Start Syncing

Windows and Mac OS have this in common: Neither synchronizes files perfectly

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There’s the Apple way of doing things, and there’s the Microsoft Windows way of doing things. After 15 years, the consistency of it still surprises me. Nowhere have I seen the difference more clearly than when comparing synchronization software, in this case GoodSyncfrom Siber Systems and the comparable Apple product, MobileMe.

GoodSync first presents itself as a largely empty window containing a New Job tab, two location fields, and some buttons. An Analyze button looks important. As with many Windows applications, poking around is both instructive and not as scary as it looks. Click the Browse button next to a location field and pick one of several options: a local directory or drive, a network directory, or an FTP (file transfer protocol) site. This will be your Left Folder. Now pick a different directory, drive, or site for your Right Folder. Analyze will determine what needs doing, and once the Left and Right Folders are analyzed, the Sync button will activate and you can start the sync. GoodSync manages all additions, updates, and deletions between the two folders. There’s a restricted free version and a $30 Pro version with no limitations on jobs or files.

MobileMe is an update of Apple’s previous Macintosh-only product, .Mac. The .Mac service promised more than it delivered, with slow performance and frequent outages. MobileMe adds some compelling new features, like ”push” (instantaneously updated) e-mail and calendars, as well as some Windows compatibility, but with the same quality of service as before: terrible.

MobileMe syncing reflects what Apple engineers do best: understand what 90 percent of users want to do 90 percent of the time and provide it with graceful simplicity. Those of us with multiple computers want our address books, bookmarks, calendars, and mail accounts on all our machines to always be current and have exactly the same data. So that’s what MobileMe does: It lets you set all your computers to sync this information automatically. Change anything—say, a calendar appointment to a different date—on one, and within minutes it will be updated on all the others. Once MobileMe is turned on, you really aren’t supposed to do anything else. It costs $100 a year, but it offers other benefits besides syncing, including a personal Web site and a set of e-mail addresses.

Unlike MobileMe, GoodSync doesn’t by itself provide a network syncing service, but if you have access to a file server and can configure the software, you can set up your own service that works very much the same way. And again, unlike MobileMe, it makes no assumptions about what you want to do, nor does it tell you how to do it: If you want to sync your Microsoft Outlook contacts, you have to know exactly where within your computer’s file system they are stored. The same goes for application settings, databases, and myriad other data stored separately from the main application. Once you’ve done all the necessary file-ferreting on your hard disk, simply dragging folders in Windows Explorer isn’t much different, and in some ways it’s easier.

It’s not like MobileMe is much better, though. Like most Apple software, it had me at ”hello,” but things soon soured. For one thing, there’s that slow performance: On anything but the fastest network, MobileMe crawls. For another, syncing between Windows and Macintosh has been aggravating. I used MobileMe to export my contacts into Outlook, which promptly ruined my address groups (Apple Address Book permits entries to belong to multiple groups, while Outlook does not). The next sync duped every entry in MobileMe, and thus on my Mac. I have given up trying to keep Outlook synced and am using MobileMe almost exclusively as a way to wirelessly keep my iPhone synced to my home and work calendars. MobileMe has not succeeded well at what it purports to do, but the push functions for the iPhone are indeed the killer-app kind of service that will keep me subscribed.

The good news is that, no matter what your OS platform, there are syncing solutions that will make managing shared data on multiple computers easier. Neither GoodSync nor MobileMe, however, is as effortless and polished as advertised.

About the Author

Harry Teasley is an artist and game designer who has been developing games professionally for over 16 years. A graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, he never touched a computer before getting a job at MicroProse Software to work on the original Civilization by Sid Meier. Working with Meier and other game design gurus at MicroProse quickly addicted Harry to games, game design, and the issues of problem solving in both creating and playing games.

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