I posted previously about SyncToy, a great tool that I use to keep files up-to-date between my USB flash drive and my laptop computer. A limitation of SyncToy, however, was that it didn’t work too well sharing the same folder with two separate destinations. I tried, for example, to maintain the same files on my laptop computer, USB drive, and desktop computer and SyncToy didn’t handle that very well so I have since gone to using SyncToy only to maintain my files between my laptop and USB drive and I occasionally copy folders from my laptop to my desktop over my home network.
This means that if I want to edit a file on my desktop computer I need to jump through some hoops for several reasons:
The version on the desktop computer is out of date.
If the file is relatively new, I may not have copied it to the desktop yet (since I only copy files from the laptop when it occurs to me to do so).
Once I have created or edited a file on the desktop, I have to remember to manually copy it to my laptop since that is my “primary” storage location, especially if I made changes to an existing file.
Throughout this process, it is very easy to end up with two versions of a file that are different even though they have the same name.
I was at a class last week where the instructor spent a few minutes talking about Microsoft Groove, an application that is part of the Microsoft Office family of products that allows sharing/synching of files between computers and users. This sounded like what I needed, but I balked at spending the $115+ to buy Groove as a stand-alone product. And I really didn’t feel like buying Microsoft Office Ultimate since I already own Microsoft Office Professional Plus and the only things I would gain appear to be Groove and OneNote.
After digging around online for a while for a different solution and nearly biting the bullet and purchasing Groove, I remembered an article I read a few years ago by Walt Mossberg that discussed some tools that could sync files between computers over the internet. I was reminded when I found the article (which also mentions Groove, as it turns out) that I had tried BeInSync at that time and I didn’t have much luck with it so I quickly deleted it. I decided to take a look at Foldershare, the other product Mossberg mentioned in the article and was surprised to wind up at a Microsoft site instead. It turns out that Foldershare has become Windows Live Sync and after using this product for just a few days I can already say that it is the answer to my dreams.
A tiny download is all that is needed for each computer (running Windows or Mac OS X) that you want to sync and most configuration takes place through the Live Sync website. That is where you identify the “source folder” on the first computer and the destination folder on the second (and any subsequent) computers. Once that is done, the computers copy files to each other in a peer-to-peer fashion and any file additions/deletions/edits are automatically mirrored to the other machine(s) through your network or the internet when the machines are online.
If a machine is offline (like if you are traveling with your laptop) any changes you make to files in your shared
folders will be made to the other locations when your computer goes online the next time. Best of all, this activity takes place in the background so you really don’t know that it is happening unless you click on the icon in the status bar of your computer. If you are really curious, you can click on the icon and be taken to any of the shared folders on your PC, the live sync website, or you may view the status of files including those that have recently been changed/shared.
In addition to synchronizing files, a byproduct of using Windows Live Sync is that you now have backups of (likely) your most important and often used files. Once you have the folders up and running on more than one computer, there are copies of all of the files in those folders on each machine so you have effectively backed up your data without even thinking about it.
In short, Windows Live Sync, does exactly what I need it to do without much interaction from me once it was set up (and that was very easy as well). Interestingly, Microsoft offers a similar application called Live Mesh that might be worth a look, but I’m going to hold off investigating that for now since Live Sync is 100% aligned with my needs and Live Mesh is currently in Beta so it could be buggy.