Thursday, December 18, 2008

Multiple Computer Sync - DropBox and alternatives

Life has become mobile. Even office workers have at least two locations - work and home - that they need to keep in sync if they want to be productive and have control over all their electronic appliances. More so if you also have notebook(s), smartphones, summer house computers, media station computers and so on. Each of these often requires access to your personal data like work projects, passwords, texts, keys, setting XMLs, summer pictures and so on. Sometimes you need access to these at the most inappropriate time and place, so web access is a huge plus.

There are many solutions to this common problem, I personally used FolderShare for a couple of years, which allowed me to sync everything between any number of computers running Windows. No Linux/Mac though was a large downside. Another downside was that the service was heavily unreliable, failing often (hey, it's Microsoft after all). Things were getting worse until one day it just died and refused to sync for a month (last I checked, it still crashes at the simplest operation with a cryptic MS error).

So I switched to PowerFolder, an opensource Java attempt to do the same with some openness - working on any OS, what a promising idea! Well, it did not work, since the program is extremely lacking in all areas, usually it just loses connection or crashes, syncs only if you are very lucky. Even worse, some glue-sniffin management of theirs decided they are ready for primetime, removed the free version, and started charging money for this. Here goes another wasted day of setting things up.

Surely, I also tried traditional methods like USB flash, mobile HDD with Allway Sync N Go, etc etc but all of these solutions turned out to be unacceptable - they require you to remember about them, and that quickly turns out to be too intrusive. Not mentioning that the media itself is highly unreliable.

Non-traditional approaches like rsync work, but that's only good for Unix boxes, configuring it on other OSes is a pain and that is a pure peer-to-peer, means you have to enable connectivity between machines - which is not always possible.

Long story short, I have just found a beta of what looks to be the solution to this. Solution that I always thought of doing myself (but the need to develop clients stopped me :) ). Which I also think would be purchased by Google in the very near future (maybe after switching storage backend from Amazon S3 to Google's own cloud), because it does fit in their overall idea for a complete set of SOAS.

So check DropBox out for sure, and have fun in the process!
Very simple to set up and use on any OS (native rich clients developed). 2GB for free, 50GB for 9.99$/month.

Update: DropBox now runs a limited time promotion, too, giving 250 extra MB for every sign-up to both new user & me. So go while it lasts, you'll thank me later :)