July 11, 2006

Laptop Sync Solution

Filed under: Software Blog — marcstober @ 5:27 am

For the past year or so I’ve been looking for a way to keep files on the family desktop in sync with the family laptop. (Have you ever noticed that everyone says “laptop,” but the manufacturers insist on calling them “notebooks”? But I digress…) I’ve tried a few solutions and I think the winner is SyncBackSE which I just downloaded tonight.

So far I’ve managed to sync all of our pictures…megabytes and megabytes of them, in a few minutes. (Fast enough that I didn’t get frustrated waiting, more significantly.) Syncing other documents and settings is next. But first, the reviews of the runners-up:

  • SyncToy: This was a free download from Microsoft. It was slow, and I’m not convinced it was perfectly reliable.
  • FolderShare: Seems to be quite popular, but it didn’t make sense for me. Why do I need to connect to the Internet to sync two computers in my house? The Web sharing feature might have some applications, but it’s a read-only, un-encrypted web access system so not really useful. (I’m still looking for a secure way to access my home computer files from work.)
  • SmartSync: Read about this in an article by Walter Mossberg. Similar to SyncBack, but more confusing and locked up the computer for hours until I had to kill it. (To be fair, it may have been doing some detailed comparison over the network that I asked for, but not very user friendly.)

So, what do I like better about SyncBack?

  • The “simulated” feature so that paranoid me can see exactly which files will change.
  • FTP features – haven’t tried but might be useful for backing up my website, etc.
  • Great help files and clear labels of things on screen (e.g., that hashing is a more accurate but slower comparison method).
  • Pre-programmed to ignore a lot of typical temporary files, including the thumbs.db files that Windows peppers throughout folders of pictures.

As to theory, I notice all these programs except FolderShare – basically run on one computer and sync to a network share. Ideally a true peer-to-peer program could perform better; for example, by doing compression or hashing on each end. I suppose one way to approach this would be to keep everything in Subversion, but that’s a lot more overhead, and as long as I can sync fast enough, I’m content.