Just after I wrote the review of Windows Live Sync, it turned out it’s been renamed to Live Mesh and the storage has been increased from 2GB to 5. I’ve not tried this new version, so I don’t know if it suffers from the same problem I found.
I’ve recently moved into a new office, and one of the problems I faced is how to keep my work files in backed up and in sync between work and home. Sometimes I need to do work from home, so the files need to be synchronised between the two.
The old system
Before I moved to this office, I ran a home server with NFS shares, and mapped the My Documents, Desktop, Favourites etc. folders in the registry on each computer to the respective shares on the folder. It was a bit of a hack but, apart from the occasional glitch it worked seamlessly. I wanted to maintain this level of simplicity. I didn’t want to have to think about having to save to a special folder, pressing sync, locked files, anything.
Initially I looked into setting up a FTP share on my server, then using something like Syncback Pro (great software by the way, I have a copy) to automatically sync new versions of files. However, past efforts have proven this to be buggy and slow, primarily due to the rubbish upload speed of ADSL. So some research narrowed down two options; Dropbox and Windows Live Sync. Microsoft seem to be pushing everyone towards the beta, so that’s why I chose it over the old version. Since the free version of Dropbox only allows 2GB of storage, I decided to try Windows Live Sync first.
Windows Live Sync Beta
Windows Live Sync differs from Dropbox in that it allows direct computer to computer to sync, without requiring the files be stored on their server. This is okay for me, since the home server is always on. After the rather lengthy install, you are prompted to enter a Windows Live ID to link your computers. No problem there, as I already had one. Next you choose the folders you want to sync, and this is where I hit the problem. I chose S:\Edward\Documents (the path on the server), hit next, and oh, that’s it. The problem is, the software tries to sync the exact same path on all computers. Obviously I don’t have an ‘S’ drive on my other computers, the folder I wanted to sync that one with is C:\Users\Edward\Documents on all computers but the server. Surely that would be allowed, I thought, but following much fiddling and research on the internet it turns out that’s not possible in the beta. I wasn’t about to try to older version that’s about to be replaced, plus it has its own limitations, so I uninstalled and decided to try Dropbox.
Now at first look Dropbox seems less than ideal for my requirements: All files have to be stored on their servers (using Amazon S3), which means there are limits to the amount of storage available. The absolute maximum available is 100GB for $20/month, which seems absolutely outrageous in the days of 1TB drives for £60. However, I was so fed up of Live Sync I decided to try the free 2GB version. The next pitfall is that you have to store files in the ‘Dropbox’ folder for them to be synced, or alternately use alias hacks to sync other folders. This meant I’d no longer be able to sync the desktop or indeed any folders other than Documents. The service is otherwise very good though, with fast and smart uploads that don’t upload the whole file again if you only changed the name. I needed a sync service so I decided to buy the 50GB service and pare down the synchronised files to only those that I needed. I rather foolishly fell for the yearly subscription discount, so I’m tied to it for a whole year now.
The benefit of cloud storage is that I get an off site backup, a nice web interface, plus the service offers access to previous versions of files should I make an unwanted modification.
So Dropbox ain’t perfect, but it seems to be the best on offer right now.