Sidekick Users See Their Data Vanish Into a Cloud
A server meltdown over the weekend wiped out the master copies of personal data -- including address books, calendars, to-do lists and photos -- accumulated by users of T-Mobile's formerly popular Sidekick smartphone.
This computing calamity allows Sidekick owners only a faint hope of backing up the information currently on their devices, and none of recovering anything they'd trusted to online storage. And it leaves T-Mobile and the operator of the Sidekick's data service, a Microsoft subsidiary formerly known as Danger, Inc. -- oh, the irony! -- with some serious explaining to do.
A statement on T-Mobile's site phrases things a little more bluntly than the average exercise in corporate groveling:
Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device -- such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos -- that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.
The statement goes on to instruct Sidekick users that they should "NOT reset their device by removing the battery or letting their battery drain completely, as any personal content that currently resides on your device will be lost." A frequently-asked-questions file contains a handful of suggestions, such as copying a Sidekick's contacts list to its SIM card, while a third-party site outlines a laborious process by which you can e-mail your contacts list and notes to your computer, one person and one file at a time.
This isn't the first time a Web service has crashed and left its users without access to data stored "in the cloud," as Web-services evangelists like to describe their approach. Earlier this summer, users of Google's Web-hosted e-mail, calendar and documents applications were shut out of their data for part of a day.
But it is one of the few times a cloud-computing vendor didn't have any backups -- even though the Sidekick's design leaves users without any easy way to copy their data to their own computers, and even though Microsoft and Danger should have known to run a new backup cycle when a bout of service glitches set in the week before Sidekick users' data vanished down the bit bucket. It's one thing for a distracted, inexperienced person at home to forget to back up data until it's too late; it's another for a company with the resources of Microsoft to make the same mistake.
Cloud computing ought to survive this disaster -- especially among vendors smart enough to document how their users can take their data with them, as Google has begun to do.
But Microsoft must be regretting the $500 million or so outside sources estimate it spent buying Danger in 2008. Not only has that acquisition failed to yield a Microsoft-optimized Sidekick successor (even as Danger alumni have gone on to do good things with Google's Android and Palm's web OS mobile-phone software); now this fiasco, combined with its woeful Windows Mobile 6.5 software, will, at the very least, make for some awkward conversations the next time Microsoft tries to persuade a wireless carrier to invest in a new smartphone platform.
T-Mobile, in turn, can only wind up getting kicked in the teeth by this epic failure. Its "Stick Together" motto now reads more as a futile plea to Sidekick users who are understandably running to the exits, and for whom it will have little choice but to waive any early-termination fees.
As for Danger and the Sidekick itself, I have only one word: goodbye. The Sidekick had already seen its prospects dim, as its once-impressive software stagnated over the past couple of years, but this offense should terminate its viability in the market. Most likely, the only further contribution the Sidekick can make is to serve as a warning to others.
Sidekick users, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. So should the rest of you who rely on one Web service or another -- have you evaluated a site's options to download your data anytime lately? When's the last time you did that yourself?
October 12, 2009; 11:17 AM ET
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