How To Back Up Your Data With SpiderOak

SpiderOak is an online backup, syncing and sharing service similar to Dropbox or SugarSync. It is powerful, versatile and free to use for up to two gigabytes of storage.

Today we’ll look at how to setup SpiderOak on your Mac, how to use its main features and how I think it stacks up to some of the other services out there.

Getting Started

After you download and start SpiderOak, you’ll be taken through a brief signup process with the standard username and password steps. Once you’ve got your account information sorted, fire up SipderOak.

This is a menu bar application, so no icon will pop up in your dock. Instead, click on the SpiderOak icon in the menu bar and select “show” to bring up the primary interface.


The Back Up Tab

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. SpiderOak gives you tons of customization options, features, and reports to aid the backup process. The downside is that it can all be a little daunting if you’re just starting out.

The tabbed interface above starts you off under the “Back Up” heading. This is where you decide exactly what on your machine you wish to backup. Unlike Dropbox, which only backs up data stored in your specific Dropbox folder, SpiderOak allows you to select anything on your machine for backup.

Advanced Backup Options

SpiderOak recognizes and color codes six locations for your files: Desktop, Documents, Email, Movies, Music and Pictures. By default, you are given the option to simply backup any of these areas.

However, if you’re like me, you won’t like these broad categories and would rather choose specific files and folders to backup. To accomplish this, click the “Advanced” button.


Advanced Options

After clicking the advanced option, you’re given a complete list of files on your hard drive, external drives and synced machines to choose from. Simply click on a checkbox to add a folder or file to your SpiderOak network. This window also gives you the ability to search files, reveal hidden files and undo any actions.

Finally, down at the bottom you’ll see a bar that shows you how much of your current capacity you are using and gives you the option to buy more space if you get too full.

This bar stays with you all through the interface and is color coded by file type so you can easily see how much space is being take up by your images, movies, etc.

Excluding Files

There are probably going to be certain files that you don’t want SpiderOak to backup, especially if you’re on the free plan and have a few large files that could easily eat up all your space.

To automatically exclude these files from the list, click the preferences button in the top right of the window and navigate to the backup tab.


Excluding Files From Backup

Here you can choose to exclude files that are too large, too old, or contain a specific wildcard such as a file extension.


After you select a few files and folders to backup, head over to the “Status” tab. Here you can see what’s going on with your currently uploading files, whether for backup, syncing or sharing.


The Status Tab

Additional options for viewing the status of your uploads are also contained in this window. Queue shows the files lined up to be uploaded, Actions keeps an eye on any currently active processes in your SpiderOak network, Log keeps a list of all the changes and uploads, and stats will give you specific numbers regarding how many files and folders are uploaded and how much space they are taking up.

Scheduling Backups

Notice that the screenshot above refers to the scheduling for backup, sync and sharing activity. To change the schedule, just hit the “change” button and the following window will pop up.


Scheduling Backups

Here you can completely customize the frequency of all actions by setting up a standard schedule or choosing to rely on automatic actions to be taken by SpiderOak when a file is changed.


The view tab gives you quick and easy access to all of the files on your SpiderOak network across all of your computers (you can install SpiderOak on as many computers as you like).


The View Tab

From this window you have full file management capabilities, including renaming, merging and downloading, for any of the files across your SpiderOak network, whether they’re on your current machine or not.

You also have the ability to remove a file or folder from your SpiderOak network. This does nothing to the original data on your machine, it just eliminates it from the list of files SpiderOak is currently backing up or sharing. This is a quick and easy way to gain back some storage when you approach your max.


In the “Sync” tab, you can choose to sync folders across computers. For instance, say you want to keep an identical “music” folder on your Mac and your PC. Simply create a new sync, name it, and then select the folders you want to match.


The Sync Tab

Now when you change the contents of this folder on any machine, it will update across all the other machines that are currently setup on the sync.


SpiderOak has a unique system that allows you to securely share files with your friends and colleagues. To setup a “ShareRoom,” click on the share tab and hit “new”.


Setting Up ShareRooms

SpiderOak will then have you create a unique ShareID, a name for the new ShareRoom and an RoomKey. Now you can add and remove files to the ShareRoom as you please.

To share these files, simply copy and paste the provided link. Remember that only those individuals with the RoomKey will be able to access the folder on the SpiderOak website.

Additional Info

Here’s a little more information about how to access SpiderOak from anywhere as well as the available pricing options.

Access From Anywhere

In addition to using the SpiderOak Mac application, you can use the web interface and iPhone app to access all the files in your SpiderOak network from wherever you have an Internet connection.


Web & iPhone Interface


There are two basic pricing plans for SpiderOak: the Free Account and the Plus Account. The Free Account gives access to all of the features and is only limited in the capacity or storage you receive, which is up to 2GB. The Plus Account is $10 per month for every 100GB increment. So if you want 300GB of storage, it is $30 per month.


Pricing Plans

Alternatively, if you choose to sign up for a year, you receive a lower rate: $100 per year for every 100GB increment. So if you purchased 300GB on a month to month basis it would cost you $360 per year but if you signed up for a year all at once it would only cost you $300.

My Thoughts on SpiderOak

As a long time Dropbox user, I instantly found SpiderOak to be a little too complex. There just seemed to be a lot to go through to accomplish basically what I get with Dropbox with virtually no setup or complicated interfaces.

Further, the application itself seemed a little quirky. The design seemed very PC and just didn’t have the finesse and visual aesthetic of a good Mac app. Additionally, there were a few little things that made it seem like it wasn’t really built to run on a Mac. For instance, when dragging a typical Mac application window, it will bump into the menu bar at the top of the screen and not allow you to proceed further. SpiderOak however does not do this and instead lets you drag the application up and out of your desktop environment, which can cause interaction problems. Also, though I love menu bar apps, SpiderOak really felt like a full-scale application parading as a menu bar app. It’s quite annoying to have this big window that won’t hide with ⌘h and cannot be navigated to via ⌘tab.

However, interface problems aside, the more I used SpiderOak the more I appreciated its complexity. It’s nice to be able to select any folder on your machine rather than being tethered to a single folder. Other really helpful features include the ability to schedule specific backups, create secure ShareRooms and sync any two folders across multiple machines.

As far as my final thoughts on Dropbox vs. SpiderOak, I would say it depends completely on what you’re looking for. If you want a quick and easy way to backup and share a specific folder of files, Dropbox is still the way to go. The simplicity of Finder integration makes Dropbox feel almost like a native OS X feature rather than a standalone application. However, if you want a powerful application with a strong feature set, lots of customization options, and the ability to backup anything on your hard drive, SpiderOak is the clear winner.


To sum up, SpiderOak is a strong competitor in the arena of apps that backup, share and sync your data across multiple machines. A rich feature set gives you all the power you could want over every process that the app goes through.

The free account gives you two GB of storage to play with, so I definitely recommend that you jump over to the SpiderOak website to download the app and give it a shot.

Use the comments below to let us know what you think of SpiderOak and how it compares to some of the other competitors in this area that you’ve used.


A worthy competitor in the data storage and sharing arena, SpiderOak contains lots of advanced professional features and customization options. It's complexity is both its primary strength and weakness and will therefore be exactly what many users have been searching for and a turnoff to others.