I’m a Mac guy. If you’ve read more than two posts on this site, you know that I’m a tried-and-try Apple fanboy. However, I recently had a need that Apple just couldn’t meet. And guess what? Microsoft was there for me.
Here’s the deal. As a writer, I work with a LOT of document files, and these are spread across three different machines. I have my home iMac with all my freelance work and old research files; my work iMac with all my day-job files; and my PowerBook which is sometimes used for personal freelance and sometimes used for regular work documents. I needed a way to at least access—at best sync—my documents and other miscellaneous files across these three machines. Plus, I needed a way to quickly and easily sync files between any of my three computers and my wife’s laptop without having to use email attachments all the time.
Take 1: MobileMe
My first attempt was Apple’s MobileMe service. With a $100 MobileMe account, I got several online services to play with, including 20gb of online storage through Apple’s iDisk. It mounts to my Macs and PCs and just looks like a normal attached hard drive. However, there’s no way to use MobileMe or iDisk to sync files across multiple machines, and I did not want to keep all my important files in the cloud, to the exclusion of my local boxes. Plus, iDisk uploads are extremely slow—especially the first sync of a large folder with many files. While I enjoy other MobileMe features, this wasn’t the answer for the sync issue.
Take 2: Dropbox
The second attempt was with the spectacular Dropbox service. This was MUCH closer to what I needed. With Dropbox, you set up a new folder (with subfolders) on your local machines. Then, any files you put in your “Dropbox” locally is automatically synced across all your other computers running the Dropbox client. This is awesome. Plus, a copy of all of these files is stored on Dropbox’s online service, so you can access your files online from anywhere through their website. This useful functionality includes a limit, however. A 2gb limit, in fact. Because of the online storage space, you can only have 2gb of files in your Dropbox, unless you want to pay $100 a year for a 50gb account. I had already dropped $100 on MobileMe, so I decided to keep looking.
Take 3: Microsoft Foldershare
Last, I came across Microsoft’s Foldershare service. This is pretty much just like Dropbox, but it does not sync any file to the cloud. Instead, it only syncs peer-to-peer. So, once you set up your shared folders on each of your computers, any file you put in there will automatically be synced to your other boxes. However, with no online storage, there is no limit to the size or amount of files that are synced. Best of all, the rock-solid service is totally free! We have a winner!
So, I’ve now set my entire Documents folder on my home iMac to sync with my PowerBook. That means I can start a freelance article at home on a Saturday morning, save the file as normal, and walk away. Later that afternoon, I can open up my laptop at a Barnes and Noble and pick right up where I left off—with no setup, syncing, emailing, thumb drives, or anything. It’s just there in my laptop’s Documents folder, as though that’s where it was created. Later that night, when I’m back at home and ready to create the invoice and submit the article to my editor, I can sit down at my desk and automatically have everything right there in my desktop’s Documents folder. Once I had everything set up, I didn’t have to think about it at all anymore.
You could do this with any type of file. Some people use it to sync their photos across multiple machines, just like I do with documents. (I would love to do that, but I can’t figure out a way to make it sync the weird iPhoto archive.) Windows columnist Paul Thurrott even uses it to sync his entire music collection (20gb) across all of his machines. Brilliant!
If you’re looking for a great syncing solution for docs, photos, music, and more, you should definitely check out Dropbox and Foldershare. Both are great and have been trouble-free. Foldershare wins for me because it’s totally free and has no file-size limit. If that’s not an issue for you, you really can’t go wrong with either service.