We show you how you can automatically sync fles and folders between two or more PCs using simple applications. We include a low-down on what each of these services has to offer, and which one is best suited to your needs
Most of us find ourselves working on at least two PCs in the course of our personal or professional lives; be it a combination of notebook and office desktop, or the good old home PC and the notebook which you take to work. Let’s face it — parts of your digital world are scattered all over the place and there ought to be a way to get it all together. Nothing can be worse than showing up at the office and realizing that you left the most recent copy of that important presentation at home. Working on different machines brings with it the headache of keeping track of versions and having the latest files updated on all PCs, at all times. Sure, you have the option of carrying files on a USB drive and manually updating tons of data. But that’s cumbersome. What you need is a way to automatically sync files between PCs. Several web-based services allow you to do just that. All you need is an internet connection and you will soon find yourself exhausting lesser brain cells figuring out which PC has the latest version of which file. Here, we show you which are the best options available out there and how to use them. You can then choose a solution to fit your needs.
Windows Live Sync [sync.live.com]
Simplicity for the novice user
This is a simple service to use and thankfully you don’t need to create yet another email ID with Hotmail or MSN in order to use it. You can use your existing e-mail to register with the service or use your MSN/Hotmail Live ID if you already have one. Once you complete registration, you will be directed to a download page. Once you download and run the small client you can specify which folders to sync via a web interface. Install the application on any other computer with which you wish to sync files and point the application to the corresponding folder. The web interface is easy to use but of course simplicity has its limitations. Live Sync works only with Mac and Windows, so Linux users will have to look at other alternatives. Other than that, both the syncing computers have to be turned on for a sync to take place. Unlike some other services in this realm, Live Sync doesn’t keep a copy of your files in the cloud, which you can then access without the client. This however has an upside — no data limits. So go ahead and sync away to your heart’s content. You can even enable remote access through Live Sync. Remote access allows you to browse through the computer’s hard disk remotely. But since this is essentially a P2P application which sends information via the internet, enabling this is not recommended. By default, remote access is disabled.
Live Mesh [mesh.com]
Not meshy at all
Another Microsoft web offering; this one however is quite promising. Apart from syncing files and folders it also merges them with the cloud. So, instead of synchronizing files between PCs directly, you create folders in the “Mesh”, and then have your PCs connect to those folders to execute a sync. Although you need to download the application, the interface is mostly web-based and you can connect to your Live Desktop through your browser when you need to access your mesh from the web. Your mesh includes any devices that you add, and the folders you choose to sync and share. Using this service is a little complicated, but it is powerful. It will integrate into your Windows Explorer and give you a new option in the right-click menu to add any file or folder to the mesh.
Once folders and files have been added to the mesh, they sync automatically. If you want to view your files online without downloading the client, head over to the Live Desktop. Files renamed, edited or deleted in the mesh will automatically be reflected in all devices connected to the mesh. To alter the synchronization settings of any folder simply right-click on it through the web interface and go to Settings. You can specify settings for the relevant devices that you will synchronies, and when to sync; for example, “sync only those files modified in the last 30 days.” Connecting to a PC remotely, however, requires ActiveX controls. As far as limitations go — this software is available for Mac and Windows only; it also has a data cap of 5GB which should be sufficient for most users looking to sync important documents.
For the power user
Once you register and install this powerful tool, your SugarSync account will be created and your computer added to it. After this it will ask you to specify the folders that you want to sync. SugarSync is configured to display the status of files and folders directly in Windows Explorer via an icon overlay. The folders you select will be backed up to the SugarSync server from where they will be available for remote access through any browser, on any computer. Install the client on multiple computers to automatically sync files between them. The trial version of this software comes with a 10 GB limit and expires after 45 days. A feature very unique to SugarSync is its ability to sync with mobile devices. It has applications for the iPhone, Blackberry and Windows Mobile platforms. Besides, you can always visit m.sugarsync.com from any WAP-enabled phone. Even through WAP, this application retains most of its functionality. Using the online interface, you can click on any file to access options for available actions. These include the ability to edit text files with WebSync, which opens a Java-based auto-updater to update changes on the fly. You can even directly email files as attachments or check out version history. All-in-all, a robust solution for the power user. It will set you back by $50 a year for a 30 GB package.
Best of both worlds
Dropbox lets you sync files online as well as across computers and like some of the other solutions, it even has a web interface. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that it also has support for the Linux world! The service lets you sync seamlessly between Mac, Windows and Linux; none of the other featured services offer this. Dropbox maintains a good balance between ease of use and availability of advanced features.
It makes use of an incremental sync process which means that only those parts of a file that have changed are uploaded each time. So you save on both transfers and time. However, Dropbox is slightly restrictive because it allows syncing only through the “Dropbox Folder”. This is quite like SugarSync’s Magic Briefcase, but its use in SugarSync is optional. But syncing through one folder might well be convenient for some users. Surprisingly, Dropbox uses almost no interface and yet it is easy to use. Clicking on the system tray icon opens the Dropbox Folder. Right clicking on the files and folders brings up individual manipulation options. In the Preferences you can specify how much bandwidth you want to allocate to Dropbox, and specify connectivity options. The free version lets you sync up to 2 GB of data. Upgrading to a pro account with 50 GB of space will set you back by $99 a year.
For the cloud player
Syncplicity is very similar to Dropbox but has a few cloud-interfacing features in addition to the standard synchronization. It has the added functionality of being able to integrate with Google Docs, Zoho online Word Processor, and Scribd online document viewer. Besides these, it can also sync photos from your native folders into Facebook albums. Hence, this is ideally suited to those who depend heavily on cloud-based services such as Google Docs. Changes to online documents will automatically be reflected in off-line copies across all your computers.
Once you install the small application and the Syncplicity wizard appears, enter your email address, password, and a name for your computer. Syncplicity will then link your computer to your Syncplicity account. Next, tell Syncplicity what you’d like to synchronies and backup on that computer. Syncplicity will let you pick your folders as the wizard completes. It will do the initial backup in the background, automatically. You can click the tray icon at anytime to find out the status of the backup. Like others, this application also integrates into Windows Explorer and gives you various right-click options and icon overlays. Head over to the Syncplicity website to view your files and folders through the web interface from any computer. To sync with another computer simply download the client on another PC and link it to your account. It’s syncple!
Through the web interface you can click on the menu icon to view revision history for a particular file. Click on the Applications tab to associate Syncplicity with your Google Docs and Facebook account. It must be emphasized here that the Google Docs sync with the service is pretty erratic and may not work at all. But once a link with your Google Docs account is established you should get a copy of all the docs in the cloud on your local drive. The two will always be kept in sync — any document you create or change in Google Docs should immediately appear on your computers and vice-versa. The service boasts of a number of safety measures incorporated into this sync process. For instance, when there is a conflict between versions, it will save both copies side-by-side and have you decide which one you want. If you delete a file in either location, the delete will reflect in all the synchronized places; but a copy will always be maintained in the online recycle bin with Syncplicity. In case of rich documents with features such as comments and track changes, which are not supported by Google Docs, Syncplicity will maintain the rich copy on your hard drive while removing those features from the online version.
So in conclusion you now have several options; each of them provide you with a few unique features to cover your file synchronization needs. Some services provide simplicity while others provide cross platform support or cloud integration. Power users can opt for one of the paid services or upgrade a free service they like to a premium version. However, in our opinion Dropbox seems to be the most well rounded of the lot. Whatever service you eventually settle on, one thing is for sure - the days of leaving files behind and over dependence on USB drives are over.