory. I expect to be able to open and work with my files on NFS mounted directories directly.
Getting More Space
There are a few ways to get more drive space in Wuala, three to be exact.
The first way is by getting your friends to sign up for the service, if they do, you get an extra gigabyte of space. However, you are only given 15 invites and then they're gone, and in today's world, 16 gigabytes is just not a whole lot of space.
The other way to get more space is to pay for it. I suppose I should qualify that with a big "someday" because currently you can't purchase additional storage. The developers are soliciting feedback on it and it is likely that they will offer some sort of paid service for those that can't get more storage any other way.
All sorts of settings can be tweaked through the options window.
The third way to get more storage is to trade your local storage for it. This works similarly to how bittorrent or Skype work, but instead of just trading and sharing bandwidth, you'll also be trading drive space too. Of course, just because you say you're willing to share, say 10 gigabytes, of storage with other Wuala users doesn't mean that you will automatically get 10 gigabytes of extra storage added to your Wuala account. Extra storage is added to your account based on the amount you're willing to share, the reliability of your connection and the number of hours in a day that your computer is connected to the Internet. By considering all of those factors a percentage of the 10 gigabytes you set aside locally for other Wuala users is also set aside for you among other Wuala users.
You can track how much space you have earned the options window. There is even a handy graph to show you your earned storage over time.
This graph shows earned storage over time.
With your files physically residing on other peoples' computers, security is a big concern. The Wuala developers have tried to address this by encrypting everything and randomizing the distribution of data. There is no way for you to tell what data is being stored on your system, or who it belongs to, and similarly for your data on other Wuala users' systems.
Wuala is not perfect . . . yet. The client is still in its early stages of development, and as such, it is impressive that it works as well as it does. It is also being updated constantly, with several updates to the client while I was working on this article.
The Wuala application will automatically look for and install updates.
I have experienced a few crashes while using the Wuala client. The crashes were annoying, but did not disturb any other applications I had running and once I restarted the client all was fine and my online files were as safe as ever.
I experienced a few crashes while using Wuala.
This is definitely a project to watch, and as the service grows it will only get better. Go request an invite and take a look!