sync

The Great Sync Gold Rush

There is a new battlefield in the often maligned rush to cloud computing called sync services. Most Apple users are aware of MobileMe and some of the really techy ones know about Dropbox but sit back kids because that is just the beginning.


In the last month, numerous rumors have surfaced about the fabled Google cloud drive giving you virtual cloud storage space. Google also released their own phone syncing service aiming at seemlessly tying the Google apps and their data to any phone. If that isn't enough, Microsoft has also started looking up into the clouds with their own PC and Mac friendly syncing services.

These are the wild days for sync services. There is no "go to" service (yet) and every developer with an extra server and a bottle of Web 2.0 sauce wants to join the party. As for me, I am sold with MobileMe for most of my syncing and a Dropbox account for the big stuff. I am excited about all this competition however because I believe synced data is going to be the future and we are just at the beginning.


Going Deeper with SugarSync

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So as the readers know, I've been obsessing over synchronizing files lately. I had a pretty good solution figured out using my .Mac iDisk and even made a nifty little Applescript to deal with that pesky Bento.

For the last week however, I've been trying a new online synching service called SugarSync. I've even been talking about it on some of the various podcasts. SugarSync gives you a local client (either PC or Mac) in which you plug in your account information and tell it what data gets Synched. I've got big chunks of my Documents folder going up along with my OmniFocus datafile, Bento database, and several other items I want to have everywhere. I then log in on the other computers and tell them what parts I want synched locally (you can also leave them in the cloud). Once that is done, you are good to go. If I make a change to that little text file that keeps my grocery list, it goes up to SugarSync and then back down to my other Synched computers lickity split. I even have the PC version loaded at work and keep some of my forms synched. I haven't got to the point where I feel comfortable sending client files up into the interweb.

In summary SugarSync does a few things the iDisk solution doesn't:

1. It is faster, much faster.



My iDisk solution involved a second step that included a Chronosync pass. Put simply I was afraid that if the iDisk went nuclear, so would my data. With SugarSync it is not necessary to add that extra step but even if I skipped that and just used the iDisk solution, it still can't keep up with SugarSync. I can close out OmniFocus and then walk ten feet to the other computer and open OmniFocus. By that time it will have already grabbed the database file from SugarSync.

2. It is Multiplatform.



The PC Sync works. This makes it really easy for keeping things working between the Mac and PC. My PC sync is very limited but it works just fine.

3. It works on your Phone.



They have Windows mobile and Blackberry software. They also have an iPhone friendly site that allows you to see all of your files. You can access some of the files directly and email just about all of them from your iPhone.

My Concerns



SugarSync has some nice benefits but comes at a price. The revised pricing plan is 30 gigs for $5 a month. The price just doesn't come from your wallet. It also costs a few clock cycles. As I sit here working on my MacBook Air with 7 applications open, SugarSync is using .1%. I've seen it higher though. Earlier it was at 7% and when it is actually syncing it ramps up higher.

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My other two big concerns are security and reliability. The developer explains that the transmissions are all done on a secure connection and the data is also kept secure on the SugarSync servers. I need to investigate further to see exactly what that means. I frankly don't care if someone figures out how to access my grocery list or MacSparky ramblings. Client documents are, obviously, a different question.

Likewise stability is critical. Last week David Pogue and Walt Mossberg gave SugarSync positive reviews and their servers were understandably slammed. Regardless the system was down so it was pretty much useless for a day. If that trend were to continue, I'd lose interest pretty quickly. They have a free 45 trial so if you are interested, head over and try for yourself.

SugarSync Initial Impressions

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So this morning I got a real simple email from reader Seth which basically said, "Check out SugarSync". This is really an interesting service. At first glance it looks like another offsite backup plan but it really isn't. It is much more aimed at syncing files between computers. Any types of computers: Macs, windows, iPhones, and Blackberries. SugarSync doesn't care. I played with it for about an hour today and installed it on the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The cross platform sync is faster that doing it through iDisk for certain. I can access my documents from either computer, my iPhone and presumably my office PC. I haven't used it enough yet to figure out where the kinks are (one is definitely security) and I'm not sure I want to pay another monthly fee but this is interesting.

