That syncing feeling


30 September 2010


Like many people, I use more than one computer and I like to have all my files, bookmarks and other settings synchronized across my computers. Fortunately, that is getting easier as more tools are made available for keeping computers synchronized. So I thought it might be timely to review how to keep computers “synced”.

By far the best service is Dropbox. All files within the “My Dropbox” directory are backed up online and synchronized with any other computer associated with your account. It is free if you use less than 2Gb of storage, and $99 per year for up to 50Gb of storage. It is amazingly fast and just works in the background without you having to do anything. I have used two other competitor services that had received quite good reviews online (Syncplicity and SugarSync) but both were MUCH slower than Dropbox and did not always update my files properly. Dropbox works on Windows, Mac and Linux. You can also share some files/directories with other users. Apart from syncing, you also have a full online backup if anything goes wrong with your computers. Finally, you can access your files from other computers (or on your phone) by logging in to the dropbox website. (There is a nice iPhone app which makes it easy to access your files while travelling.)
Browser settings:
Google Chrome synchronizes all settings, extensions, themes, passwords, bookmarks, etc. via your Google account. If I install an extension at work, it will be on my home computer next time I use the browser. This saves my loads of time. I believe Firefox 4.0 will have some/all of these features as well.
I don’t like having all my bookmarks stored in the browser as I have hundreds and they are hard to manage via the browser’s bookmarks bar. Fortunately there are several good online (and social) bookmarking services that can be used instead. Some of the most popular are Google bookmarks and Diigo. I’ve experimented with both and have chosen Diigo as the neatest and easiest to use. There are plugins/extensions for the main browsers, plus phone apps so you can access your bookmarks wherever you are. Diigo bookmarks can be tagged, searched and shared (although you can turn sharing off if you want some privacy!). For those interested, you can view all my bookmarks (actually just those that I have not restricted to private). You can also “follow” people with similar interests and discover bookmarks that way.
I prefer another level of security than is possible using only the browser to save and sync all bookmarks. Again, there are a few available services. I use LastPass which keeps all my passwords and other information secure. There are browser extensions available to make it easy. A nice feature is that you can have a separate and secure password (randomly generated) for every site, but you only have to remember the one password to enable LastPass in your browser.