Syncing Software

File Syncing tile

File Syncing tileI’ve been a fan and longtime user of Dropbox. I even paid the the 50GB plan. That subscription coincided with my increased iPad usage and Dropbox was a great way to get files to it. That subscription is going to expire in May and I’d rather not renew it and save the money. So it was time to see if I really needed the 50GB and if there were alternatives. I’m not tied to a single solution and it’s a good time to see what my options are.

My Sync Requirements:

  • There needs to be some sort of cloud sync so that I’m not always required to have to have my devices running at the same time.
  • There needs to be computer-to-computer direct sync so I don’t ding my ISP usage cap for files that don’t need to leave the house. Plus, computer to computer will be faster than up to the cloud and back down again.
  • Mac & PC
  • OS X’s file bundles (for example, my Bento database is a file bundle) could be especially troublesome. The syncing software needs to maintain the attributes OS X needs.
  • iPhone/iPad & web access to the files, at least the ones stored in the cloud.

What’s not a requirement:

  • Backup – when I got the 50 GB plan I figured it would be a good place to stash files. It’s not that it’s a bad backup solution, but syncing clashes with the simplicity and reliability I want in my backups. Dropbox ended up being a dumping ground for stuff “I might want someday” and was out of control. Not really Dropbox’s fault but I won’t be changing my natural tendency towards being a pack rat.

How Much Space?

The first thing I did is go through the Dropbox folder and delete everything that didn’t need to be synced. My Windows Home Server provides a nice central repository so all I really needed was files I’d need on my iDevice or on my MacBook Air when I’m out.

So after the cleanup I was down to 600 MB, well under 2 GB. And even some of that can go once I get a chance to review it.

But Dropbox couldn’t meet all my needs, such as computer to computer sync, so this is what I’ve ended up with…

How & What I Sync

I started with the two pieces of software I was already using a familiar with – Dropbox and Windows Live Mesh (formerly various other names) as I figured between the two of them I’d be covered.

There are two main differences between the two. The first is that Windows Live Mesh (WLM) is designed for disparate folder locations while Dropbox uses it’s own folder structure. A second difference is WLM can ignore the internet completely and just do LAN syncing. Dropbox does do LAN syncing for it’s speed benefit, but files still go to the internet.

I use WLM to sync directories that can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be moved from their location, such as the draft directory for Windows Live Writer. I can (and did) stop writing this article on my desktop and moved to the couch with my laptop and picked right up again.  I also use it for moving my large Video files around which would cause all sorts of problems going to the internet as the gigabytes of video added up.

I have had problems with WLM on my Macs. I had to re-install it on two Macs as it began to crash on startup. If also has a habit of shutting down and requiring that I start WLM again. So for most of my data file syncing I’ll use Dropbox, with WLM handling the computer-to-computer stuff. Most of my data is on the server so this is mainly for stuff I want on my iDevice.

Alternatives?

I looked at SugarSync which gets generally good reviews. I liked it and their 5 GB free was more generous than DropBox. But I’ve had problems with it on my Macs. It’s had to be re-installed on each Mac at least once and it still fails to run on my MacBook Air. And it’s more than just a re-install, it’s an uninstall and then make sure all traces are gone before the re-install. But not being able to run on my Air is a show stopper. It may be something unique to my Macs, but it’s already turned me off to using it since I can’t count on it.

I’m pretty happy with the way the Windows Live Mesh and Dropbox combo are working, but is there anything else I should be looking at?

Windows Live Essentials 2011 Released

Windows Live Essentials 2011 LogoWindows Live Essentials 2011 snuck out of beta and was released to a complete lack of fanfare. I finally got around to installing it on both my main Windows PC and my new Dell laptop. I’ve been running the beta on both of them and haven’t noticed too many changes over the beta.

Sync has now been renamed to Mesh, or rather “Live Mesh”. I’m glad they changed the name from sync since it avoids confusion with their other sync product (or is there more than one?). Mesh includes the ability to remote control PCs within the same Mesh network, although I don’t enable this feature.

SkyDrive has also been increased to 5GB (from the beta’s 2GB) although if I remember right it was 25GB some time in the past. Microsoft has always made it difficult to add files to SkyDrive (although there have been third party solutions). I’ve always figured they wanted it to be used by their apps, rather than a pure file storage solution. In any event, I’ve never been drawn to using SkyDrive.

Windows Live Photo Gallery 2011 has been a regular app for me. They’ve switched to using the ribbon bar, which is a turn off for me but I’ve been getting used to it in the beta. Like the rest of the ribbon interface enabled apps I get annoyed having to figure out which tab the item I want is on. I’ve begun to make better use of the Quick Access Toolbar for the common selections.

Windows Live Writer 2011 is my favorite app of the bunch and it’s what I regularly use to write my blog posts. Again, they added the ribbon bar but in this case almost everything I need is on one tab and for the rest I added them to the Quick Access Toolbar.

Installation

I use Mesh (formerly Live Sync) to keep my Live Writer drafts and articles in sync across my PCs and the installation upgraded the configuration without a problem. I didn’t have to uninstall any of the beta software and the upgrade went smoothly.

I also only install 4 of the available applications, adding Mail to the 3 I’ve already mentioned, although I’ve yet to use Mail.

I was prompted whether or not I wanted to do a complete install, which I did not so I was prompted with the available options:

Installation screen 1 install2

I made the selections to just install what was already there and then the installation proceeded. A reboot was needed.

Installation screen 3 Installation screen 4 Final installation screen

Sync has been working fine since the installation and if your seeing this post when Live Write is working fine.