Saturday, August 8, 2009

Linking Virtual and Physical WinXP Machines with The Tornado

This is a first look at using The Tornado to pass files between Windows XP machines, where one of them is a virtual machine (VM) running in VMware in a WinXP guest on an Ubuntu Linux (9.04) host. (Elsewhere in this blog you'll find quite a few posts on this VMware setup.)

Without The Tornado - favorably reviewed at Amazon, where you can get it for $30, and sometimes even less on sale - I had to use USB drives to transfer data back and forth. For big files, I had to use an external USB hard drive, which had to be turned on, mounted, loaded, dismounted, switched to the other computer, etc.

The Tornado is basically a piece of hardware with two USB cables and a little processor of some sort. You connect the USB cables to the two computers, and then they see each other. You could probably achieve the same thing via an ethernet crossover cable, but that appeared to involve what speakers of my native language would call a "giant hassle." With The Tornado, you just plug it in. It's not nearly as fast as ethernet, but it's easy.

The computers see each other because The Tornado has an auto-run program inside it. So I haven't yet been able to use it to connect a machine running Ubuntu to a machine running Windows. The Windows side sets up OK, but the Ubuntu side can't run the .exe file. Maybe it could be made to work via Wine on the Ubuntu side. Not sure.

After my first stab at using it in Ubuntu, I unmounted it in Ubuntu and took another look at The Tornado from inside a VMware VM running Windows XP. This, of course, was able to run The Tornado's .exe file, and sure enough, the two computers saw each other. The software set up a split screen on each computer. The top half of the split screen (or you can configure it to be left-and-right instead) is labeled "OTHER COMPUTER," and the bottom half is labeled "THIS COMPUTER."

From inside these two panes, on either computer you can cut and paste files from one pane to the other, and then they are moved, just as if you were moving files in Windows Explorer. For some reason, the Cut (as distinct from Copy) operation is available only if you are cutting in the THIS COMPUTER pane and pasting in the OTHER COMPUTER pane; you can't cut from the OTHER COMPUTER to THIS COMPUTER (but you can copy and then delete). At least that's how it seems to work so far. This is not a problem if you have access to both computers; just do the cuts in THIS COMPUTER, on one machine or the other.

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Update, November 27, 2009 and Thereafter

I found that TheTornado was not able to transfer files larger than 4GB, at least not on my setup.  Also, when I started leaving it plugged in as a regular link between two computers, it ceased to function.  It would no longer appear in My Computer or in Windows Explorer.  When I plugged it in, Windows XP gave me "USB Device Not Recognized.  One of the USB devices attached to this computer has malfunctioned, and Windows does not recognize it."

I was pleased to see that The Tornado was still getting lots of positive reviews, and very few negative ones.  The troubleshooting steps suggested by DataDriveThru (duplicative support page here) did not fix the problem.  Their tech support e-mail address was in New Zealand.  Their tech support seemed to be available only by e-mail.  I e-mailed them about the problem on November 27. I immediately received back a message indicating that the e-mail address I was using was dead.  Double-checked it; tried again five days later; same result.  So it is useless for me.