Synchronised computing

For those people who have more copies of Windows than actual windows in their house, keeping the computers running in sync can be a slight chore. Generally, the more geeky Internet based things you use the easier it is. However even in these Web 2.0 days of Google Spreadsheets et al., most people can't get away with not storing anything actually on their own computer.

To solve this dilemma, there is such a thing as remote desktops, where a computer can act as a remote terminal insomuch as when you log in to computer 1, you're actually accessing stuff on computer 2. Guaranteed sync. However, assume you have a laptop and a desktop. You want to have the ability to not only sync the two, but when you leave the house, both computers should have the capability of working independently simultaneously, but any changes made to their files back over each other at some point in the future.

Fortunately you can get some lovely programs to help you do this inside Windows XP for free. First up is Microsoft's powertoy known as SyncToy. Powertoys are basically little windows addons written by Microsoft but only "unofficially" - if they make things go wrong, they won't even help you as much as they normally would. A scary thought. Nonetheless, its free and quite handy.

You set up SyncToy on one computer, and use it to define folders that should remain in sync. These could be 2 folders on a single computer, 2 folders on different computers, or even 2 folders on any other device accessible from Windows, such as digital cameras, MP3 players, USB sticks and so on. You can define various types of sync, including both the standard 1 and 2 way synchronisation. When you're ready to go, select the relevant folders and hit the button. Windows will analyse the contents of the two folders and copy, delete, and add files as needed to ensure they match each other.

Or for even less effort on your part, you could try Foldershare. It's another Microsoft product (or more accurately, MS bought out the company that made it), and it's free. This product only works to sync "real" computers that run Windows or Mac OS. You need to install a small "satellite" program on each computer which constantly runs in the background. You then, in a similar way to SyncToy, configure which folders to synchronise, only this time you do it via the web. When done, just close the web page and watch the magic happen.

As soon as something has changed in one of the relevant folders, Foldershare notices and beams it across to the other computer - or more accurately sets up an encrypted peer-to-peer connection to send it across. Note that unlike some similar services, your personal files are not stored anywhere on the Internet. They remain on your computers, and the sync software works via the Internet to ensure that direct computer-to-computer transfers are made when appropriate. Of course this being the case, it means both computers must be connected to the Internet at the same time to actually synchronise. However if you're unconnected, it will save up the changes to do when the opportunity arises. Nice.

One assumes there is some performance hit for this to happen, but so far it's not been noticeable really here even on less-than-latest technology. As a special bonus, if you happen to have Foldershare turned on, you can access files from any of your computers from any other computer on the Internet if you have the relevant password. You can even make folders to deliberately share with other people. Again, as the files aren't stored on the Internet the computer will need to remain on, server-style, for this to work.

The only downside is it seems hard-coded to refuse to sync the desktop folder, not even the "normal" files stored on it. The Poorhouse is one for unashamedly storing at least 1000 files on the desktop, but these have now been moved to a subfolder which will synchronise without trauma. This would probably be "good workflow practice" anyway the 'house supposes, but it's still a bit annoying for those of us who revel in electronica mess.


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