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12 Tools to keep your files in sync

If you work on more than one computer, such as one at work and one at home, a desktop and a laptop, or even a PC running Windows and a Mac running OS X, you will soon run into the problem of keeping files in sync. Files that you are working on need to be available no matter which computer you are using and what's more, they need to be up to date. It's no use having a file on your work computer when you are at home or vice versa. And if you made changes on one computer it's difficult or impossible to continue with a job if you are on the other computer and it has an old version of the file. All the computers you use need to have the latest versions of the files you are working on at all times.

The solution to the problem is to use sync software that uses the internet to keep the files on all your computers up to date. If you change a file on one computer then all the others you use are updated automatically by the sync software - provided you are connected to the internet - and when you switch them on the latest version of the file is right there ready to use.

sync1 (2K)Dropbox is a typical program of this type and it works on PCs running Windows, Macs running OS X, and Linux. You just install the software and it creates a special folder. The desktop is often a useful place to create it, although it can be anywhere. Any files or folders that you add to the Dropbox folder on one computer are automatically copied to all the other computers you use with Dropbox installed. Some sync utilities create subfolders and Dropbox has Photos and Public folders, but with all of them you can manually create your own in the usua way.

Dropbox's Public folder is for sharing files and you can get web links to files in it that you can insert in an email and send to people. They can then either access the file in a web browser or download it to their computer. Many sync utilities provide some means of sharing files or folders betwen friends, family or co-workers. Sometimes you need to be a member of the service, but sometimes anyone can access a file.

sync2s (32K)Another useful feature that many sync tools provide is web access. You might occassionally find yourself on a computer that doesn't have the sync software installed, but you need to access your files. Providing you have an internet connection you can use a web browser to log on to the service and access your files, upload them, download them, and delete them.

Live Mesh, shown here, has a particularly nice online desktop that provides access to the folders and files that you are syncing. The graphical design is obviously modelled on Windows Vista.

Notice the log on the right that shows which files were recently changed and who changed them. This is useful if several people have access to a shared and synced folder - many of these sync utilities are good for team projects.

Sometimes a sync service will keep deleted files in a Recycle Bin/Trash and this gives you the opportunity to recover them if you delete them accidentally. All sync software supports Windows, but they don't always support the Mac, so if you need cross platform compatibility then you should check the specifications carefully. Some currently Windows-only services have promised Mac OS X support soon.

Cost is an issue that you need to consider too. Many sync services provide a free account with limited online storage space, and provide more space for those that are willing to pay for it. You need lots of space if you want to use the service as a type of online backup, but you really only need to keep files you are working on in the synced folder and a 2Gb free account may be all that you need.

Dropbox Runs on Windows, OS X and Linux. Files in the specified folder are automatically synced. Can be accessed using a web browser. Public folder enables you to send links and share files with non-members. 2Gb disk space for free, more available for a fee.
Windows Live Sync Runs on Windows and OS X, sign in with your Hotmail email account and password. It's a private peer-to-peer file sharing network, so two computers must be online to sync them. It can sync 20 folders with 20,000 files each and files can be up to 4Gb. Free.
Live Mesh Runs on Windows and OS X, sign in with your Hotmail email account and password. 5Gb for free. Provides web access to an online desktop, but only with Internet Explorer. You can invite family and friends to sign in and access your Live Mesh desktop. Users can have different permissions.
BeInSync Windows only software. Any size files can be synced and a folder can be shared with non-members. Backup facilities are provided. Costs $59.95 for a single user and 5Gb disk space.
DocuSync Runs on Windows. Provides backup facilities as well as syncing. Share files and folders, and specify permissions for users. Click to sync rather than automatic syncing. Online files look like a hard disk drive to Windows. Prices range from $5.99/month for 0.5Gb to $9.99/month for 5Gb.
File Sync Service Runs on Windows. A free account is just 50Mb and 5Gb is a whopping $44.95 a month. Gives you a drive letter for accessing online files and a conflict bin if two people update the same file.
SugarSync Runs on Windows, OS X, Windows Mobile and iPhone. In addition to syncing computers, it includes online backup, the previous five versions of files stored, a website, mobile website, shared folders and files, and links to files. 10Gb is $2.49 a month.
NomaDesk Runs on Windows and OS X. Free for now, but will start charging eventually. Offers three types of 'Fileserver' depending on whether you want private sync and backup, public access to your files, or full control over who can do what.
Spideroak Runs on Windows, OS X, Linux. This is an online backup service, but file syncing will also be available soon, so keep an eye on it. 2Gb of disk space is free, 100Gb is $10/month.
Syncplicity Runs on Windows with OS X promised soon. Get 2Gb free plus an extra 1Gb for each friend (up to 3) you get to sign up. Share files with family and friends with file permissions. Backup facility provided too.
Tilana Reserve Runs on Windows and Windows Mobile. Standard unlimited backup facility is $49/year, but a 2Gb account for syncing PCs is free for one year. Files can be shared with ShareLocker.
Humyo Runs on Windows with OS X coming soon. Personal accounts are free and provide 5Gb for photos, music, videos, and 5Gb for other files. 100Gb account is 3.99/month. Share files or links to files and set permissions determining what people can do. Web and mobile phone access too