Access your media files anywhere with Libox

Libox is an innovative software solution that lets you access all of your music, photos, and videos from anywhere without having to store the files in the cloud--or charging you a cent.

Libox main library (Credit: Screenshot by Jasmine France)

As evidenced by the introduction of Unifi at CES 2011, there's a move to provide cloud storage services that focus specifically on media files. Of course, the problem one runs into with these types of files is that they tend to be a lot larger than things like documents, spreadsheets, and presentations--downright huge, in the case of video. A new software and service called Libox is aiming to tackle that problem.

Like Unifi, Libox serves to aggregate your media files from various drives and devices (though at this time, it doesn't bring in content you may have stored with other services, such as Facebook). The difference with Libox is that it doesn't actually upload your media files to the cloud. Instead, the service sniffs out the content stored on your computer, designated networked drives, and connected devices and creates a marker to their location. So it doesn't actually move or copy any files; rather, it offers a path through which you can access media. There are three ways to do this: via the desktop software, by logging on to the Web portal, or by using the corresponding mobile app (currently available for iOS only, but coming to Android in the near future).

There are a few benefits to this method of media aggregation. For one, you don't have to wait through a lengthy uploading process. Although the initial scan will take some time--quite a bit if you have a ton of content--it's generally much quicker than uploading. Also, you don't have to select files for uploading because anything added to your computer or devices automatically shows up within the Libox interface. Finally, Libox is able to offer the service entirely for free, since there's no costly storage overhead on its end. And there are no ads for the user either (the company will generate revenue from partnerships rather than advertising).

Libox music (Credit: Screenshot by Jasmine France)

So far, it's looking like Libox is doing a pretty good job delivering on its promise of media accessed anywhere easily and for free. I gave all three methods a spin, starting with the desktop software. Indeed, you will be required to download the program in order to scan--and then keep an eye on--the media on your drives. However, the mobile app isn't a necessity in order for your media to be added to the overall container; you simply must connect the device once. Also, you can access Libox through the Web portal on non-iOS phones (that is, those that don't have their own apps yet).

One thing I liked off the bat is the fact that the Widows software and the Web portal offer the same visually appealing interface. Library navigation options are laid out clearly on the left, while large thumbnails dominate the main window. A nice touch with music is that Libox fills in some funky imagery for albums without cover art, so the whole space is a colorful mosaic. However, as much as the navigation looks good, it would be nice to have a way to browse content by a detailed list. Photos and music may be easy to navigate by thumbnail alone, but it's not ideal for video--as it stands, it's difficult to find the exact video you want to watch (although the search bar helps).

Unsurprisingly, Libox also offers a social element. Although your aggregated library is only accessible by you, you can select individual files or even folders and albums to share. For now, the social aspect is limited to other Libox users, so you'll have to convince your friends to sign up, too. However, it wouldn't surprise me if the software offered some Facebook or Twitter integration in the future.

As for the performance, there are some hiccups in certain cases. For one, Libox does not appear to recognize certain video types, particularly those with the AVI container. That said, this is a forgivable issue given the fact that Libox is doing extensive behind-the-scenes transcoding to get files to playback on all types of devices. Video formatting is particularly problematic, so the service gets some slack for now. Hopefully, this will be remedied in the near future.

Another issue I ran into was with the iPhone app, which seems to be more of a beta than the other two portals. I manually selected some photos to be uploaded, since the process did not happen automatically, and the action continually caused to app to crash. Also, it takes forever for a video to load for playback on the device. Again, these are issues that I expect will be addressed going forward.

Libox still has a few kinks to iron out before it hits a home run, but the service has the right idea. Obviously, if you're looking for something that actually backs up all of your media, Libox is not the answer. However, if the goal is to quickly and easily access and share your media from anywhere, it's worth giving this service a spin.

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