Take a look and let me know your thoughts.

Bento Syncing with Applescript

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As I continue my attempts to synchronize using two Macs I have run into a wrinkle. My database application, Bento, does not sync. Since I'm only using one machine at a time, and the address and iCal data is already synced, it works fine if I just copy the database file between computers when switching. The trouble is that Bento insists the database be located in my Application Preferences/Bento folder so it is a pain to drill to it and copy it over to my iDisk. This seemed the perfect excuse to try my Applescript chops. So here is the script:

set SendOrReceive to button returned of (display dialog "Hey Sparky, Sending or Receiving?" buttons {"Sending", "Recieving"} default button 2 with icon caution)

set LocalBentoFile to POSIX file "Users/david/Library/Application Support/Bento/bento.bentodb"

set iDiskBentoFile to POSIX file "/Volumes/iDisk/Documents/Bento Data/bento.bentodb"

set LocalBentoFolder to POSIX file "Users/david/Library/Application Support/Bento/"

set iDiskBentoFolder to POSIX file "/Volumes/iDisk/Documents/Bento Data/"

tell application "Finder"
if SendOrReceive = "Sending" then
duplicate LocalBentoFile to the folder iDiskBentoFolder with replacing
else
duplicate iDiskBentoFile to the folder LocalBentoFolder with replacing
end if
end tell


This script asks if I'm sending (to iDisk) or receiving (from iDisk) and then copies the file in the right direction. I thought about making it more automatic by comparing dates and duplicating the newest version in both places, but decided I want to have control over what direction the sync is going.

If anyone out there has any ideas for improving it, let me know or leave a comment.

Syncing Data on Multiple Macs

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So I suddenly find myself using two different Macs. I've worked on different computers before but never had two as primarily my workstations. As a result, I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep my data all synced up. This problem is made a bit easier by the fact that the MacBook Air gets used almost exclusively for writing, email, and a few other applications I use for work. As such, I don't need to sync iTunes data, movie files, and other things that eat bandwidth like candy. The system does, however require that it be reliable, easy, and not ever lose anything. One Scrivener file could have several days worth of work in it. I can not "accidently" sync it out of existence. So as I research this issue I see three viable alternatives:

iDisk



This was actually recommended to me by a friend. I already keep a local copy of my iDisk. This really should be enough. It is always syncing to the .Mac server and when I move from one machine to the other, everything should be there. An advantage of this system is its ease. There are no extra steps required. It is seamless. My concern with this approach is the possibility of something funny at .Mac "syncing" the local copy to zero or (even more likely) a prior version of a file from the other machine. Now I know this is not supposed to happen. However that is not good enough. I can't have it happen ever. Another concern with this approach is TimeMachine. I know TimeMachine does make a copy of the local iDisk but it is a sparse image and digging an old file out of it is not exactly the simple process I currently enjoy with TimeMachine.

Flash Drive



I have a flash drive on my keychain. I was advised by one Apple Genius friend how he much prefers keeping files between two Macs on a thumb drive instead of iDisk because he doesn't like the performance hit. I don't find the performance problem with iDisk to be much of an issue. I also worry again about security. It would be so easy to lose a thumb drive. Granted there would be a local copy on the last machine the file got used on but it still seems a bit klugey. You have to think about what files to copy over every time you sync and I will inevitably forget one or two (or five or six).

Local + iDisk



As a compromise, my current process is to keep documents in the documents folder like I always did. I add a few steps however. I run Chronosync whenever I'm leaving or starting a machine. The Chronosync file is called "iDisk" and compares the current iDisk image with select folders in my Documents folder. It then updates the iDisk with those files. In addition to word processing files, it also syncs over to the iDisk a copy of my OmniFocus database. I then move to the other machine and let iDisk pull down the new files, run ChronoSync again and I'm good to go. This system involves a few more steps but seems more secure (so long as Chronosync doesn't torch me) and gives me actual TimeMachine backups for the data.

I'm new to all of this "two Macs" business and would love to hear how other people are doing it. Leave a comment or drop me an email.